Theology of Victoria’s Secret

In 1977, Roy Raymond founded a company called Victoria’s Secret.  Today we all know Victoria’s Secret as a lingerie store that’s seemingly in every mall around the world.  We’re all familiar with the pink shopping bags and tissue paper.  But what may surprise you is that Victoria’s Secret was founded by a man.

Roy Raymond had two reasons for starting a lingerie store.  First, every time he went to a department store like Macy’s or Dillard’s to buy lingerie for his wife he felt completely out of place.  He was a man surrounded by racks full of strange garments.  The sales ladies hesitated to help him.  The female customers stared at him.  The lingerie section of a department store was not the sort of place a man could feel at ease.  So he wanted to start a store where everyone could feel comfortable buying lingerie and where the sales people were trained to help everyone.

Secondly, he felt that the lingerie sold at retail stores were dowdy, drab, frumpy, and down right ugly.  This was back in the 1970’s when most women bought underwear packaged in 3-packs and comfort was more important than looks.  After all, who’s going to see your underwear?  But Mr. Raymond thought lingerie should be sexy, alluring, fun, and colorful as well as comfortable.  Of course, there were shops that sold these kinds of ladies underwear but they were sleazy places.  The idea behind Victoria’s Secret was to be sexy yet classy.  To be provocative, yet accessible.

Since the founding of Victoria’s Secret, the whole culture’s views on women’s clothing, women’s fashion, and women’s psyche when it comes to what they wear has changed.  We’ve gone from drab, colorless, “unmentionables” to sexy being the norm.  Now there are other stores vying to be Victoria’s Secret clones (Gilly Hicks, Blackheart, Aerie, etc.).

I write all this not as a condemnation of Victoria’s Secret or the lingerie industry.  I’m not condemning our culture.  In fact, there’s a lot to like about Victoria’s Secret and its business philosophy.  Why alienate a whole group of potential customers when you can make them feel welcomed?  I think there’s a lot the church can learn from Victoria’s Secret.

At the time Mr. Raymond started Victoria’s Secret, there was no attempt to make men feel welcomed in the lingerie section of department stores.  These places weren’t inviting.  Quite the opposite, men felt that they were strange, unfamiliar, and even hostile places.  Our churches can feel like strange, unfamiliar, and even hostile places.  And I’m not talking about being strange places to people who aren’t Christian.  I’m talking about being strange places to Christians from other churches.  I recently spoke to a man who came to our church for the first time.  Turns out this gentleman has been a lifelong Christian.  But he said our church was so different from what he had experienced in his Christian life that he can’t see himself here long term.

We have to admit that our churches (no matter what church you’re currently at) may seem very foreign to people who aren’t regular church goers.  They aren’t familiar with all of our traditions, norms, and lingo.  Those who are Christians may be able to adapt going from church to church as things will be somewhat familiar.  But for those who aren’t Christians, church is often a very alien and even hostile place.  Our usual response is that newbies should learn to adapt to US and that we shouldn’t have to change for THEM.  This was the attitude of the department stores towards Mr. Raymond.  They were saying, “Hey, MISTER… you’re in OUR world now.  So either you buy something or get out.  We’re not going to change just for YOU.”

I think we need to reflect on our churches and ask ourselves are we welcoming?  Friendly?  Inviting?  Hospitable?  Warm?  Engaging?  We all want to change the world for the better through sharing the Gospel.  But if we can’t even make people feel at ease with us, then how can we expect to earn the right to enter into their lives?

The second thing Mr. Raymond and Victoria’s Secret did really well was change the culture’s beliefs about women’s underwear.  The church has to reflect on how well it is doing changing the culture’s beliefs about God.  In our culture, God is either 1) non-existent, 2) a fuzzy warm Santa type who wants to give his children everything, or 3) a cosmic judge who doesn’t want anyone to live their lives the way they see fit.  These are all gross distortions of God.  The Church is the body of Christ, the people of God, and the herald of God’s truths.  The question for us is how do we begin to change the culture’s beliefs about God while still being welcoming, inviting, friendly, engaging, etc.

I think we need to consider what Roy Raymond did with Victoria’s Secret.  His basic idea applies to the church.  Take something foreign and make it accessible.  And at the same time, change how people believe by believing strongly in it yourself.

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Little Old Lady Schools Young Theologian

Last week, of course, was Holy Week.  It was a time of reflection, remembrance, meditation, and celebration.  It was a time to reconnect to our Lord Jesus.  It was a time to remember what he did for us lowly sinners.  Now, I imagine most Christians go through all or some of the church Holy Week activities and then don’t think much of them the following week.  I don’t say this as a condemnation.  That’s how I usually am.  As a pastor, I’m the one planning all of these activities geared towards reflection, remembrance, etc. etc.  And even I forget about them the following week.  Hey… I’m human too.  And as a pastor my mind is already on the upcoming week’s activities.  But something happened during Holy Week and I just can’t get it off my mind.

