Should Fashion And Having An Image Be Important To Christians?

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Every Christian has a wardrobe. Some Christians tend to be more fashionable while others don’t really view it as an important thing in the grand scheme of things. They’re rebels and they want to purposefully make a statement that being bland, unique and/or having odd socks sends the world a message. Then there are other Christians who wear clothes from the 1930’s. They long for a return to the era of pulpit thumping Jansenists yelling at them that Hell will be their reward for missing the weekly stipend. Then there are those priests who wear sandals with socks!!! don’t get me started on those!!!

Whatever clothes we wear the prevailing culture will always judge us a certain way. The cozy and comforting thought that we’d never judge a book by its cover isn’t true. The truth is we all judge books by their covers. Go ahead and walk down a really dangerous neighborhood with lads wearing Jeans down to their ankles and drinking bottles of cider and we will see how long your “never judge a book by its cover” lasts.

Clothes are a language and what we wear has its own accent, its own slang. People will hear what it is your saying just by what you’re wearing before you even open your mouth and actually say anything at all. I used to enjoy watching a man on television fool the general public with what he said versus how he dressed. He would walk around the park dressed like an undertaker with red hair, nose rings, fake tattoos and the number 666 across his head.

When he approached people they would flinch and some would even run from him especially the old ladies. Then when he spoke to them in a very eloquent and pleasant voice it took them entirely by surprise. While it may teach us a lesson that we should never judge someone by how they look, the truth of the matter is everyone judged him by his appearance until he spoke, and even then some were still a bit wary of him.

There was another program of a man outside a Liverpool train station. He would dress in a business suit and pretend to have a slip and fall. Everyone rushed to help the man onto his feet. Moments later he’d arrive back to the same spot dressed as a homeless man. This time when he slipped and fell nobody came to help him back to his feet.

See? When it comes to not judging others by how they look none of us ever practice what we preach. Clothes and image matter in different cultures and to say it doesn’t makes you no better than those who believe the earth is flat. If I want to get a job I’m expected to arrive at the interview clean shaven and wearing a suit. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what would happen if I showed up in a tracksuit. In fact, one of my job interviews didn’t go down very well simply because I didn’t wear a tie.

In the grand scheme of things to Jesus clothes and fashion are not important. God is above culture, nationalism, patriotism and fashion yet all of these things in their own small way are useful for converting others. Just as we can emotionally manipulate others with our words, similar can be said for how we dress. I’m thinking of St.Anthony the father of all monastics.

St.Anthony would’ve had a very long beard and I doubt showered much at all living in that cave for one in the middle of a hot Egyptian desert. I don’t think fashion was on his mind. However, his disciple who wrote his life story explained that one day he had to leave the desert to stand and testify in a court of law. You know what he did? He shaved and put on his best clothes for the occasion. He dressed not just as he was expected to, but as he knew everyone else would be.

I confess I like to do the same. If I think it will be beneficial for the cause of evangelizing I’ll dress in whatever I need to. If I find out I’m going to a snobby part of Dublin to meet with either like minded Christians and that newcomers to the faith will be there I’ll wear clothes like they do. Not only that but I’ll match my temperament and manner of speech to theirs. After scanning and listening to them for five minutes I’m like a robot that takes a reading and then responds in a way I know they can relate to.

For example if I’m meeting with the wealthy atheist academic type who speak with a few marbles in their mouth, it doesn’t make sense for me to put on a thick working class accent. Likewise if I’m speaking to a working class person I’m unlikely to speak and dress like a yuppie for fear of alienating them. They won’t be able to relate and may even end up hating me altogether. I will even stoop as low as saying coarse language like “fuck” “shit” and “bastard” if I need to and it’s how the person is speaking.

I shocked a holy hermit with that strategy once and he didn’t like it at all. But that’s only because for the last 50 years he’s been living a life of spiritual perfection. Living in the real world and actual evangelism is hard work, and sometimes like spies working for MI5 or the CIA one has to take some daring risks in order to get the job done. This means speaking and dressing in a way you’re not entirely comfortable with. It’s not pretty but it has to be done. Lying to the militia in Argentina wasn’t easy for Pope Francis but he had to do it if he wanted to save all those people. They would have been murdered if discovered.

It is of course entirely your choice as a Christian what you decide to wear, but my advice is to look at the culture you’re in and blend in somehow. Be aware of your surroundings and activity and dress accordingly without having to compromise your faith and morals. When it comes to being a Christian or evangelizing, you have to forget about the popular saying, “Be yourself”. No, Imitate the saints as they imitated Christ. Don’t be yourself, be what you need to be in order to win souls.

listen to St.Paul, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” Corinthians:9:20-23

Lets use Fashion to our advantage to do the same. Lets speak the language of the culture or groups we are engaged with and act accordingly in image and speech. We are fighting a spiritual war for souls and so popular ideologies like “Be yourself” and “Don’t judge a book by its cover” have no place in that war. You must be whatever it is that will save that culture or that soul. Transform into whatever is necessary to get the modern culture listening to you. The reason armies failed on the battlefield is because they were not using similar weapons. The weapons they had were outdated.

Look like a clown when you need to look like a clown. Act the fool when you need to act the fool. Be the smartly dressed well spoken individual when the opportunity presents itself. Become all things to all men to save them but without the compromise. Then go home, take a shower, wash the dirt off your soul and go out into the thick of battle again the next day. There’s no such thing as a spiritual soldier without bruises whether he be a monk living the perfect life or a lay evangelist getting his hands dirty.

Do you remember that bit in the Gospel where Jesus gives us the talents? Some go off and make loads of money while the last guy hid the talent for fear of offending God. Although we are called to perfection we shouldn’t be too squeamish about throwing ourselves into the battle of the sinful world. In that turbulent struggle we will receive a few knocks indeed, but we will reap a good harvest and interest for the Lord. If we don’t we may end up like the man who hid his talent and was condemned for having done nothing at all.

Now, go and get your wardrobe sorted. 😉

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