Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Principle of Modesty. Teaching Beyond the Rules

There are many discussions going on in my religious community about how NOT to teach modesty.  But if we are to throw out misleading or inadequate ways of teaching the principle we cannot just rail against the current approaches.  It is imperative that we create something with which to replace them.

I believe that the key is to help young people understand that modesty isn't just how you dress. It is actually an intricate combination of the divine attributes of confidence, humility, respect and charity in multiple aspects of our lives. Modesty in its most complete forms resides most predominantly in our spirits. Teaching that the definition of modesty is the way we dress is akin to telling someone that the definition of a solidly constructed house is the location of its doors and windows.  The principles of sound construction engineering in the construction of a house will influence the location of the doors and windows.  Similarly, principles of modesty that you put into practice in your life will influence the way you dress.  But locating the doors and windows in certain locations will not, by itself, create a sound structure.  And learning "modest" clothing practices will fail, by itself, to create the divine character of modesty in your soul.

If modesty is, in fact, a combination of different divine attributes, in other words the “divine nature” young women are reminded of each Sunday, perhaps one way to approach this would be to see if we can identify divine attributes in any of the following authoritative definitions of “modesty”.

mod·es·ty First known use of the word in English: 1531
noun, plural mod·es·ties.
1. freedom from vanity, boastfulness,etc.
2. Regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc.
3. Simplicity; moderation.

It's worth noting that the the definition of modesty given on is clearly related to these definitions:

Do you see any of God's qualities in those definitions?

"Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to 'glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit'"

While looking at thesaurus lists of synonyms and antonyms, you may find further insights into the divine nature of modesty:
down-to-earthness, humbleness, lowliness, meekness, humility

arrogance, assumption, bumptiousness, conceit, egoism, egotism, haughtiness, hauteur, huffiness, imperiousness, loftiness, lordliness, peremptoriness, pomposity, pompousness, presumptuousness, pretense, pretension, pretentiousness, pride, pridefulness, superciliousness, superiority, toploftiness

Near Antonyms
aggressiveness, audaciousness, brashness, brassiness, cheek, cheekiness, cockiness, forwardness, overconfidence, swagger, swash, temerity, impertinence, impudence, insolence, nerve, sauciness, boastfulness, chest-thumping, self-applause, self-assumption, self-centeredness, self-complacency, self-conceit, self-glorification, self-importance, self-satisfaction, vaingloriousness, vanity, disdain, flamboyance, ostentation, ostentaciousness, showiness

Think about the nature of God as it relates to the above qualities (and their antonyms).  What can you add to your list of godly characteristics after reading through them?

 it is interesting to see how the list you have so far relates to what several church leaders of our church as well as other churches have said as they've tried to describe modesty.

Modesty is often talked of in terms of dress and appearance, but modesty encompasses much more than the outward appearance. It is a condition of the heart.” Ann Dalton

"Modesty is not just cultural. Modesty is a gospel principle that applies to people of all cultures and ages. In fact, modesty is fundamental to being worthy of the Spirit. To be modest is to be humble, and being humble invites the Spirit to be with us.” (Robert D. Hales, Modesty, Liahona, Aug 2008)

"Modesty is the virtue that presents goodness in its proper color: one of elegance rather than affluence, economy rather than extravagance, naturalness rather than ostentation. 'What a power has white simplicity,' as Keats has aptly remarked. Modesty is the virtue that allows one to focus on what is good without being distracted by irrelevant superficialities." ~Donald DeMarco, Catholic theologian

"Modesty is, as it were, the body's conscience. The modest person is not interested in displaying his talents and attainments for people to admire. He even shuns making himself the subject of conversation. He is more eager to know what he needs to know than to parade what he already knows. He has a healthy sense of himself as he is and is less concerned about how others view him...The modest person is aware of his limitations and retains the capacity to blush. A person blushes when he is suddenly the object of praise or attention. It catches him off guard at a moment when he is interested in something other than himself. The essence of modesty is self-forgetfulness." ~Donald Demarco,

In Doctrine and Covenants 4:6 there is a nice list of godly attributes:
"Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, dilgence"

Look at the list you are compiling.  Are there other godly attributes that you would add to this list to describe modesty?

(Important side note: virtue is another oft misunderstood word. The definition I'd assume here is the dictionary one of “moral excellence, goodness, righteousness, or conformity of one's life and conduct to moral and ethical principles, uprightness)

Now that you've read through the above descriptions of the nature of modesty and this list of divine qualities in Doc & Cov 4:6 and added a few of your own, you have, I believe, some keys to the major question I believe each of us needs to answer thoughtfully.

Which divine attributes of God, “divine nature”, are essential parts of the definition of modesty?

Write that down.

Once that list is compiled and written out, can you find those divine attributes that you've designated referenced in the following scriptures?

"Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you," 1 Peter 5:5-6

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

It is interesting to to me to contemplate the “clothing” metaphors used here, and particularly in reference to this verse:

"For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s." 1st Corinthians 6:20

Consider: What does it mean to glorify God in your spirit, or to clothe your spirit in a way which glorifies God and expresses God's divine attributes that you've identified in this exercise?

What does it mean to glorify God in your body, or to clothe your body in a way which glorifies God and expresses God's divine attributes that you've identified?  

Here are a few quotes that express how some others have answered those questions:

To be gentle and kind, modest and truthful, to be full of faith and integrity, doing no wrong is of God; goodness sheds a halo of loveliness around every person who possesses it, making their countenances beam with light, and their society desirable because of its excellency. They are loved of God, of holy angels, and of all the good earth..” Brigham Young

1 Timothy 2:9-10 which says “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest [remember the definition of “modest” we've learned] apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;”

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:3-4

And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely. Alma 1:27

Don't be selfish; don't live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself.” Philippians 2:3

I believe that truly it is what's inside a person that counts, but that's what worries me. Casual dress at holy places and events is a message about what is inside that person. It may be pride or rebellion or something else, but at a minimum it says, 'I don't get it. I don't understand the difference between the sacred and the profane.'” D. Todd Christofferson

In 1869, Brigham Young told his daughters: "All Israel are looking to my family and watching the example set by my wives and children. For this reason I desire to organize my own family first into a society for the promotion of habits of order, thrift, industry, and charity; and above all things I desire them to retrench from their extravagance in dress, in eating and even in speech. I am weary of the manner in which our women seek to outdo each other in all the foolish fashions of the world. I want you to set your own fashions. Let your apparel be neat and comely, and the workmanship of your hands. I have long had it in my mind to organize the young ladies of Zion into an association so that they might assist the older members of the Church, their fathers and mothers, in propagating, teaching, and practicing the principles I have been so long teaching. I wish our girls to obtain a knowledge of the gospel for themselves."

The modest person is content with living well and performing good deeds without fanfare. For him, life is essential, rewards are superfluous. He believes that nature opens to a wider world, whereas ornamentation stifles. He is always averse to gilding the lily. He is confident without being demure, unpretentious without being self-defeating. He lets his actions and words speak for themselves.” ~Donald DeMarco

Among the real heroines in the world who will come into the Church are women who are more concerned with being righteous than with being selfish. These real heroines have true humility, which places a higher value on integrity than on visibility. Remember, it is as wrong to do things just to be seen of women as it is to do things to be seen of men.” (President Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Nov 1979)

The Greek translation of modesty (kosmios) means roughly "orderly" or "proper," and the word appears only once in Scripture, in Paul's first letter to Timothy: "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes …" (2:9).1 Peter 3:3-4 includes a similar message, that women should adorn themselves with a gentle spirit instead of fancy jewelry and clothing. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul also addresses head coverings, an important topic given first-century Mideast cultural attitudes about women's hair (the essence of female beauty, and thus primarily meant for husbands' viewing; some Christian women cover their heads today). But these verses suggest that modesty is not just about quelling sexual temptation. Modesty is also about viewing ourselves humbly and dressing accordingly, refraining from using clothing (or the lack thereof) to draw attention to ourselves and boost self-esteem.”
~Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of Christianity Today,

And finally:
This excellent essay on modesty by a young student, Geneva Wright, Princeton class of 2014 published in The Princeton Tory, November 2012  is well worth a read. I am impressed by her articulate discussion and to your perusal.

What are your thoughts after answering the questions I've posed? As we educate our daughters and our sons, our students and ourselves, how do we teach modesty as a complex and life shaping essential divine nature that comes from within and affects not just what we chose to wear but how we see ourselves and others and our understanding of the divine? How do we move from teaching the outward manifestations as the rule and instead teach the inner metamorphosis and enlightenment that changes our own selves in divine ways?

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I spent some time on a city walk this week. The walk passed by this chapel

CJCLDS chapel in Cambridge

and this cathedral

Old South Church

both open and both mostly empty.

I entered each, sat or stood a while looking up and, with the aid of the Spirit in a setting that reminds me of God's light and reality, let the various clamors and questions in my mind settle and prioritize themselves.  And then I walked out, knowing better what was most essential.

Sometimes it's a cathedral and sometimes it's just a front porch or the view out a window.  Either way, that's how meditation seems to work for me.