April 6, 2016
Ellen and I were married on February 15, 1975. I was in the military and came home three days before the wedding. As you can imagine there was much to do in those few days. Because I had been 5000 miles away I played a very small part in preparing for the festivities. One of the responsibilities Ellen and I took on was to go pick her sister Nancy up from college in Wooster, OH a couple of days before the wedding. I recall two events from that trip. First, I was not very experienced at driving so looking occasionally at the gas gauge was not a discipline I had mastered yet. Yep… right outside of Wooster we drifted to the side of the road. I have no recollection of how we got gas, but eventually we got going again. When we finally got to Nancy’s dorm we asked where we could go to get something to eat. She only knew two places. One was McDonalds and the second was a place called “The Wooster Inn.” None of us were up for (or shall I say “down” for) McDonalds, so we decided to give the Inn a go. I was dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt. I don’t think Ellen or Nancy were much fancier. We should have had some sort of a clue when we drove up to the large stone edifice and saw women wrapped in dead animals being dropped off at the front door from Mercedes and Cadillacs. It took only a moment’s observation once inside (and a few stares) to realize we were woefully underdressed. But being young I would have been too embarrassed to walk out. One might wonder why I wasn’t too embarrassed to stay there! I know. I don’t get it either.
This raises the issue of “dress.” Can we agree that dress in any circumstance is 100% cultural? I mean whatever standard you use for whatever situation you are in regarding dress is totally dictated by the current culture. Right? I had a conversation with someone recently who works in Wooster. I mentioned the story above. Know what she said? “Oh, well, the Wooster Inn isn’t like that anymore. You can wear most anything.” No doubt some will respond with a “what a shame.” Yeah, maybe so, but it is what it has become so wishing and pining for yesteryear doesn’t change reality.
This conversation makes me think of one of THE most shallow issues in The Church, i.e., what people wear. Seriously?! You know what I mean don’t you. There are some who would argue that we ought to be dressed to go to the Wooster Inn in 1975 when we go to church. “We ought to wear our very best for God.” Um… show me that in the Bible. I have a tux in my closet. Why are we not advocating for that, along with ball gowns? Aren’t they our “very best?” I suspect what we really mean is this, “Everybody ought to wear what I deem to be appropriate on Sunday mornings.” And what I deem to be appropriate has something to do with the culture in which I grew up. And even that doesn’t apply much any longer. I don’t recall one woman with a hat (bonnet) this past Easter… not to mentioned white gloves or corsages. Know what I mean?
Listen… I’m not saying that we ought to dig up the sewer in our front yard early Sunday morning and then take a break to attend church in the same clothes. However, the N.T. is filled with examples of people coming to Jesus with less than stellar resumes and all He did was love them. Blind people, “crippled” people, lepers, prostitutes, misguided religious leaders… Jesus welcomed them all into his presence. I don’t recall one example of him fussing about what they were wearing.
Honestly… this clothing debacle comes across as simply arrogant rich people, i.e., “dress up to my standard or get the heck out of here.” I know, I know… YOU are not rich. Let me dispel that. If you live in the USA, you/we are RICH. As a matter of fact you/we are likely in the top 2% of wealth in the world.
Let’s remember something… the church is not your house (or mine). You can have any standards you want in the place you live. The Church is God’s house. He sets the rules. He sets the standards. It seems pretty clear that God is much more concerned with what is inside of you than what is outside of you. And that’s really the point of all of this. Frankly the “clothing” issue is not what it once was but our focus on outward things still runs hot and heavy.
Read and meditate on these words of Jesus found in Matthew 15.
7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 “‘These people honor me with their lips (clothing?), but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.
Our Faith is not about our outward behavior or our human rules… it’s about our hearts. If our hearts are critical and hateful, then it seems to matter little to God what kind of clothes we wear or what we claim about our beliefs. Let us pray that God radically changes our hearts, not our clothes or the clothes of those around us.