Thursday, January 30, 2014

Naked in the House of God

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." ~Mark Twain

"Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy—rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that". ~ Hamlet Act 1 Scene 3. Shakespeare

For the past few weeks in the Contemplative Service we've been considering clothes as metaphor. Here is Part 1 and Part 2 

This week I've been reflecting back on the first appearance of clothes in the bible.

In Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There first response after swallowing is to realize that they are naked and and sew fig leaves together to make coverings for themselves. They hide their naked selves from each other and then proceed to hide their nakedness from God. 

In their original state Adam and Eve had no concept of Right and Wrong, and no concept of naked or clothed. Every animal they were surrounded by was naked, and they saw themselves as no different. After eating the fruit they suddenly become self conscious about they way they present themselves to each other. Being vulnerable and naked is suddenly no longer an option because the wisdom gleaned from the fruit tells them it it wrong. Not only does it feel wrong to each other but it feels wrong to be that way before God.

Adam and Eve can no longer present themselves to each other or God as truly themselves. The knowledge of Good and Evil has removed that possibility. They craft an image of themselves that is not who they really are. Their real selves  are not acceptable to each other any more, and they believe they are not acceptable to God either. 

I find it interesting that God in his rebuke does not demand that Adam and Eve remove their clothes and become naked again. After God curses them He chooses to re-clothe them in animal skins. Once you become aware of Good and Evil it seems that you cannot forget it again.

And so we have dressed ourselves ever since.

Clothes; that began as a way of hiding our 'bad parts' from God and from each other have transformed into a way of presenting our 'best selves' to God. They become a way of crafting an image ourselves. They become a way of altering our mood. We dress to impress, to intimidate, to conceal weakness, to protect ourselves from harm. I have so many different versions of myself that I present. The Sunday Best, The Gym, The Hang Out with Friends, the Conference. I subtly dress different at these places and present myself different as well.

Naked I came from my Mother's womb,  and naked I will return - Job 1:21

All these thoughts of clothing and metaphor over the past few weeks can be paralyzing. I can spend so much time obsessing over what image I am presenting to the world that it becomes an excuse for inaction. I need to do the best I can and trust that God sees the intent behind the clothing.

The gospel writers say that Jesus was stripped of his clothing at the crucifixion. Most pictures of Jesus on the cross put some kind of loin cloth on him. It was Roman practice to strip the prisoner naked however. God, stripped of power and might, of majesty and glory hangs naked before the world. 

Where we could not become naked before God, God became naked before us

God invites us to him, clothes and all. God accepts not just our best selves, but our worst. Not just who we desperately want to be, but also who we are afraid that we might be. There is not a single part of ourselves that cannot be hidden in God.

And as God clothed Adam and Eve, he offers to clothe us in Christ. 

My work is not critique others of their Right and Wrong, I have too many beams in my own eye for that. My work is to slowly exchange my clothes - the many layers of my false self, for the life that God is building within me.

If Mark Twain and Shakespeare are correct that the 'clothes make the man', then I need God to be my Master Tailor.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What should I wear?

Last Sunday I led worship not in my Sunday best, but in jeans and a tee shirt that said 'I make stuff up' on the front of it. For the reasons why click here

On Sunday we are inviting the congregation to come just as you are - to dress however they feel comfortable instead of how they feel they 'should' dress. I've spent much of the week debating what I should wear this time. I feel an uncommunicated expectation that I should wear something funny or thought provoking, it's what I am known for....and it's a role I enjoy. It's another image I project.

As I stared at my tee shirts and tried to pick one I became aware that every item of clothing I wear communicates something about me. Even the cheap Target plain white tee shirts are an attempt to communicate an aura of 'I don't care what I wear, I've set my mind on more important things'.

Normally I just grab the same pressed shirt and pants and race out the door. I don't think about it, it's like wearing a uniform to work. This week I've spent a lot of time wondering about what is exactly the right message I want to convey in the clothes I wear...and it is exhausting.

And it's not just clothes. My haircut (or lack of it) , my facial hair, earring and tattoo all present a particular image. Everything I post on Facebook communicates something about me. How I choose to spend my money, the subjects I choose to steer the conversation towards, the books I read, whether I'm an iphone or an android guy, Mac or PC, it all influences how I want everyone else to perceive me, and advertising knows that and tries to present their product as vital if you want to present the 'right' sort of image.  Even when I talk about being vulnerable and authentic there is still some part of me that wants to be known as the person who is vulnerable and authentic.

All of this analysis paralysis is rushing through my head while I'm trying to pick clothes for church!

And now I want to find some deep meaningful thought to end this post, something insightful and provoking....

...and that desire is also about what kind of image I present to you.

I've got nothing.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

'My life is no longer mine'....wait....what???!!!

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Every Sunday I get home from Chapelwood and immediately go upstairs and put on something more comfortable. The clothes I wear to church on Sunday - my 'Sunday Best', represent a little of the ideal me that I want to present to the world. The stretched stained tee shirt and pajama flannel shorts that I wear around the house seem inappropriate in the house of God.

As Jerry said last week, along with dressing up our outsides, we feel the pressure to dress up our insides. We hide the stains and tears that mar our souls and try and make ourselves as spiritually presentable as possible. It is as if our wounds, jealousies, hurts and fears are as inappropriate in church as tee shirt and shorts.

There is the Ideal Me - the me of the Sunday Best, the me I aspire to be, and then their is the Real Me. On any given Sunday I am at various places on the continuum. The gift of Contemplative Worship has been allowing me to bring whatever me I am currently experiencing into the presence of God.

The very songs we sing reflect this tension, some of our songs express an ideal - All To Jesus I Surrender, All to Him I freely Give. That lyric expresses an attitude of surrender that I may never attain in this lifetime. Other songs express the reality of our comfortable clothes Take, O Take me as I am, summon out what I shall be.'

Over 15 years ago I wrote the song My Life Is No Longer Mine:

My life is no longer mine, to do with as I will
I gave all my rights away
When I gave myself to You
Surrender all I am, giving all I have to give
I'm trusting in You alone
To give all I need to live

When You gave Yourself for me
You gave all You had to give
When I give myself to You
I can give no less
Take my life now, take it all
Do with me as You desire
I surrender to Your love
I can do no less

Take my life, take my all

(To listen to it, click here)

It's proved to be one of my most popular praise and worship songs........and it bites me in the butt regularly.

It expresses a 'Sunday Best' ideal that at times I aspire to, but at other times I wish I hadn't written - if the composer cannot live up to his words and sing them honestly how can anyone else?

Gave all my rights away....Surrendering all I am....Trusting in You alone....When I give myself to you I can give no less

Well actually I can and frequently do give less than my all.

Do with me as You desire....

Err...not so much.

Sometimes this song expresses who I want to be, other times it feels that every line is an excuse to beat myself up for not being the kind of Christian I think I should be. My inner critic loves to berate me for not measuring up to some impossible christian ideal, and this song lyric becomes another yard stick that I can measure myself by and find myself wanting.

I would much rather sit with the lyrics to another song of mine.

Love, like a waterfall, falling on us
Flooding our hearts with grace and peace.
Healing waters flow, flowing on us,
Flooding our hearts with love.

Every moment of every day God is loving us,
Showers of mercy and waves of forgiveness are covering us

Love, like a waterfall.....

(For an explanation of how that song came to be written click here)

Some days I respond to the bold spiritual challenge, other days I feel so fragile that all I want is for God to hug me in silence....and I'm grateful that whether I'm reaching for ideals or wearing my wounds like an armor, I have a place I can just 'be' who I am in the presence of God.

What does your 'Ideal Me' look like? When do you feel at your most comfortable?