Sunday, February 27, 2005

Church Couture

(Sorry, y’all, this is gonna be a long one. Watch—see what I’m doing? ….I’m draggin’ out a big ol’ soapbox. Hang on to your hats, kids.)

There comes a time in almost every woman’s life when she feels the driving need to confess. (Actually, if you ask Robert Heinlein, *every* woman has that need *all* of the time, but I think Heinlein, though an excellent and very enjoyable science fiction writer, was a macho, chauvinistic, over-sexed pig, so we won’t pay any attention to his opinion. If you want me to digress on *my* opinion of *him*, please ask. I’ll do so.)

Anyway…the need to confess. Ladies and gents, I’ve got it. And, so, I am going to confess. Brace yourselves.


I wore jeans to worship this morning.

Breathe, people. Please. You’re turning purple.

Okay, all joking aside. Why am I being so silly about this? Why the sarcasm? Well, according to communication experts, sarcasm is merely a tool used by people who are passive-aggressive in their communications with others. When they are upset or angry about something, they don’t display their anger openly and clearly. Instead, they needle the issue in a roundabout, manipulative sort of manner. Sarcasm is their way of addressing the problem without having to stand up strongly for their opinions and without having to take responsibility for their own anger.

So, I’m gonna drop the sarcasm. I’m upset. I’m angry.

I’m angry at those who would turn worship to God into a social event. I’m angry at those who use gimmicks—whether it’s in the seating, in the lighting, in the “order of worship” (and where in the world did *that* holy phrase come from, anyway?), in the technology, in the shape of the auditorium, in the clothing, in the decoration, in the song books, in the cool new Bible translation, just in the fact of constructing a building—gimmicks to enhance the worship artificially. I’m angry at those who turn worship to God into a staged event, something the audience can enjoy and admire and leave, feeling “pumped.”

This has been building up in me for a long time.

Right now, let’s put aside my anger about lighting, “order,” décor, etc. That’s all news for a future post. Perhaps, from my first outrageous remark, you have already deduced that tonight, my anger is directed at the so-called “clothing issue.”

Most Sunday mornings, I wear a skirt. Sometimes knee-length, sometimes ankle-length. I’ve given up wearing high heels because, let’s face it, in Chemnitz, it’s too cold. I get sick often enough already. So my black boots suffice. On rare occasions, when I’m feeling particularly classy, I might wear my black slacks. With the boots. A nice shirt or blouse to go with skirt or slacks, some jewelry here and there, and voilá, I’m fancy.

But what for?

Though I haven’t taken down any statistics—no head counts or anything—I would guesstimate that maybe a third of the Chemnitz church “dresses up” for Sunday morning worship. Skirts, slacks, ties, suits. Shiny shoes. What does the rest do? Take a wild guess. Yes. Jeans. Sometimes, not even “nice” ones. Ragged ones. With holes. And they’re low-rise, too.

And the thing is, nobody cares.

They’re not there for a fashion show. They’re not there to advertise their new clothes. They’re not there to look at one another and think, “Hmm…should she be wearing that? Couldn’t he have pressed those pants? What’s with the frayed pant legs?”

David danced naked. Now, I’m not advocating that we turn the church into a nudist colony. But Moses worshiped God barefoot. Philip taught a Bible study out in the desert—and you know he wasn’t wearing his Sunday best. Think dirt and hot sun and sweat. Peter was a fisherman, and though I don’t know much about the culture of Jewish fishermen in the first century, I seriously doubt he owned any item of clothing we would call “nice.” And Jesus wasn’t wearing a tie during his last supper with his apostles.

Recently, I was present for a “Bible class” in which the topic of clothing came up. I put “Bible class” in quotation marks, because that phrase would indicate that a study of the Bible was taking place. But—and I say this with no sarcasm—it wasn’t a Bible study so much as an exchange of opinions based on anything but scripture.

I won’t tell you who the people were, what city they were in, or even what country. It doesn’t matter. These kinds of attitudes are prevalent in societies throughout the world…and if you can find it in the world, you can find it in the church.

This “Bible class” carried the title “A Biblical Study on the Subject of Worship.” The study focused on Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. The leader of the study pointed out that the Samaritan woman was focusing on the physical water, whereas Jesus was trying to show her the value of spiritual water. She was concerned with the place of worship (on a mountain vs. Jerusalem’s temple), but Jesus was trying to show her that true worship of God includes the attitudes of the heart, as well. In every aspect, her focus was on the physical, while he emphasized the spiritual.

