catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 6 :: 2005.03.25 — 2005.04.07


A theology of clothing

In my church's Bible-reading track we recently encountered Exodus
28, which describes in detail the sacred garments that Aaron must wear
as the High Priest of Israel. The specifications are exacting and must
be followed to the letter to make Aaron and his sons acceptable to God.
I had sudden flashbacks to the dress codes at the Christian schools I
attended. The implication was that God wanted us to look prim and
proper. If a girl's skirt was not below the knee, she was immodest and
therefore displeasing God; a baseball cap worn into the chapel was
irreverent and therefore grieved God.

I cannot describe what a relief it was, as I grew into adulthood, to
find churches aimed at Generation X that encouraged us to come in
jeans. It was not just a concession to our slacker ways but rather a
reflection of the idea that God wants us to "come as you are" before
His throne. The old paradigm, many of us felt, told us that what God
wanted from human beings was cleaned-up lives, happy masks, and
starched shirts. The new theology told us that God wants us to come to
Him in our brokenness, our messiness—that it is through broken vessels
and not perfect people that God works.

I have embraced this lifestyle wholeheartedly, but after a few years
of enjoying the freedom I found it odd that God wasn't having an impact
at all on my wardrobe. I began to wonder how I could honor God with my
clothing choices, with all the time, money, and energy that went into
those decisions. Should I wear items with a specific Christian
reference—cross and fish jewelry, or Christian-slogan T-shirts? Should
I boycott certain brands with unethical marketing or manufacturing
practices? Should I choose clothes that are durable and well-made,
honoring craft and excellence? Should I shop as cheaply as possible so
that more of my paycheck can go toward more worthwhile causes? Clothes
don't seem like a very spiritual issue at first, but in one way or
another, clothes make a statement.

I know people whose shopping creeds align with one of the above
criteria, and I am incredibly supportive of their practices. For
myself, I eventually developed my theology of clothing by reading about
the lives of monks and nuns. While their robes and habits seem
distinctively out of place these days, it was the standard attire of
the time when the monastic traditions began. What's more, it was poor
people's clothing. The monks and nuns simply bought enough sets of the
average garment that they could wear the same thing every day and no
longer be consumed by the time and energy spent choosing what to wear.
This fit their overall mandate to direct as much of their awareness as
possible toward God.

Now, I haven't gone so far as to wear the same thing every day. But
I have a small selection of clothes in the same color palette that I've
mixed and matched for the last two years. I've eliminated the
opportunity to debate over what I'll wear. I have tried to extend the
life of my clothing to the point I've been asked if the jeans I'm
wearing are the only ones I own. In the end this might not sound too
different from any other 20-something male in America. But my
motivation is not laziness or disinterest—it's a desire to be faithful
to Christ's exhortation: "Do not worry about your life, what you will
eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear."

This is only a personal theology, and I am still yearning to
discover and appreciate other approaches to the clothing question. Just
this summer I got my first taste of the benefits of dressing up for
church. I was in England on vacation, and didn't have dressy clothes
with me, but I tried to put together the most presentable outfit I
could with my one collared shirt and my darkest jeans. I tied back my
dreadlocks and shaved. During this whole preparation I kept thinking of
the small stone church we were going to, the people we were going to
worship with, and the experience of meeting God there. When the time
arrived I was ready and available.

The downside of the "come as you are" theology is that I do
virtually no preparation for church and often find myself two or three
songs into the service before I'm really cognizant of the transition
from my frantic, self-focused life into my still, other-focused life.
It's kind of like the difference between dressing up for a big date and
just hanging out with someone at home. The casual evening allows you to
be yourself, but the formal event gives you time to anticipate and
prepare and be ready to meet the other person.

In the end, I think that's the point of the passage about Aaron's
priestly robes. God is not demanding that Aaron look his best, but,
through the mandate of a physical ritual, God is gently reminding Aaron
to make preparations to meet with the Almighty God. It's the heart that
God is concerned about, not the outward appearance, but nevertheless
the outside can affect the inside. The physical directly affects the
spiritual. Something as mundane as getting dressed each morning can be,
if we allow it, a ritual that leads us into worship of God.

Discussion: Clothed in Righteousness

What principles guide your clothing choices? Do you believe there?s
a ?right? way to dress? What are your struggles in this area or what do
you wish you could change?

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