Is That Bikini Video–and the ‘modesty’ movement–really about nostalgia?

Nostalgia is big right now. From Michael Pollan’s new panegyric on “traditional” food preparation, Cooked, to, all things Mad Men (or previous) seem to be ‘in,’ down to hula hoops, bright red lipstick, ‘vintage’-style, well, everything, and grave suspicion of some of the best that modern science has had to offer, like vaccines and antibiotics.

While I love a beautiful mid-century style (dress, phone, desk) as much as the next twenty- or thirty-something, I really don’t love other aspects of nostalgic thinking.

Reading Michael Pollan’s latest—where he bemoans the overly sterile condition of the modern world, where our ‘guts’ are no longer properly ‘colonized’ by all sorts of ‘friendly bacteria’—I couldn’t help thinking that his was a longing that could only be experienced by someone with good health insurance in a developed country who gets to engage bacteria (friendly or otherwise) solely on his own terms. It’s a little harder to be starry-eyed about the benefits of the friendly bacteria and the evils of pasteurization when you are living in a place that still regularly sees outbreaks of typhoid and tuberculosis.

It’s equally difficult to see vaccine suspicion sympathetically when every time you go shopping you pass by people who’ve been permanently disabled by polio, only a few of whom have ‘luxuries’ like wheelchairs and crutches.

Recently I read and reviewed two very different books that deal with forms of popular nostalgia: Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound, about the “new domesticity,” and Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s Thrill of the Chaste, a study of the popularity of Amish romance novels. Each points out the ways in which consumers (of products and of ideas) pick and mix elements of a longed-for culture to create a kind of bricolage, a nostalgic quilt of comforting impressions to curl up under.

But, to do this, we have to ignore un-picturesque or unsavory aspects of the culture(s) from which we’re borrowing. One can wax nostalgic about the virtues and protective benefits of friendly bacteria when one hasn’t buried a child (or children) from a strain of unfriendly bacteria.

Really, doesn’t this happen all the time? John Piper seems terribly nostalgic for the time when, as Archie Bunker sang, “girls were girls and men were men,” and many evangelical values touted as ‘biblical’ are really just grounded in nostalgia for “how we think (certain) things were” in the 1950s (or the 1850s, as the case may be), all while seeming to forget—or at least, to compartmentalize—elements of culture that went right along with ‘traditional gender roles,’ like Victorian gentlemen’s tendency to keep wives ‘pure’ by visiting mistresses, child labor, and Jim Crow.

I do wonder if something similar is happening with the ‘modesty’ movement in evangelicalism these days, and I was particularly intrigued by the popular Q talk on the ‘evolution of the bikini,’ where the alternative to contemporary and ‘immodest’ bikinis is presented as…you guessed it…50s and 60s inspired vintage styles. You can check out my contribution to a her.meneutics group post here, but first, can someone tell me how Audrey Hepburn in a bikini is less modest than Marilyn Monroe in a one piece?

I mean, besides the fact that she’s wearing a coat over it.

(Kind of proves the point my friend Caryn makes in the post…)

You may also like to see:

my review of Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound.

my post about Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked.

my friend Tim’s (another Tim…not husband Tim!) post about the “Ungodliness of Nostalgia”

Guest Post: Gleaning from the Edges

Thanks to Tim Fall, who has blogged here before, for this guest post on gleaning and feasting…

In reading the passage on the word “glean” in Keri Wyatt Kent’s Deeper Into the Word –Reflection on 100 words from the Old Testament, I found Leviticus 23:22 -

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.

Keri pointed out that this isn’t the first instance of God’s instruction to leave something for those less well-off, but it is one of the most interesting.

Leviticus 23 is a list of the annual festivals and feasts the Israelites are to keep. It’s as if God, in the middle of reminding them of the feasts, says, “Oh, did I mention – don’t forget the poor.” It’s a poignant look at the heart of God, who even as he tells his people to feast, reminds them to feed the poor. What good would feasting be if his people forgot the hungry? (Deeper Into the Word, p. 99.)