Last week (I think it was Wednesday or Thursday… I can’t remember exactly) there was a knock on my front door.  This is unusual because I rarely get knocks on the door.  I looked at my wife and neither of us knew who it could be.  I looked through the peep hole and saw a little old lady leaning on a walker.  I opened the door and asked, “Can I help you?”

She was a little startled.  She asked me, “Are you Roman Catholic?”

“No ma’am,” I replied wondering why she asked me that.

“Oh!” she said.  “I live a few houses down the street.  The people who used to live here were Roman Catholic.  I guess they’ve moved away.  They used to give me rides to mass.”

I said, “I’m sorry.  They moved out a while ago.”

She said, “OK.  I guess I won’t go to mass tonight.  Sorry to bother you.”  And with that she turned around and slowly walked towards the sidewalk.  I watched her go for a bit then closed the door.

All through the weekend I talked about Jesus’ love and sacrifice.  I talked about how, through his love, we have access to the Father and can truly love one another.  I talked about Jesus washing away our sins and how we can be considered righteous.  But the whole time, I felt rotten inside.  A voice inside me kept saying that I should have driven that little old lady to mass.  The Catholic church is like five minutes from my house.  It wouldn’t have troubled me one bit.

I keep thinking about how a little old lady probably missed mass because of me.  I keep thinking about how she probably went home and watched Matlock or something instead of being with others and celebrating Jesus.  The image of her slowly walking down my driveway keeps being replayed over and over in my mind.  And in my heart I know I should have taken her to mass.

At the time I didn’t think much of it.  In fact, I was thinking, “She probably wouldn’t want me taking her anyways since she asked if I was Catholic.”  I tried to play the whole “She’s Catholic and I’m Protestant (Southern Baptist at that!)” thing.  I tried to rationalize it theologically and historically.  But in instances like this, a little theological knowledge and church history knowledge can hinder the commandment to love one’s neighbor.

I don’t know if Jesus cares what Christian “camp” I adhere to during this incident.  A big part of me thinks that all Jesus is concerned about is whether or not I showed love towards my neighbor.  And it’s not like my neighbor was asking me to help her sacrifice children to Satan.  She just wanted a lift to mass.  And obviously I failed to demonstrate love.  And because of that, I failed to connect with my neighbor.  I could have shared that I’m a pastor and I love Jesus too.  I could have shared about my church and what we’re doing for Holy Week.  I could have given her hope that at least one of her neighbors cares about her.  All it would have cost me was a few minutes out of my day.

I think of myself as a pastor, a growing theologian, somewhat decent Biblical scholar, church historian, Christian ethicist…  But through this little old lady, God showed me that I have a long long way to go.  I’m not beating myself up over this incident.  My prayer is that I’ll have another opportunity to love my neighbor.  I pray that God takes care of my neighbor and show her that she’s loved.  I hope that I’ll see her again soon.  And I hope I get another chance to take her to mass.

Holy Week has come and gone.  But it doesn’t mean that we simply forget what Jesus did or what he commanded.  He demonstrated his sacrificial love for us.  Is it too hard to sacrifice a little for one another out of neighborly love?

Stay Out of the Bro-Zone

I was driving some youth group kids back to our church the other day and we started chatting about dating, prom, and being “just friends” with someone.  This took me back to my high school days (over 20 years ago).  It amazes me that even though so much has changed in our society, when it comes to the basics of guy/girl relationships not much has changed.

Guys still play this tricky balance of being friendly towards girls, but not TOO friendly or else you end up in the friend zone. The friend zone is this kind of purgatory or limbo land where you’re “just friends” and most likely not going to be anything more than that.  Guys hate being banished to the friend zone.  So the dilemma is that you want to be friendly, but when you’re friendly you risk the friend zone.

Believe me, I’ve been in many a friend zones.  We accept it because it beats not being friends (or not having female friends).  We accept it because it offers a glimmer of hope (no matter how small) of possibly escaping and moving on to the holy land of dating.  The belief goes, “If I can endure this long enough to wow her I’ll have a shot at dating her.”  More often than not, the friend zone is like the Siberian wasteland of dating.

However, guys have escaped the friend zone.  It is possible.  In fact, chances may be slim but they’re not too bad.  What you REALLY want to avoid is the dreaded BRO-ZONE.  The bro-zone is when a girl says, “You’re like a brother to me.”  When a girl says this, it basically means you have no shot… none… at all.  The bro-zone isn’t purgatory where you have a chance to escape.  The bro-zone is hell.  No escape.  No turning back.  Abandon all hope all who enter the bro-zone.

Now, I can’t get into the mind of a young woman so I can’t fathom why any human being would do this to another.  After all, you never hear guys say “You’re like a sister to me.”  There’s no “sister-zone”.  Guys don’t operate this way.  How or why the bro-zone exists is beyond my level of comprehension.

