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Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The Clothes Make the (Wo)Man
This photo is from the on-line gallery of Phillip Toledano (thanks to fellow Scriber, Ben).

Sit with that photo for a minute. Allow your emotions to bubble up and give them names. Let them have their own stories just for a moment or so. See what those stories might be, if you don't just shove the emotions down or wave them aside or tell them what to do.

Now, think for a moment about how intimidated you feel when standing in the presence of someone who is dressed "to the nines." How intimidated you feel when you walk into a room or space and suddenly you realize ... you are not dressed the same as everyone else there. You'll never be able to dress like everyone else there.

Now you have the sense of modesty that Paul was trying to instill in Timothy when he wrote, "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God." His concern was not for sexual purity, but that the women would set a tone of hospitality and welcoming.

Our clothes tell people something about us. They tell a story about who we are before people ever get to know us. When we use those clothes to engage in power and manipulation to subdue others in our presence ... by whatever means, we are negating the power of the Gospel in the very space that the Gospel is to be transcendent.

So ... how should we dress? Well ... that's up to you and your particular dance with the Holy Spirit. See, none of us is the same. The rules are all the same, yet they're all different. All we can do is ask questions of each other ... where do you live? How do your neighbors dress? What are the local standards? What is welcoming amongst them? How do you create a welcoming environment in your space, where you are free to proclaim the Good News to people so they will hear it from you?
posted by Sonja Andrews at 6:38 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 6/11/2008 11:28:00 AM, Blogger Bitty

    What a great topic that's being ignored in favor of the dust-up on the Hillary post.
    I think this is a great, and deep, topic. Here's a few ideas and questions that come to mind regarding the ethics of your closet: does it matter to you what country your garment was manufactured in - say, an oppressive regime? Do you spend money on shoes (yikes! this hurts!) rather, say, than make a donation to cyclone relief, the area food pantry, or taking to supper an elderly couple on a fixed income? You can love fashion and yet be a good steward of beauty. See "Theology of Fashion", http://thebigredcouch-bitty.blogspot.com/2007/05/summer-fashion-theology.html

  • At 6/11/2008 12:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    Why is it that emergent women are having the same kind of victorian conversation that I could have in my Baptist Sunday school class in 1990?

  • At 6/11/2008 04:57:00 PM, Anonymous sonja

    If you don't like the conversation, find it boring, objectionable, or otherwise unenlightening ... then take your marbles and go home ... QUIETLY. Keeping your mouth shut. Using the manners your mother did NOT teach you well enough when you were young ... if you don't have anything kind or nice to say, then don't say anything at all. But for the sake of Christ who guides us, just leave your snarky words inside your head.

  • At 6/12/2008 02:32:00 PM, Blogger mel

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 6/12/2008 02:34:00 PM, Blogger mel

    I disagree with anonymous's conclusion that this is a "victorian conversation" and appreciate your application of this verse to hospitality, Sonja... that's a way I had never thought to consider this passage. I also appreciate that you leave it up to us and the Spirit to discover what supports a message of welcome in our own contexts.

    But, at the risk of drawing fire myself, can I humbly say that your response seems unnecessarily harsh? Is it possible to draw out discussion rather than silence someone who questions? Isn't conversation (and respect for dissenting voices) the essence of what "emerging" is all about?

  • At 6/12/2008 03:33:00 PM, Anonymous sonja

    Thanks, Mel ...

    I have no problem with dissenting voices, or even voices who disagree entirely with the thesis. But I'm sick of snark and bullying. If someone wants to disagree with the substance of what we're talking about, that's fine. But leave the snippy tone and disrespect at home. It has no place amongst Christian sisters.

    Perhaps I was harsh, but I think the trolls have come out here and making snide commentary about Sunday School 20 years ago is impolite, rude and uncalled for. It does not add to the conversation and says nothing about the objections that the anonymous author has to the stated thesis of the blog post. It just adds an uncomfortable layer of what is referred to in the real world as "relational aggression." It's inappropriate and in my world I call it mean. I don't tolerate it in my children and I don't tolerate it amongst polite company.

  • At 6/12/2008 06:27:00 PM, Blogger mel

    Thanks for your response, Sonja. I agree completely that disrespect has no place among Christian sisters. Hopefully we can all keep respect for the trolls (and ogres and orcs and other nasties!) even as we work to keep Emerging Women a "safe community."