I won’t digress with a point-by-point rendition of the class. But I was following along, agreeing with what was said, taking notes, looking up scriptures, when the discussion on worship took a turn that I just couldn’t believe. Long story short (yeah, right), the individual leading the study made the statement that people who “wear jeans and T-shirts to church” are not showing proper reverence for God.

I was floored. Flummoxed. Flabbergasted. (Yes, that’s a real word. And here’s the passive-aggressiveness coming out again.) People began speaking up all over the room, voicing their shock that their fellow Christians could be so disrespectful, so irreverent, so uncaring. Now, don’t get me wrong: the issue was not modesty. No, I don’t think mini-skirts and spaghetti straps and other major skin-baring items are appropriate for worship—some clothes are designed for catching attention, and a Christian should think twice before donning such. But modesty wasn’t the issue. Appearance was the issue.

Their point was, anything other than “Sunday-morning-best” just looks bad, and God doesn’t like it.

Well, I’d had about all I could take and was getting antsy, so I raised my hand. I tried to be diplomatic, I really did. I asked Ed later, and he said I kept my cool. But at the time, I wasn’t sure how cool I kept. Anyway, I made some remark about how interesting it is that culture varies from church to church, and I explained about the various styles of dress in the Chemnitz church. I finished with, “Many Christians there wear nothing but jeans and casual shirts, and their worship is no less reverent than ours is here today.”

The leader didn’t miss a beat. Without saying it outright, he communicated to me that I was wrong and that my thoughts on the matter were not welcome. I noted that during the rest of the class, he prefaced several statements about clothing with, “Well, I know the scriptures don’t say anything about this, but…”

Since when is it acceptable for a Christian to form ANY sort of opinion that’s doesn’t have its roots in the word and will of God?

I didn’t say any more. I grumbled and fussed to myself and wrote furiously for a few minutes. I wondered what this group of Christians would say to the African woman who, wearing the single, ragged garment she owns, walks four hours just to reach the church “hut” and then breast-feeds her baby during the sermon. You think I’m kidding. I’m not.

And I wondered what they would say to the couple sitting three rows up from me: The two of them were dressed in jeans and casual shirts. Wonder what those two thought?

If the focus is so trained on clothing, then what are “nice” clothes but a gimmick to enhance the worship service artificially and turn it into a social event?

Some of you, reading this, will think that I am being judgmental of that Bible study group. Perhaps I’m a little too angry. Perhaps I’m a little too vocal about it. But in return, I would ask… If I choose to be angry (and yes, I believe anger is always a choice)—then shouldn’t false teaching be something I choose to be angry at? And if someone is teaching that God cares about skirts and slacks and button-down shirts…doesn’t that qualify as false teaching?

I remember one particular point the leader of that study made. He said (and I paraphrase), “If Jesus were sitting in a chair on the stage behind me, you would want to look your absolute best. You’d bring out the best of everything for him, and you’d want to look as good as you possibly could.”

I’m sorry, friends, but that is false teaching.

What would our reactions be if Jesus were physically present during our worship? As for me, various ideas come to mind. Most of them involve cold sweat and weak knees and crumpling into a sobbing heap on the floor. Honestly, my clothing would be the last thing on my mind.

And would Jesus ask me why I’m wearing jeans? No. He spoke to the Samaritan woman about living, spiritual water. He wasn’t interested in the appearance of her clothes; he was probing the condition of her poor, sinful heart.

She focused on the bucket and the H2O. The physical. “Clothing” would fit nicely into that category. Jesus focused on the living, spiritual water that he wanted to send flowing through her soul.

I’m not on this soapbox because I think I’m better than those Christians I disagreed with. No, I’m no better. I sin, so I’m no better. But I say these things because I choose to be angry about and speak out against false teaching. And because I’m concerned about false teaching in God’s church.

This morning, while I worshiped God with my fellow disciples, I wore jeans. I really don’t believe that God cared.

“…[W]e look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

-- II Corinthians 4: 18

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Well, friends and neighbors, I'm gonna attempt the heretofore unattempted--by me, anyway. Yes, indeed, in an effort to be more communicative, I'm going to go through my entire blog and answer all comments.

So, here I go, donning my pith helmet and strapping on my machete, ready to plunge into the dense undergrowth of the jungle known as Commentland. Be ye warned.