What I can say, as a guy, is that it completely sucks to be in the bro-zone.  If the friend zone is a Siberian wasteland, the bro-zone is the polar ice cap on Mars.  It’s a one way trip… a land of no return.  Avoid it at all costs!!  This is what typically happens.  You like a young woman and begin to be friends with her.  You don’t make your intentions known that you would like a deeper relationship.  You start to do things together like shopping for clothes, hanging out with her friends, and/or helping her with her relationship issues.  You still don’t make your intentions known.  You become more than friends but not really dating and there’s no intimacy or emotional affection coming from her.  You work up the nerve to tell her how you really feel.  Then BOOM!!!  She tells you you’re like a brother to her.

Welcome to the BRO-ZONE.  Population… YOU!

There is no escaping the bro-zone.  There’s only avoiding it altogether.  How do you avoid it?  Timing is everything!!  At some point, you have to tell her how you feel before it gets too late.  But you don’t want to let her know too early on.  You risk freaking her out.  Also, YOUR feelings may change as well.  There’s no exact science to any of this.  But communication is crucial.  Honesty is also crucial.  Yes… you may get rejected outright.  And rejection is a huge fear.  But at least once you’re rejected, things are over and you can move on.  The bro-zone, in my humble opinion, is the worst possible outcome.

So there you have it… my piece of dating advice.  Be upfront, be honest, be willing to communicate, and be willing to move on.

Book Recommendations

In my sermon yesterday (March 3rd, 2013), I brought up reading good Christian books in addition to studying the Bible.  Of course, nothing can replace reading the Bible in a Christian’s life.  As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”  However, it never hurts to read books that will help explain the Bible and/or help us in our faith walk.  So I’ve compiled a short list of books that I think will help folks who never or rarely read Christian books.  Of course, any time you compile a list someone is going to say that you’ve left something out.  This list is by no means exhaustive so feel free to suggest others.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis- This is the quintessential “must read” book (other than the Bible).  C.S. Lewis explains the Christian faith in a way that is engaging, thought provoking, rational, and understandable.

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis- Lewis examines the issue of evil and suffering in the world.  If God is good, then how can he allow evil and pain to exist?  Why doesn’t he do something about it?  Lewis tackles these questions in this book.

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright- Wright explains the Christian faith in a way that is both easy to understand yet intellectually engaging.

Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller- Keller examines how our hearts yearn for God yet we replace him with idols such as love, money, and respect.  Keller writes in an easy to understand way yet the truths he gets at are profound.

A Long Obedience In the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson- Peterson tackles the problem of living out a lifetime of discipleship in an “instant” society that demands instant gratification.

How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon Fee- This book is for those who are intimidated when it comes to reading the Bible.  Fee helps to make the Bible accessible and understandable.

Okay… I know there are a lot more great books.  And I’ll make recommendations in the future.  But I think this is a good start for someone who rarely or never reads Christian books.  If someone had no Christian books other than the Bible and they asked me to recommend a few titles, these are the books I’d recommend.  I purposely stayed away from books that may require too much theological “heavy lifting.”  I wanted to keep the titles engaging yet accessible.  I hope you give these books a read and feel free to recommend other titles!

First Post!

Hello and thanks for coming!

My name is Linh and I’m the English Ministry Pastor at West Houston Vietnamese Baptist Church (Or West Houston for short).  I’m originally from the Seattle, WA area.  My wife Elise and I moved here in September of 2012 with our son Xander.  The church community here has been wonderful in helping us settle in.  But we often feel like we are strangers in a strange land.

I’ve wanted to start a blog for a long time now.  This blog is mainly a way for me to get my thoughts out.  Since I’m a pastor, my thoughts will mainly come from a Christian perspective.  But that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for interesting discussion.  “Christian perspective” in no way means “set in stone.”  I believe healthy and lively discussion is beneficial for all.

Since this is my first post, I do want to lay down some “ground rules” in which I will abide by.

1) I will not trash my church, church members, church leaders, or pastoral staff.  A blog isn’t the place for that so please don’t expect me to do that.

2) I will not discuss too much about my family because there are some boundaries of personal space.

3) I will endeavor to abide by the teachings of the historical, evangelical, ecumenical, orthodox church.  This may scare off some people or at least cause some to scratch their heads.  We can have lively discussions on what it means to be historical, evangelical, ecumenical, and orthodox.  And I look forward to those discussions.

4) I will endeavor to be thoughtful and thought provoking.  But I realize that my readers may come from all walks of life as well as all seasons of life.  The folks I work with at my church are mostly young folks so I will try to be inclusive.  Also, I may wander into deep theological territory but I will try to make those wanderings meaningful.  You DO NOT need a seminary education to partake.

So there you have it!!  Thanks for reading and I hope you become a regular.  Cheers!