  • At 6/12/2008 07:23:00 PM, Blogger kristi

    i've wrestled with this photo for a while before commenting. i think for me, i don't worry so much about being "underdressed" as i do about dressing "hip enough." i think i struggle with this especially because i seem old when i visit churches that at least claim to be "emerging."

    i didn't feel so self-conscious when my husband was the pastor of our church, but then again we were meeting in our home and i was pregnant half the time so i was limited in my choice of wardrobe. :)

    now, though, just visiting, i really think a lot (read: obsess) about whether i am going to look cool enough, stand out (more than i already will dragging 3 kids along). and that's what i don't want to always struggle with. i think i want to feel comfortable enough someday in my own skin that i don't put so much value on my outer appearance, especially because it will just keep fading as the years go by.

  • At 6/12/2008 10:07:00 PM, Blogger justus

    As a newcomer to this conversation I admit to being taken aback by sonja's comments to 'anonymous;'

    In mathematical terms, the score of purely personal jabs goes hands down to sonja-- with a score of 14. Anonymous is trailing behind with a score of 0, and unlikely to catch up.

    The funny part of this story is that sonja piously refers to herself as the victim of Relational Aggression.(I'd like to hear her define that term--or did she just pick it up from the 'Hillary' site?) Personally, my mother would have taught me to answer the question politely, 'without trying to make 'anonymous; feel like she was some kind of putrid worm that should crawl under a rock and hide. Maybe the book of manners Sonja's mother used was written by Attila the Hun. Just curious, do none of the rest of you readers find this type of bullying offensive?

    After reading several of the articles and comments, I am absolutely dumbfounded at the lack of graciousness and horrified beyond words at the deliberate hurtfulness perpetrated by the established community here and also by both the 'moderator' and her husband.

    This site was forwarded to me today by a colleague of mine who is very concerned about the content on this site, and it's potentially devastating consequences. As a class of students who are studying abuse and bullying, I never quite expected a 'Christian' site to be this bloody awful.

    Don't mind me, clothes aren't my thing, I'm just going to check back every now and then check on the survivors.

  • At 6/13/2008 10:00:00 AM, Blogger Tami Martin

    Fussing about who was mean first or the most aside, I am glad I stumbled on this site!

    As for this picture,it resonated with me and really made me think. I am sick unto death of the discussion about "modesty" that seems to only ever be about women who don't cover up enough or don't try to disguise the fact that they're women enough or whatever it is women do that makes men sin.

    This perspective about the Timothy passage relating to intimidation gave me food for thought that I'm still chewing on! I feel that this is far closer to what Paul was thinking about when he penned those words than about what "we" have made it to be.

  • At 6/13/2008 11:30:00 AM, Blogger Nancy

    Nothing about clothing style or modesty comes into my awareness as I look at this picture. The emotion that comes to mind for me is vulnerability. How when we are authentic, "naked" to others, we leave ourselves open to hurt. And going just a little deeper, not covering up my femininity, my womanhood might leave me feeling vulnerable and threatened. Although I'm unsure why because I find such rich resources in my feminine spirit. Perhaps it is the knowledge that there is something out there that seems threatened by feminine energy and seeks to constantly oppress and denegrate it.

    More as a different sort of social comment, my mind also skips to "beauty" under the knife and the increasing obsession with cosmetic surgey in the hunt for some crazed notion of physical "perfection".

    Can we do more of this sort of thing on this site? This is a wonderful form of meditation. Thanks!

  • At 6/13/2008 06:57:00 PM, Blogger medium guy

    As Boston's WBZ's public service slogan from the 1980's went, "Ya' gotta have art!"


  • At 6/14/2008 07:28:00 AM, Anonymous sonja

    Being open does make us more vulnerable, which is one reason I chose this photo as a visual.

    Living our lives in such a way that we actively do not participate in manipulative behaviors also makes us vulnerable. Manipulation, even by default through our standards of dress, is a shield which protects us ... to a certain extent. Or it can be. Or maybe it provides a comfort zone (rut) which we cannot get out of.

    Very interesting ways to think about all of this.

  • At 6/14/2008 09:01:00 AM, Blogger Valorosa

    Amen, good POST ;-)

    LOL looks like we all need to examine our closets.

  • At 6/14/2008 06:48:00 PM, Blogger Euodia

    What struck me about this photo had nothing to do with fashion or clothes (or the lack thereof) at all. What caught my eye was the fact that all the *incoming* sharp implements appear to be kitchen knives. Is there some kind of innuendo there?

  • At 6/16/2008 12:35:00 PM, Blogger Dianne

    Interesting. What struck me as I ventured through the post was the similarity between the words modesty and moderation. Both give a sense of keeping things under control, not letting them get to extremes. So perhaps Paul was hinting, as you suggest, more towards dressing in a way that anyone could feel welcome rather than towards the idea of "coverage." I too liked this bit of meditative use of art - great conversation.


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