Well, I lost my trusty pith helmet somewhere along September, and the machete just broke right in half when I tackled mid-August, but......I made it! I have emerged on the other side of the jungle, victorious over The Daunting Task of Answering All Comments! I made it! I'm finished! Whoo-yah!

So, what does this mean for you, Dear Reader? It means that if you've ever commented on any of my blog posts, you can now turn back, face the jungle yourself, traverse the gnarled vines of blog-posts, brave the leech-infested pools of links and words and punctuation marks, and eventually arrive at Your Comment, where you will find My Reply In All Its Weird And Witty Glory.

And now, I bid thee all good evening. All this jungle-hacking and polite chit-chat has worn me out. ;o) Fare thee well!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Dream #70


recorded October 2, 2004

Last night, I dreamed that I was someone other than myself. I had been dating a guy who did a circus act with a green python. I think the python’s name was Cleo or something like that. My relationship with Cleo’s owner was about to end, because I had realized that I wasn’t really attracted to him at all, neither by his personality nor his physical appearance. He just wasn’t a nice person at all—for instance, I knew that he often partially starved Cleo, just to keep the snake aggressive so he would be more interesting for the circus act.

I went to the guy’s apartment building with the intention of breaking up with him and telling him he was no longer welcome in my life. When I opened the apartment door, I knew something was wrong. Furniture was overturned, glass was broken, the whole apartment was just in disarray. I stepped through the debris and headed for the livingroom, already sure of what I would find there. When I went in, what I saw confirmed my suspicions: There was my former boyfriend, sitting in his recliner, dead. Obviously squeezed to death.

I looked for Cleo and finally found him in his cage. Just a glance told me that he had grown considerably larger since I’d last seen him, and he was shedding his skin. Somehow, just squeezing his owner to death had given him nourishment enough to grow. I was afraid of how large he would become once he consumed his owner, which I knew he would do soon.

Before I could even think about being shocked or horrified or revolted, something even weirder began to happen: Cleo began to transform into something else. At first, I couldn’t tell what was happening—it seemed like the space around the snake became blurry, and I couldn’t look at it. Then, when details sharpened again, the snake was gone, and a man stood there in his place.

I couldn’t really determine what he looked like, but even so, he was very attractive and somehow seductive. He beckoned to me, and I found that I moved forward almost against my will. He was drawing me forward, toward him, and I couldn’t resist. And didn’t want to.

I suppose I would’ve walked right into his arms and let him squeeze me to death, but I tripped over something on the floor and broke eye contact with the strange pythonman. No eye contact, no spell, and I started backing away from him in a panic. I ran out of the apartment, and he came after me. He couldn’t move very fast, though: Because he changed from snake to man before completely shedding his skin, his skin was somehow still attached to his dead owner like a rope that bound the pythonman’s feet. While he was still struggling with the rope of skin and the dead weight of his former owner, I fled to the stairs.

Once outside the apartment, I realized my problem was more dire than I had thought: I not only had Cleo to contend with, but also Cleo’s mate. Apparently, circus man had purchased a female python without telling me, and she had undergone the same mysterious transformation that Cleo had. She came after me in the form of a woman, while Cleo changed back into a snake in order to complete his molting.

Somehow, it ended up with Cleo slithering up the stairs in human form, and his mate doing the same from the top of the stairs, with me in the middle. I vaulted the stair railing and made it out of the building, but the two of them were close behind me: first the female, then Cleo bringing up the rear of the chase. I ran through the streets, dodging people and traffic, but I wasn’t able to leave the two of them behind. I was starting to slow down, and I couldn’t breathe. I knew they were about to catch me.

I rounded a corner and saw a policeman halfway down the block. In a final burst of speed, I reached him and gasped out, “He’s after her, and he won’t leave her alone!” Then I kept running. When I looked back, the policeman had stopped Cleo and the female, since he thought the two of them were involved in some kind of domestic dispute. I knew this had bought me only a little time, so I kept going. Eventually, I reached a different part of town and slowed to a walk, safe for the moment but aware that I needed to find a good hiding place. Then the dream ended.

Monday, February 21, 2005

I give up

Well, I've tried to post something here three times in the last hour. Either through Blogger's inteptitude or mine, all three posts have managed to disappear before I could hit the "publish" button. Apparantly, I'm not meant to post any of my own thoughts in my own blog today. So I give up. I surrender. Cardinal sin, according to "Galaxy Quest," but I don't care. I've had enough, I tell you! ;o)

So here's a nice poem instead. Enjoy.


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph