And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.
Exodus 20:26 (NIV)
I changed in the stalls before and after gym classes. I wouldn’t say it was out of embarrassment, but rather, a life-ending feeling of utter mortification and shame at the mere thought of someone seeing me naked. None of the guys ever took off their underwear – the bathroom was just a bunch of pre-teens dudes in boxers, flimsy beaters, and knee-length socks. No one was even looking at anyone; everyone faced the wall. It was all implied, not shown. We were not ready for full exposure.
Once we hit eighth grade, this guy Daniel pointed out my bathroom modesty to everyone. He said so-and-so-something small penis yadda probably gay – I couldn’t understand the exact insults through the stall door. I don’t remember it being a sexual shame. What I mean is that I never worried the other guys might think that I was queer, because at that point, my image of sex was lying in bed with a woman clothed while mechanized tentacles emerged from our loins and rubbed together. So being queer was the least of my thoughts. No, it wasn’t sexual. It was relational. I wanted to be the guy who could change in front of other guys, but I just wasn’t that guy.
I was a modest kid until I went to church – they really shoved the whole male-camaraderie-at-any-cost down our throats. But don’t let my natural cynicism confuse you – fellowship, particularly intra-gender, is a good thing. To sit with other guys who feel just as weird as you do, it can be a tremendously good thing. But to be around all those guys and just know that you don’t belong? That can be a real drag. I attended just about every single church retreat, and most involved some sort of midnight-hour (read: 8:45 pm) communal disrobing session disguised as a bonding ritual. And it was all invoked with the attitude of “Hey! We’re dudes! We can’t suppress our guy-ness!”
And so while in the mountains of New York State, as the clove of October-November rolled around, after the leaders fell asleep and the eighth grade boys rose from their bunk beds… I decided to partake. It was a necessity, so that I could join the group and claim a spot amongst the males. The dare was to streak down the hill, skinny-dip in the lake, and run back before the cold the cold killed us. I did it, hands clamped down over my body for just a shred of modesty. But who cares, that is just semantics. Because I did it. And now, I could claim my spot.
With newfound confidence, I waltzed back into school the next week. I looked around the playground as the school buses dropped off student after student. Everyone was gathering for a quick round of dodge ball. I decided to partake. But there was this little chubby guy named Frankie who would not play and wanted to be the “scorekeeper” instead. And I thought, What a loser. Remember that guy Daniel from the bathroom? Yeah, well he ripped into Frankie, and said all the same so-and-so/yadda stuff he had said to me. And with my recently bestowed masculinity, I whispered in Daniel’s ear, Let me take care of this. So I sauntered behind Frankie, grabbed his double-XL shorts, and shanked him in front of the crowd. I was behind, so I am not sure what the other guys saw, but apparently, it was hilarious. That was my way of saying to Frankie, Join the club dude, or get out. It was also my way of saying to the other guys… I am one of you.
The principal gave me detention for a week for my shenanigans. I cried the whole time and begged for forgiveness, but got none. They made me sit on the wall during all the recess times and watch everyone else play dodge ball. Public shaming. That set me back to fifth grade levels of decency. No more immodesty for me.
Currently on THE LAW ACCORDING TO MOSES
After a rousing reading of Exodus 25 – 31, I have added about 20 laws to the Ritual section, which has pulled it ahead of Behavior. Also, be sure to check out a law in the Money & Property section that implies a flat taxing system (meaning the rich and the poor pay the same). Then, God lays down a precise set of instructions for building His tabernacle. And finally, we have our first Miscellaneous Law!