The conspicuous appearance of red and yellow amongst the green leaves along the highway has forced me to admit that summer is no more. I can deny it all I like but the months of late night movie watching, sleeveless dresses and ceiling fans are behind us. Early bedtimes, leggings and cardigans and my down comforter stand ready to take their place.
A sigh of remembrance escapes like the birds flying south as I fondly remember this summer’s highlights. Despite the scorching temps, one of those highlights for the kids and I was our visit to the Indiana Dunes. I marveled at their seemingly endless energy while I kicked back and indulged in one of my favorite activities—people watching. There are plenty of people to watch on the shores of Lake Michigan. Since we spend most of the summer on the shores of Taylor Lake, the quantity of people is a bit of shock, not to mention the amount of flesh most of those people reveal. Just as I was beginning to feel a bit self-conscious in my tankini, however, there arrived on the scene a notable exception—a large Muslim family. The women were clothed from head to toe, but this didn’t stop them from racing into the water and having a blast. Having watched young (and old) women pull and tug at their suits all day, it was refreshing to see women enjoying the water without the awkwardness that generally accompanies going out in what is essentially underwear.
This got me to thinking about our fellow monotheists and what we, as evangelical Christians might learn from their example. Here are a few areas where, it seems to me, many Muslims are getting it right, perhaps more right than we are, in fact:
- Modesty: I’m not as familiar with what is going on in the Abercrombie and Fitch of mainstream culture and dress as I once was, but as a frequent visitor to a conservative evangelical school I can tell you that we are losing the battle for the modesty among our young women. They might not be going as far as their secular sisters, but they are going far enough. The funny, or sad, thing about it is that while they might argue that it is their right to enjoy the bodies they have been given, if they are enjoying themselves, they look very uncomfortable doing so. They are constantly adjusting bra straps and tugging at hemlines. Unlike the young Muslim women I saw on the beach, they seem consumed with self-consciousness about their bodies. I am not suggesting that Christian women adopt the tradition of the hijab, but surely there is reasonable compromise between concealing one’s body completely and going around with your butt cheeks hanging out. The irony is that so often people criticize the extreme modesty of the Muslim faith for taking away the individuality of women. Ladies, I assure you, it isn’t your individuality men are valuing when your bodies are on display for all to see. While there is certainly a case to be made against the culture of Islam for its mistreatment of women, I am not sure we are treating our sisters and daughters much better when we surrender them to the vice of immodesty.
- Family Size: It is strange that with a tag like “evangelical” we don’t seem to emphasize the most natural, and statistically most effective, method of evangelism—making disciples through procreation. The average Muslim family has three children and, while I couldn’t find a statistic specific to evangelicals, if our church is any indication, the American church falls much closer to the average of less than one per household. I know there are myriad factors that play into the extremely personal and individual decision of family size but it should be something that is wrestled over and treated with all seriousness. And it isn’t just the number of children we have, but the value placed on home life in general. For thousands of years, Christians have deeply valued home as a place of instruction, nurturing and refuge. Now our external focus challenges these basic values.
- Devotion to Spiritual Disciplines: The greatest distinction between Christianity and other religions is the idea of grace. This counterintuitive concept that the price for our salvation has been paid not by the sweat of our own brow, but by the blood of God Himself seems too good to be true. And yet is it true and it is good. So why does this good news not drive us to our knees each day in sheer wonder and gratitude? Why does it not see us forsaking the pleasures of food and material possession in order to see this gracious God more clearly? Why do many folks who reject the notion of grace set a better example of religious devotion? Why are they, who have no assurance of pardon or forgiveness, the ones praying five times a day? We are often labeled “fundamentalists” when we seem to have forgotten the fundamentals of our faith. Certainly, I mourn for those who devote themselves to empty rituals that get them no closer to heaven, but I mourn for myself and others when we forsake spiritual discipline altogether and get no closer to Christ.