1: correspondence in form, manner, or character : agreement
3: action in accordance with some specified standard or authority
A few weeks ago, B wore a Beatles t-shirt to her Tuesday tutorial. When she put it on, I warned her that I thought it was technically against the dress code. I knew it said something about no band t-shirts or shirts with shock value, but surely a t-shirt for a fifty year old band couldn't offend anyone, right? Wrong. She was asked to zip up her hoodie and she went the rest of the day with Paul, John, Georg and Ringo hidden behind her black camp hoodie. I understand they were requiring B to follow the letter of the law they have created for their tutorial. But I wonder what message it sends my daughters.
This Monday, we got an e-mail with a reminder of the dress code policy. In addition to quoting a portion of the handbook, the administrator said something along the lines of, "While you may not agree with our stance on modesty, we ask that you abide by the rules [while at our tutorial]." And this is the heart of the issue for me: the creators and enforcers of this policy do not claim their policies minimize offense between students, decrease distractions or create an environment focused on learning. Instead, they say it is about modesty. I disagree. It's not about modesty. It's about conformity.
I could agree with and support many guidelines designed to create an atmosphere of modesty. Do I think girls should wear skirts longer than fingertip length? Sure. Should underwear for male and female students not be on display? Absolutely. These are modesty issues. My daughter's t-shirt for a band with geriatric members was not immodest. It simply did not conform. But because this organization is a Christian one, they spiritualize their reasons for banning certain items. I think this is dangerous because if you disagree with them, you're not offering a difference of opinion, you're assaulting their entire belief system. I do not believe conformity equals belief.
Concurrent with (and in part due to) these happenings, I have been looking for a new tutorial for my daughters for next year. I'd like to find a tutorial stronger in its science offerings and with a less restrictive dress code. (In addition to the t-shirt issue, our current tutorial won't allow certain hairstyles. Both A and B have asked for a hairstyle that wouldn't allow them to attend. I'd like to be able to allow them to express themselves in this way.)
I heard about another tutorial and checked it out online. At first it was encouraging. They place a great deal of emphasis on academic rigor. They are conveniently located. They meet on a day of the week I would find easy to accommodate. Then I found the part of their website that says, "Students who insist on their rights and privileges as a first order of
business will not be happy in our group. We do not want to deal with
students for whom respect for authority is an issue." Hmmm.
I needed to stop there for a moment. "We do not want to deal with students for whom respect for authority is an issue." I don't think any of my daughters have a problem with authority, but I do have a daughter who thinks for herself and often questions rules before simply obeying. I don't see this as a problem. In fact, I think it's a highly valuable skill that will serve her well. But I want her to be happy at a tutorial and this group seems to indicate she might not be - and that they would even prefer she not be happy unless she conforms.
Here's the thing: I think Jesus had a problem with authority. He questioned the religious systems of the day because while they were going through the motions, their hearts were far from him. B doesn't go through the motions of anything. If she disagrees, she will let you know. But when she agrees, you'll know it - and God does, too. Her praise is nothing if not sincere when it comes. A, on the other hand, conforms a bit too easily. She dislikes being apart from the group and often doesn't stop to question whether she is conforming to her own beliefs or the expectations of those around her. For both of them, I think a culture of conformity is poisonous. A doesn't need to be encouraged to conform. And B doesn't need to go through life thinking God doesn't love her because she wants to dress differently than your typical 11 year old Christian girl.
I've been really wrestling with these questions over the last few days: Why do we equate conformity with belief? Why do Christian schools/tutorials/places of worship emphasize some traits over others, especially with young children? Do we have to spend a portion of our adult lives unlearning what we've learned about God in order to actually see who he is?
I've talked to my husband and another friend about some of these issues. One of them said that perhaps all places of faith require some level of conformity - and as adults we just choose the places that emphasize conforming on the issues we match up on. The other suggested I examine why I feel it's acceptable for me to undercut the tutorial's stance on band t-shirts when I don't do the same thing about a school rule on flip-flops, for example.
These are really hard questions. Where am I willing to conform in my faith? Where do I refuse to? Am I judging people who set different boundaries for themselves and their families? How do I find a way to walk the path we are on with this current tutorial, yet still communicate to my daughters that I don't think Jesus objects to The Beatles?
My husband pointed out last night that I'm not exactly an anarchist. I am perfectly willing to require my daughters to conform on some points. Dishes must go in the sink after meals. The dishwasher must be unloaded on your assigned day. The school work must be completed before the field trip can begin. You get the idea.
I think one difference for me lies in two of the definitions of conformity. If our actions are in agreement with our beliefs (i.e. that hard work earns you play time), this is a conformity that feels right to my soul. But if the conformity results from complying with a standard of authority that is illegitimate or couches their authority as something other than what it is (i.e. it is ungodly to dye your hair blue), my soul feels pained and bruised at going along.
How do I teach my children to think for themselves and pursue God from where they are? It's hard and I fear it will only get harder as they get older and are faced with much bigger dilemmas than what to wear on Tuesday morning. All I know to do is encourage them to pray the wisest prayers I know: "Who are you, God? Who am I?" Because if they know who God is and who they are, they'll know a lie when they hear one and see a false line in the sand when they see it.
May they learn to conform to what the Holy Spirit places on their hearts - nothing more, nothing less.