Acrylic painting by Haydn Byrd

It’s that season of the year when all of the theo-dude bros want to start telling women what they should not wear. Jacob Denhollander has joked that it enters with condemning yoga pants and soon makes its way to the bikini. I’ve seen the posts about the horror of bearing our shoulders. We women are terrifying to these theologically superior men. Their downfall is right around the corner and it will be all our fault!

I tend to just scroll past all the bait, too weary to engage with such rigid faux piety. I remember responding to some of it in my early blogging days, when I was naive enough to think Christians used common sense. And naive enough to think we were talking about the dignity of men and women. I wrote an article suggesting we are putting false confidence in our “Christian” dress codes. I challenged the “bikinis are evil” trope and was shocked by how controversial that made me. But here I am, allowing myself to enter into the fray again. It’s literally 13 years later and things are getting worse, not better.

This morning I saw Sheila Gregoire calling out a painfully immature PCA pastor who says that learning not to objectify women is challenging:

These so-called pastors are actually the ones doing the revealing—much more than the women wearing athleisure.

What I want to say today is that we are concerned about the wrong kind of nakedness. Shoulders, thighs, bellies, and cleavage. Big whoop. The real nakedness that we need to concern ourselves with are our faces. We are called to do this, to welcome the face, to really see the nakedness of the other’s face, and rise to the demands of it. As Emmanuel Levinas describes it:

The priority of the other person begins in this self-effacing gesture, in our ceding our place. This is the road that can lead to holiness. To meet another, one must first welcome a face. This means more than looking at the features in the other face, or the color that characterizes the surface of his skin, or the iris of his eyes—as if in doing so one could perceive, grasp, know. Is not the face first of all expression and appeal, preceding the datum of knowledge? Is not the nakedness of the other—destitution and misery beneath the adopted countenance?

Is It Righteous to Be?

We are professional face readers. We can look past the adopted countenance that we clothe our faces with and see how people are really doing. Our faces are what expose us. And our right brains can be trained to truly observe the uniqueness of the other. To experience them. And this is our calling. This is our loving. It’s how we even learn about who we are. We find our own meaningfulness in the face of the other. Why we matter. Why they matter. Our faces are proof that we were made for relationships in community. Our faces hold one another responsible. Our faces summon our humanness.

…the face of the other signifies above all a demand. The face requires you, calls you outside. And already there resounds the word from Sinai, “thou shalt not kill,” which signifies “you shall defend the life of the other.” An order of God, or an echo, “you will answer for the other!” It is the very articulation of the love of the other.

Is It Righteous to Be?

C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

“The Weight of Glory”

Maybe it would be good for men and women to begin contemplating on looking at one another’s faces. And what it means to welcome and delight in the faces of each other. To really see them in their nakedness and rise in empathy, in listening, in learning, in looking for Christ there. To stop our obsession with the outside of things.

These people telling women how to dress are distracted by consumption and dehumanization. They’re obsessed with a different kind of nakedness—that will never be clothed enough to fix them—to distract themselves from a much greater calling. A much greater living. We can’t reason with them if we are people without faces.