Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fashion Sense

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (Colossians 3.12)

A Clean House

There is a great Southern tradition that encourages entering the New Year with a clean house—not merely a neat one, but a clean one. In the days leading up to the holiday, many Southerners take stock of all they’ve accumulated over the past year and decide what’s worth saving and what isn’t. They dig through cupboards, discarding stale items shoved into the corners. Old magazines and loose papers of no lasting value get tossed out. They inventory their closets for clothing they’ve ignored—or had no use for—during the past 12 months. Getting rid of outdated stuff makes room for new blessings. It’s an exercise in creating clarity, the means to free oneself of unnecessary encumbrances.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never known anyone who followed this custom all the way through. It’s a massive undertaking that demands enormous energy—usually in short supply coming on Christmas’s heels. But the tradition remains compelling because its intent focuses one’s thoughts about the New Year. It raises important questions about what we carry with us, along with what we don’t need, as we move forward in time. While we may not have the wherewithal to purge our homes of a year’s worth of obsolete rubbish, we can surely find time to survey our lives. Are there stale ideas cluttering our cupboards? Are we hanging onto things with no lasting value? Are our closets crammed with unbecoming attitudes and habits we should be relieved of? Entering the New Year with a clean house is a wonderful thing.

The Ugly Stuff

A big part of our trouble with letting go useless—and often detrimental—things we’ve taken on springs from not knowing what will replace them. If I discard unproductive resentments, anxieties, prejudices, and memories I’ve clung to, what’s left? Something in us fears looking at a severely thinned-out closet. Yet Sunday’s New Testament reading (Colossians 3.12-17) presents an enviable wardrobe of new fashions for the taking. In verses 12-14 we read, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” The long list of desirable clothing the writer names—compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love—is extremely helpful in two ways. First, it tells us what should be in our closets; it calls out attitudes and behaviors that define the faithful believer’s style. But it also identifies what shouldn’t be left hanging around. Anything that contradicts or compromises the qualities it describes must go. There’s no room in our closets for injustice, cruelty, pride, aggression, impatience, resentment, and hatred.

Of course, such negative traits are ugly things—too ugly for most of us to imagine ever wearing in public. But they have a way of creeping into our wardrobes because they’re all too common in fashions we see every day. They’re like trendy clothes we’ve worn in the past, donned under pressure to appear “stylish,” only to look back once the trend has faded and see how hideous and unflattering they really were. What’s more, if we’re not thorough in our resolve to toss out the ugly stuff, it tends to turn up in trivial accessories that detract from an otherwise attractive style. All it takes is a funky belt or scarf or set of earrings to throw the whole look off. What seems subtle and inconsequential at first becomes glaringly gauche. Anything that clashes with Colossians’ classic Christian look puts us at risk of ruining God’s reflection. The tiniest lapel pin can be a dead giveaway that our witness isn’t what it should be.

Wear What We Are

The style that Colossians urges us to adopt is hardly haute couture. It’s not an elitist fashion that costs more than we can afford and makes statements about our social and economic standing. Indeed, the Colossians collection is ready-to-wear, or as French designers call it, prêt-à-porter—literally, for the taking. (US merchants call it “off the rack.”) As God’s children, these qualities are readily available to us. They’re styles that we can easily understand and emulate, having experienced their grace and beauty through Christ’s power. Being recipients of God’s compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love, we know what they look like. We know how well they work together, bound, as the writer says, in perfect harmony. We know the joy they bring, how appealing they are, and how well they fit us.

The call that arises from Colossians challenges our intentions. Will we embrace a classically Christian fashion sense that mirrors all that Christ offers us? Or will we settle for quickly outmoded trends and funky touches that diminish us? Will we persist in being slaves to worldly fashions or will we clothe ourselves in keeping with our identity as holy and beloved children of God? Personally, I’ve never put much credence in the adage “you are what you wear.” But the Colossians writer invites us to view the notion in reverse, encouraging us to wear what we are.

I pray we all take time to inventory our closets during these closing hours of 2012. May we enter 2013 with clean houses and wardrobes filled to overflowing with attitudes and behaviors becoming to God and us.

Happy New Year!

Colossians urges us to adopt a classic Christian look that is becoming to God and us—and the New Year presents a prime opportunity to inventory our wardrobes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Poem

Tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. God will be our Guide forever. (Psalm 48.13-14)

God, our Maker and Minder,
You bring us to the manger and show us
The full extent of Your love—
Its fragile humanity
            Heard in the hushed beats
            Of a tiny, newborn heart
Its uncontested divinity
            Witnessed in blinding majesty
            As time’s curtain divides

To reveal You fast at work
Delivering on pledges made long, long ago
To a people whose only Hope was You—
Their one and only God
            In a world of many gods
            And many, many excuses for inventing gods
Their one and only Truth
            In a time of fearful imaginings
            And convenient falsehoods

We gaze into a barnyard crib
At glittering dark eyes
That already know all that can be known
Yet long to learn from us
            To see through our eyes
            To search our hearts inside out
Eyes to pierce our veils of pride and illusion
            Finding us in our despair and discontent
            Looking beyond our boasts to uncover our banality

We touch the tender olive skin
Of peace and love made real and ready
Eternal Word woven into timebound flesh to live with us
Here, now, always, forever—alive in us
Flesh come to die in our stead
To rid us of remorse
Flesh come to conquer death
            On our behalf, triumphant
            To rid us of resistance

At manger-side, we glance into the stares
Of exhausted young parents
Greatly relieved their secret
Can now be told—and will be told
            Again and again and again and again
            In language any child can understand
A secret so simple and pure
            That we will tell it over and over
            Struggling to comprehend how it can be

O God, our Maker and Minder,
In kindness, You made us and now
You have made Yourself like us
Gathering a family of choice
            A new people of welcome and trust
            A new lineage of unsurpassed love and grace
You, the Child, invite us to become Your children
            To begin again and find a new way
You alone can carve in us

You, the Child, smile knowingly,
Hold out Your tiny, not-yet-scarred hand
And say

Follow Me.

                                                —Christmas, 2012