Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Silent Language

Apparel is a language. Just as the music we play, the books we read, the tone and inflection of our voices, our eyes, our personal carriage, and our choices of association speak volumes about who and what we are; so our clothing speaks a language all its own. Children speak this language almost before they can talk; and while it is unwise to judge character solely on appearance, the clothing of any person you meet can speak the unspoken.
I personally know a professional tailor. She, or any person in the clothing industry, will tell you that they intentionally design clothes to “say something” about the wearer. Clothing is advertised and sold this way. “Feel confident,” “Be yourself,” “Look attractive.” These are some of the slogans of the modern pagan fashion culture. Whether we are aware of it or not, our apparel and our appearance communicate what and who we are.
Many Christians attempt to cast off direct responsibility on this issue on the plea that our heart condition, not our appearance, is the real issue. I would humbly submit that it is because our heart condition as Christians is a primary concern that we must be doubly conscientious about what we wear.
Many people are aware of the common biblical references directly regarding clothing. (Deuteronomy 22:5, Isaiah 3:16, etc. speak clearly on the issue of femininity and masculinity in clothing) I believe we often fail to consider the indirectly inferred principles God’s word gives us on the matter. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Godliness, then, does not exclude beauty, or loveliness, or things deserving of admiration, but rather defines these things and gives them substance.
If something that appeals to me does not speak the language of humility, gentleness, or honor; or carries a spirit of pride or dissimulation, I need to check my measure of “appeals.” I find that I need to continually reform what appeals to me to meet the standard of beauty that Christ demands; continually measuring my opinions against His word. When the question of whether Christian young ladies should attempt to maintain some level of style is raised, this is the perspective from which we need to start.
Many of the current fashions do not, by nature, speak the language of true beauty, as defined by God. Therefore, to put a constraint of current fashion on the typical Christian young lady who is seeking, albeit imperfectly, to obey Christ in this area, is demanding much. However, if something “trendy” or “stylish” stands the test of the word of God, is it acceptable? Should the right kind of “trendy” be one of our goals?
I am a musician, and consequently, I am frequently made aware of the unspoken languages with which we are surrounded. I see more unmistakably every day that my external actions and attitudes are a reflection of my heart condition. There are perhaps two sides of this matter that have the same answer and deserve the same close attention.
First, rather than asking “How can I avoid looking dorky or being stereotyped and classified as one of those strange homeschoolers?” according to scripture, we should be considering first how to personally imitate Christ.
Many Christians fear they will “turn off” or offend unbelievers. Let’s face it; in general, the more we grow in Christ, the more we will be misunderstood and disliked by the world. Jesus told us this would happen, and warned us not to be surprised. (Matthew 24:9-10, Mark 13:9-13) We should expect opposition. This is not without exception. Even unbelievers will sometimes recognize the value of true beauty. But as a whole, the world is at war with us consciously or unconsciously. I recently heard someone say that if we are not experiencing attack, we may need to examine ourselves to discern whether we are in the will of God. This is not to say that you are in sin if you are not under attack, only that it is something to consider carefully.
We carry a singularly important responsibility to bear witness to Christ before the world. It cannot bear assimilation with unrighteousness. (2 Corinthians 6:11-18) Simply put, don’t compromise for any good reason! We as Christians can’t afford to please anyone but Christ. Until we have conviction in this area, (to use my dear Mama’s words) “We don’t have the freedom” to add the current style to our list of requirements. Christ did not say style is required and neither should we.
Secondly, I believe it is important not to be lazy or careless, about our opinions on clothing. There is nothing clumsy, inferior, unbecoming, or shapeless about true beauty. Truly beautiful garments complement the feminine beauty God creates in every woman, and cover the body in a becoming manner. The very responsibility that requires we do not compromise also asks us to be active, not passive, in our witness. If I cause someone to stumble because I have elevated my personal preference over the will of God, I am at fault as well. It is not enough to throw on any old skirt or cast my lot in with anyone else’s standard of clothing merely because it looks good to me. If I take that approach, either my standard will slip because it is not backed by a substantial conviction, or I will be unable to “give an answer” for the same reason, and will become instead dogmatic on my personal opinion, which is dangerous.
I believe that condemning or defending the wearing of certain types of clothing (i.e. Pants vs. skirts) is an important discussion. But I feel that often we miss the point in these dialogues. I would compare some of the logic used in these debates to an exchange on tattoos. To my knowledge, tattoos are not mentioned directly in scripture. Please correct me if I am wrong. Nevertheless, I believe that a tattoo, especially in our culture, makes a statement about who someone is and what they believe; that is, “where their treasure is.” The scripture does speak to that issue! I think the same goes for our apparel. These things speak a silent language.
So…Should “trendy” be one of our goals?
Each of us has weaknesses that need to be removed. Inasmuch as I fail to place my heart where it should be, I misplace my treasure as well. While scripture does not say “Women shall not wear pants,” I believe it does place responsibility on us to maintain the distinctions and standards God has set in order for us.
Our femininity, modesty, propriety, and sobriety are treasures that need an especial guard in a culture that is out to destroy them. I have therefore determined not to be passive in the area of clothing, but to make a clear purposeful statement with what I wear.
Proverbs 27:19 says As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man.
Luke 6:45 - A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Practically speaking, I wear skirts, with a few exceptions, because I believe they best communicate the language that I am seeking to perfect in my heart: femininity, humility, purity, etc. (Because we live on a farm, there are times when wearing pants is a necessary safety precaution.) I choose my clothing purposefully to say, “I am precious in the sight of God, holy and set apart.” I try to select garments that are complementary and becoming. Often, clothes bear description in verbal terms. Sometimes a garment is not necessarily immodest, but just shouts, “I need attention!!!” I look for pieces that speak quietly, but confidently.
Some things I test my clothing against frequently are…Does it reflect…
· Femininity
· A gentle and quiet spirit
· Humility
· Willingness to Serve
· Strength of Character
· Confidence in Christ
· Diligence
· Holiness
· Submissiveness
· True Beauty
· Excellence
· Purity
· Nobility
· Contentment
· Honor
· Wisdom
· Dignity
· Modesty
· Propriety
Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.