Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sunday Frump

I work in an office, a tall, shiny glass building filled with desks and ergonomic chairs. In the morning, I assemble my slacks, blazer, knee-highs and camisole. I pack my work shoes in a bag and walk to the Metro in my sneakers. On the train, I stand amid people who are also wearing this morning uniform, sort of a clothing mullet: business on the top, party on the feet.

At the office, I comb my hair again, change my shoes, and check that nothing horrible has happened to my clothing during the commute. Several times during the workday I nip back into the bathroom, re-apply lipstick, straighten my clothing.

On Sundays, I put on a nice pair of jeans. I wear sneakers, because it's a three-mile walk back home again and I don't want to lug an extra pair of shoes. I go to the informal service, because I'm not into hymns and I want to wear street clothing without being uncomfortable.

That's okay, because there is an informal service. The culture at my church includes that casual strain that my generation finds it so important to include. But the priest at my husband's church isn't as encouraging. He's annoyed by people wearing jeans to the low-key evening Mass that we attend. It's disrespectful, he says. Christ is present in the Eucharist. We should put on our best.

You've heard this before. It's the idea that we honor God by dressing formally. It's the tradition of the Sunday Best. Would you wear a baggy T-shirt if you had an audience with the queen of England? Of course not. Years ago, Patrick had a guest priest chide the youth group for dressing down on Sundays. Back home in the Philippines, the priest said, even the people who lived in poverty had one nice outfit that they pulled out to wear on Sundays.

But I think that Filipino priest is missing something. See, this is a white-collar city. We don't wear rags six days a week and then pull out our suits on Sunday. We wear our best every day. And it's not because we're showing reverence. It's because we're selling something.

Here is what the business-casual uniform has to say: I've got everything under control. You won't be disappointed by my work, because I'm smart and I'm sharp and I pay attention to detail. Trust me; I'm a professional. I take this seriously.

That's what my clothing is supposed to say, five days a week. If a client walks through the office, that client should see me working at my desk, neat and serious and dedicated to the task. It's what my firm needs to communicate, because we are a place of business, a place that sells its services.

That's not what church is for. I'm not supposed to be impressing anybody when I'm there. Is my clothing supposed to communicate that I revere God? If so, how does dressing like an office worker do that? Is God going to say, "Gosh, look at Ouisi here, she's coordinating her shoes with her necklace. Nice lines on that skirt, too. She must really take this whole religion thing seriously; I think I'll extend her contract."

When at church, we're not supposed to be selling anything, least of all the lie of perfection. It's time to be honest: Hey, God. Hey, brothers and sisters. I don't have it under control. I'm not more special than the next guy. I guarantee nothing, except my awareness of my need for God and the fact that I'm a mediocre Christ-follower.

Christians have the tradition of Sunday Best, but we also have the tradition of Plain Dress. Cultural context is everything when it comes to clothing. In an office culture where one's clothing is constantly scrutinized-- is it this season's fashion, or did you fail to buy a new wardrobe this year? Is that Michael Kors? I think Anne Hathaway wore the same bracelet!-- I need to be able to worship without wondering if my eyeshadow is smudged.

So that's why I wear jeans to church: After a week of pressure to fit in by standing out, I need to give my wardrobe a Sabbath. My weekday best gets hung up and shut away. I continue to get on the priest's nerves, but there's something deep inside me that hates a lapel, and on grounds of being a Baptist I reserve the right to pray for guidance, consider deeply, and then dig in my heels over any fool thing. If God requires more of my Sunday outfit than that it's clean and modest, then God will have to send me a memo. (God, you have my business e-mail, right?)


1 comment:

  1. You've made some good points. And you made them quite cleverly. I really enjoyed reading, thanks.
    I particularly liked the reference about the clothing mullet =)