21 October 2012

A 31 Day Grand Prix {day 21} - Why do braids, gold and fancy clothes matter?

 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear." (1 Peter 3.3-6)

Scripture portions like this can drive me batty... I sometimes feel like a pendulum on its  wide arc, swinging from one extreme to the other while momentarily passing through all possibilities. As a young person growing up in the more or less South, I'd read these passages quite literally and wonder why my mom encouraged me to elaborately fix my hair and why all those women did the big hair thing at church every Sunday. Then I went through a phase where these words were written to a specific group of people who were part of a specific culture during a very specific period of time... yadda yadda yadda... which, of course, implied I need not be concerned for these words weren't particularly applicable to me. 

That can be a slippery slope to tread, however... picking and choosing which verses I think are relevant to me and which ones aren't. Somehow, I think there'd be a certain amount of bias and of course I'd have to skip over that verse that says ALL Scripture is profitable. But then again, it doesn't say that all Scripture is EQUALLY profitable, so... I don't know. Then we start back on the arc towards the other extreme and I end up feeling like a guilty heathen because I pierce my little girls' ears, like to come up with elaborate ways to fix their hair and dress them in adorable, coordinating outfits... because they look really sweet but also because it is fun to get reactions from those who see them.

What's a girl to do? What's a mom to think? What are we to glean from this uncomfortable to chew morsel of Scripture?

Again, I started looking one word at a time and spending time with each word.

The direct English translation of this word, according to the concordance, is "external." But what I found interesting was this is the exact same word used in a few other oft-referred to Bible passages... the ones where Jesus issues strong words to the Pharisees who are concerned with how they look to other men who can only see the outside instead of how their heart looks to God. Another familiar reference containing this word teaches that it is not what touches us externally, but rather those things within coming out and then exposed to light that show, and prove, our defilement. One of those passages, found in Luke 11, contains Jesus' "woe to yous" directed towards the Pharisees. I wonder if Peter heard that conversation. I wonder if he used this specific word in this specific case because his readers would immediately make that same connection: any time the focus towards the external or the outside or appearances or giving an impression to influence the opinions of those around, I need to examine my heart for traces (or more) of pharisee-ism infiltrating and taking over... again. 

Another detail about this word arrested my attention for a bit of time. In the Greek, this word is an adverb... which means it modifies or makes more precise a verb. The only actual verb (in the original language) is "let it not be." I've spent a chunk of time thinking and writing about THAT!

"Your beauty? The beauty that others see in you? Let it not be external!" seems to be the point Peter underscores with these words.

This is the exact same word, kosmos, that I wrote about earlier. It actually translates to two words in the English... beauty and adornment. The picture springs into mind of those things I "hang" on myself like the ornaments and trappings I'd put on my Christmas tree to hide the sparse places, the bent trunk, twisted branches or the browning needles. The lights, the glitter, the sparkles, the star or angel, the ornaments on a Christmas tree can hide those obvious, glaring imperfections that are evident when outside in the light of the sun. They may fool observers by creating an illusion or distracting in the dimness of firelight or as seen looking in through a window - but the one who located, cut, purchased and brought that tree home knows whether or not that tree is beautiful - standing alone. It is the same with me, for it was the Lord who found, gathered, purchase and adopted me...

such as
I have NOT.A.SINGLE.IDEA of what these words actually correspond to in the Greek.... but I did spend some time thinking about them in English! These two words indicate inclusiveness, or the identifying of something as part of a larger group that can either be specified or implied. In this case, the group is those external ornaments I'd use to make myself look good - and I'm guessing this indicates a list not meant to be exclusive or complete as is, bur more representative. A lot of times, at least in common, particularly spoken language, the word "like" is used as a synonym because such as sounds too formal. That makes it particularly appropriate for here, as use of an everyday, more trite sounding word would take away from the seriousness of what Peter is communicating.

braided hair 
As we all know, there are braids and then THERE.ARE.BRAIDS! There are times my girls do a quick braid at the base of their neck and there is really nothing to it. This refers to elaborate braiding, knotting or interweaving of the hair... like in all these pictures of my girlies... or some of those really fancy braids - waterfalls, fish bones and wishbones, or the delicate French braids that wind intricate paths around the head. This is the only occurrence in the Bible where the word braided is used. And as far as the word hair, this is the same word used when Scripture refers to number the hairs on our heads, knowing when a hair falls, washing the feet of the Savior with her tears and drying them with her hair... However, it seems quite clear that the context here is not a pragmatic braid to keep hair neat and controlled, but rather one of those dos where the hair traps your attention more than the person it is supposed to be decorating.

...a coordinating conjunction indicating an equality between the different genre of adornments mentioned. I also noticed that it does tend to cover the three main ways we tend to dress ourselves up and create a desired effect or appearance - our hair, our jewelry and our clothes. This particular passage doesn't really mention make up or obsession with a particular physique or body shape - but as I said above, I think the such as indicates that this is a representative list of a much larger group of possibilities.

the wearing of 
The more literal translation of these words directly from the Greek gives a clearer visual image... because it is a noun that names a putting around... a wrapping (think of Christmas presents or birthday gifts) or a decorating of oneself (as opposed to something else), if you will. That last bit I found a bit of a relief (said a bit tongue in cheek, but...) because it means my girls are off the hook if I was the one who initiated all that braiding and fanciness. I, on the other hand, am not - if all circumstances of this sort of adorning are displeasing to God. But I think it does give us a picture of a particular type of item - if it can be wrapped around or encircles...

gold jewelry 
...bracelets, necklaces, hoop earrings, rings, toe rings, nose rings - all of which can be significantly flashier than a simple post. The word gold incites all sorts of thoughts and ideas. Gold indicates preciousness, value, great worth and purchasing power as a currency. Thus, such adornment is a demonstration of perceived power and an attempt to purchase the admiration, respect, envy and perhaps even fear. Another way to look at it is an attempt to "bribe" God... convincing Him that our value is externally determined. If that perspective has crept its way into the thinking of a follower of Jesus or even a seeker of Him, that is sad. God has already declared each one valuable and precious in His sight because of His image reflected in each person. We don't have to hang ornaments all over ourselves to convince God we look good. He wants to adorn us with His Spirit and His glory. 

Another thought? Gold is something that isn't so much to look at when first culled from the earth - but that has to be refined at unbearable temperatures before it becomes valuable. Additionally, gold often encases something that is perceived as precious and valuable (i.e. gold plated stuff).

Maybe because I was just helping my daughter with Venn diagrams, that was the other thought that came to mind as I thought again about this particular word. In the universe of Venn diagrams, and indicates the intersection. Thus, perhaps Peter and the Lord weren't so concerned with the presence of one or the other of these external beauty markers, but the intersection of all of them indicating a preponderance of time, energy and other resources  directed towards this external adorning. One other thing I thought is that it wasn't grammatically necessary to repeatedly use "and" in this sense; perhaps the purpose of this repetition serves to further emphasize the place where all of these types of adornings cross paths.

fine clothes
Although the words are not used in the English translation, in the Greek the expression actually is "putting on" fine clothes and is a different word from the "putting around" that I discussed earlier. It has a clear idea of an investment - where I put something to use expecting some sort of favorable and profitable return. Ouch! That clearly reeks of dressing to impress, and is something of which I know I'm guilty... a lot. What I'm still thinking about, though, is how do I find a balance between dressing to show honor and respect to the one I'm encountering versus dressing to achieve a desired response.

This post has extended far beyond what I initially envisioned as I sat down to write today. But these thoughts circling in my mind are good ones with which to wrestle. I was just sharing with a friend last week how I have a tendency to only present myself to others with a carefully crafted image in mind that I am striving to project. Part of that is in the make up I wear (or don't wear), the way I style my hair, what jewelry I don as well as the clothes I wear. And thus, I focus on the externals - and it extends beyond just those outward adornings. It also includes the way I talk, the activities I do, the place I go and the people I frequent.

Enjoying elaborate dos, striking jewelry, elegant and memorable clothing do not necessarily violate the intent of this passage... at least that is not what I take from these words as I've studied and meditated on them for 3 weeks, now. What's important? The heart attitude - the why behind what's worn, whether it is done from a posture of moderation in all things or for the notice and attention of others... for that remark of "What a great outfit!" or a "You look fabulous today!" or - well, I thing you understand. No need to belabor the point! Or whether it is done to reflect the beauty and intricate detailing of one of God's works in progress, so that all adorning, outward and inward, draws eye upward, away from me and towards Him.

The Lord just might be nudging me towards a realm of thought that goes far beyond those things I put on... an understanding that gentleness is receptiveness to His leading, regardless of how it looks to others... or if it tarnishes my own image of what I think I should be. A gentle, quiet spirit trusts... and obeys... no matter the cost.

( Hope you've enjoy these pictures of the girls... they are probably at least 5 years old!)

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