New Testament Hospitality

Keri’s insight onto Leviticus 23 made me think of Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 -

So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

Paul, the Pharisee who learned that grace triumphs over law, became very Levitical here, but not in the legalistic sense. No, he understood the heart of God. To paraphrase Keri, what good would celebrating the Lord’s Supper be if doing so meant forgetting the poor, or (as Paul puts it) if it means humiliating those who have nothing? Paul knew that God’s concern for the poor goes back to the beginning of Israel’s existence, and that God’s people should continue to show that care and concern for those who have nothing.

Here’s Paul’s encouragement in Galatians 6:10 -

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

“Good to all people” – what a wonderful phrase. It reminds me that there are people I can be good to, and that I also have a need for people to do good to me. Whether that means I glean from the edges of their fields or they glean from the edge of mine, I hope each day to remember that God cares about all who are in need.

And that’s all of us.

a note from Rachel:

My new book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, you’ll find a discussion of Old Testament gleaning as they work out in the lovely little book of Ruth and how all of this translates to working–and eating!–toward food justice for the ‘least of these’ today.

Pleasing To The Eye, But Good for Food?

{Today I’m pleased to share another guest post from Tim, who has written for this blog before on due process and on the grace of taste.}

My wife and I like to watch Food Network shows like Iron Chef and Chopped, where chefs compete to see who makes the best meal.

Judges constantly mention that enjoying food starts with the eyes–an aspect so important that the scoring includes a high proportion of points specifically for presentation (or “plating”) of the food. If something does not look pleasing to the eye, the judges are sure to let the chefs know.
There’s a whole industry dedicated to making food look good. Food stylists work hard to make food look appetizing in magazine advertisements and TV commercials. I remember reading an article on it years ago. The writer revealed that one reason canned soups look so hearty and full of good ingredients in one company’s ads was because a stylist added things like marbles to the bowl of soup; this works well on camera, even though it might not fool anyone looking up close at the bowl in real life. Another trick they revealed concerned meat coming off the barbecue. Those great looking grill marks are from a length of hot steel carefully applied; the meat might even be raw and only painted to look cooked.

Recently, a sharp-eyed McDonald’s customer sent in a question to the corporate office in Canada asking the age-old question:

why do the burgers in the ads look better than the ones in the restaurant? The article video explain, giving good insights into how a food stylist and photographer can work together to make the food look appealing. One refreshing aspect is that McDonald’s insists the stylist and photographer use only the same ingredients that are used in the store. No fake additions allowed!

All of this reminded me of another place where I read about food that appeared pleasing to the eye:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6.)

God had told Eve and Adam they could eat fruit from any tree but that one. They ate it anyway. Some might take this to mean that food appearing pleasing is evil but that can’t be true since this pleasing aspect of the appearance of food preceded the transgression. No, food is supposed to look good.

The real issue is what we do when we look upon food – or anything else God has put in our lives. Do we recognize God’s wonderful blessings in his provision for us? Or do we try to take what God has given for good and use it for something for which it was not intended?

We are not told explicitly what God’s purpose was for putting that tree in the Garden of Eden, but I think it’s safe to say God had one even if we don’t know what it is. (Psalm 33:11, Romans 8:28.) Happily, we do know God’s purpose for the food we eat now:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31.)

It’s like looking at food in magazine ads. Are you seeing the actual food ingredients, properly prepared as if being served for dinner? Or do they promise a hearty meal when what they are really showing is a bowl full of marbles?

It’s like looking at everything else around us, too–do we recognize God’s blessings and enjoy them for his glory, or do we grasp the fakes and frauds thinking that these look more pleasing?

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8. Check out 1 Peter 2:2-3 also.)

Me, I’d rather taste the Real Thing.

Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 24 years with two kids now in college, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. Tim guest posts on other peoples’ blogs, but is too lazy to get a blog of his own.