Cultural letter No. 16 

Additional insights on “what’s offensive...esp. as pertains a woman’s appearance.

---my conclusions after several years of living in Poland and seeing and hearing about many of the Christian groups in Central and Eastern Europe.---


Previously, here in Poland,  I had not worn makeup because of some of the Christians’ attitudes towards makeup. I had been under the impression that it would be an offense to them because of some of the comments that I heard one pastor say (see cultural letter #3.).


We are now in a different situation, and as a result, I no longer feel the need to go without makeup or jewelry. I feel much better in makeup and definitely more feminine and pretty (I’ve never been one who believed myself anything but ordinary in looks...certainly not “pretty”).


I’m not one to wear a lot of makeup, but especially since I have come down with rosacea, I believe that my decision was the right one.  There is a huge sense of freedom in deciding to do what you believe is right. Constantly worrying about what someone else believes can lead to problems, especially if those to whom you are trying to adjust are inconsistent (i.e. makeup and jewelry are worldly, but hair coloring is not).


Since we are now working with new converts, or people who have not yet been saved, we do not have the problem of offending them as they have no preconceived notions of “makeup is wrong”, “jewelry is wrong,” etc. We feel good if we can get them to understand that using God’s name as a swear word is wrong, or immorality is wrong!


I have learned that if a person wants to be offended with us, they will find things to be offended about, no matter how hard we try not to offend. Truly the biblical reminder in I Corinthians 13:4, 5 that love is not easily offended has been reinforced in my mind. Even cross culturally, a Christian living biblically will “give and take” with another Christian over little things. Those who refuse to do so aren’t living biblically and I can’t change their behavior. I’ve had to come to grips with this and live my life the best way I know how regardless of what others think.


Please understand...I would never purposely offend someone. I would go out of my way, if told that something is offensive, to either not wear that item in front of that person, or not do that thing in front of the person who would be offended, if I truly believed it was a biblical “offense”.  What I’ve had to realize is, that sometimes people claim to be “offended” and they aren’t biblically offended...they are just being critical.


Part of my changing attitude is that as I’ve lived here longer, I’ve met more Christians, and a bigger variety of them.  To define all “Christians” in Poland in one specific way would be as wrong as it would be to do so in the states.  There is quite a variety.  Also, I’ve grown 10 years older while being here. While I am not yet an “older” woman (Titus 2:4,5), I am 41...and definitely “middle aged”. I do feel “older” when it comes to spiritual things around many of the women I’ve met.  I’m not as intimidated by those who think they are the experts. I’ve “grown up” and realized that many times they really aren’t the experts...just the loudest voices.  You probably know what I mean.  Sometimes the quiet lady sitting in the back of the room actually knows more about a given topic than the opinionated one telling all she knows.


Since some of you have no idea what I’m talking about as what is offensive, let me be specific.  Here are various things that I’ve heard are “wrong” by different people here or farther east.  Makeup (generally…I take it to mean everything…base, eye shadow, mascara, blush, nail polish), jewelry—esp. earrings, but including necklaces, etc.  I think, trimming your hair which means having a special haircut, not putting your long hair in a bun, not wearing a scarf as a head covering, (not hats—esp. pretty ones) etc.  Strange things for men would include – “wearing a tie is a symbol of the businessman and thus, the Mafia” and thus it is wrong (plus, it points to hell), and then the opposite idea ..NOT wearing a suit coat to preach in is absolutely unacceptable (of course, two different churches).  Most of the churches we are familiar with do not have a standard against women and pants though there are lots farther east, I believe, who would teach that it is wrong, but hardly anyone abides by the teaching.  I can’t really think of any church in Poland like that though there may be some. Older women tend to wear dresses here more than the younger ones. 


We heard of one church ( I heard of it from someone who was actually living here but used to live in the states) that corporately had to decide which was “worldly”…long coats or short coats for women. Of course, my first response is, “Why do you have to decide?”  Then, as I’ve been learning more about the Amish, I’ve seen that they really believe that uniformity in dress is a good thing, (because they’ve confused uniformity with unity), and thus it would make sense that this particular group (Mennonites) had to decide which was worldly and which wasn’t.   The longer I’m here, the more I’ve seen the relationships between some of the Brethren, Mennonites, Amish (what I’ve read on the internet), and some of the Brotherhood Baptists in the east, or at least in how they make corporate decisions on what is right/wrong, and then enforce those decisions, including excommunication techniques.  Since I’ve come from such a different background, it has been enlightening.


My independent Baptist background was definitely more “independent” than these groups would be—esp. with regards to individual soul liberty in deciding right/wrong.  While I’m certainly not against the preacher preaching about standards, some of the ones I’ve heard are not only conflicting, they are pretty derived and thus, difficult or impossible to prove or even support logically with Scripture.  Since we preach pretty hard on “tradition isn’t the thing, the Bible is,” I believe that we should apply this to ourselves and not just the Catholics around us. 


The farther a standard is from the Bible, and the more derived it is from principles, I believe, the “less” it should be pushed as a definite black/white issue. At least, if we are going to be consistent in our application of “If it’s not in the Bible, it may be right, but maybe it isn’t” also.  I think we should be as severe with ourselves as we are with the Catholics about “tradition.”  I have no problem with tradition…I’m a pretty traditional person myself. I just have a problem with tradition taking equal status as the Bible…even if it is in our American IBF churches, or in the east, with the Russian Baptists, or the Polish Brethren, or the German Brethren, etc.  


All this to say that I now wear makeup---base-- I bought some special green stuff to help cover my rosacea, and then some powder to go over that, and I do wear earrings and have a wedding band and some necklaces that Mike has given me over the years. I wear them now. I didn’t used to wear them out of fear of offending someone.


March 10, 2004