Thursday, August 17, 2006

PeaceBang and Rev. Blue Jeans Continue (Part III)

[The conversation continues thusly... I formatted slightly for your ease in reading. Rev. BlueJeans speaks:)

As I was hoping! A Great Coversation!
And yes, of course you can post, sans identifying information.
I think you misunderstand the thrust of my argument. Or perhaps I don't understand the thrust of yours.

I guess the question is this: what is the baseline of human attire? You point to my dressing-down as hypocrisy. This would indeed be true, if it represents a "disingenuous and inauthentic" departure from what I would otherwise be wearing--a "masquerade," as you say.

If I would naturally be inclined to dress in suits and ties, but instead wear jeans and sandals, all in an effort to "get with the peeps," then yes, that would definitely qualify as hypocrisy. But that's not what's happening. I would submit that no human, being in a state of nature (a la Locke or Hobbes), would of his or her own free will choose to wear a suit and tie, or a skirt for that matter. And don't even get me started on high heels. These items of clothing, far from being the thing most of us would choose to wear, are dreaded, uncomfortable, and expensive encumbrances. At best, we wear them because we're expected to wear them, and because we assume they'll gain us the approval of others.
So when I wear jeans or shorts, it's hardly as if I'm stooping my otherwise lofty perch to "get with the peeps." I'm being as I would like to be in the world--comfortable, and not broke from dropping $400 on a suit.

I ask you this: would it not be less disingenuous (more ingenuous? more genuine? how does that work?) for me to wriggle into a suit and tie on Sundays, simply to satisfy the expectations of the upper-middle-class folks that pay my bills? I can wear what I'd otherwise wear, or I can move into an entirely foreign class of clothing (ties: nooses for men!) based solely on the proposition that it will set others at ease. How is that not disingenuous!?

I don't propose that we all dress as coal miners or auto mechanics, in an attempt to imitate the dress of the working poor. I simply propose that we don't all wear, minimally, $100 worth of clothing to church. Why should people who have a desire to come to church be forced to climb over an obstacle like that? Why couldn't they wear whatever they want? What could clothing POSSIBLY have to do with God, church, and community?

Clothing functions as a social sets us apart from each other, illuminates differences in class and status, and reminds people of their sitz im leben. I don't see it as all necessary in the practice of religion. In fact, I see it as fairly inimical to the practice of Christianity.If I could wave a magic wand, I'd institute mandatory casual dress at every church in the country. Luckily for the church ladies, I can't.

It's interesting that you bring up family history as it informs our fashion concepts. I do in fact have a great deal of familiarity with poverty; I am the child of Appalachian farmers many generations back, and my mother didn't have indoor plumbing until she went to college. As a kid, we didn't have two nickels to rub together, so perhaps my ethics of clothing has been influenced as much experience as by the Marxist-liberation critique I encase it in.

I await the next volley...."


Blogger rachel said...

where in this debate does paul's advice - with this man i eat meat (or wear jeans) and with this man i don't - fit in? (as a fashion loving minister in a fairly casual church setting, i can honestly say that some sundays i plan an entire outfit around my favorite green shoes.)

i tend to range from one side of this issue to another...when i really try, i can be quite fabulous indeed (not for the sake of marking my socioeconomic statsus, but for the pure joy of being a woman), but have had to learn the value of "appropriate" fabulousness. when rev. blue jeans says 'what does clothing have to do one way or another with God, etc", there is a sense in which i want to say that we must offer Him our best - all ways in all things. and say what you will about outer trappings - i actually don't know any preachers that wear ties anymore, except maybe for Christmas - if our genuine heart is pointed toward the poor and the marginalized, i think that is something that is identifiable regardless of our clothes. we have recently added a homeless & drifting contingent of folks to our church congregation, and they don't seem to mind at all that a few of us are dressed in green shoes... they are welcomed with dignity and respect, and offered what everyone else who graces our door is offered.

i am tremendously enjoying reading this conversation - particularily, in the age where we are all in a hurry to be at odds with one another, the gentle and conversational spirit in which is it being expressed!

4:18 PM  
Blogger jadebluestocking said...

Goodness, PB, that's quite a debate. However, I'd submit one fairly succinct remark regarding humans in a state of nature not choosing suits and ties:

What human in such a state of nature would choosse to wear any clothing at all? Isn't naked a more natural and comfortable choice than any articles of clothing?

[For the record, I am absolutely not advocating naked as the default state of dress. It is much kinder for all involved if I indulge in the "discomfort" of a well-tailored skirt and blouse.]

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, I'll have to say this conversation touches a nerve with me. Like others, PB has caused me to reexamine the image I present to others, and I have made a few changes in my attire (including some Outlast lipstick for my heretofore unmade-up face). Not to mention that she is side-splittingly funny as an observer of the human race.

Still, a central part of (my concept of) my ministry has to do with the notion of voluntary simplicity--the idea that one might choose to buy less, and more appropriately, in order to ease the burden on God's creation of sustaining seven billion of us. It's hard to see where a new Coach bag every season (or even a new Coach bag) fits into that framework.

I buy most of my clothing at thrift stores, even as I try to follow the tenets of well-dressed-ness. I am dubiously lucky to live in a part of the country where people give away clothing worn only once or twice. But I would ask those who must just have those new pointy shoes: what will happen to those shoes in two seasons, when boxy toes are all the rage?

I'm afraid I sound much too self-serious for the audience of PeaceBang, whom after all I adore. But it would do my heart good to hear PeaceBang proclaim from this, her virtual pulpit, that she will consider the resources that go into her next clothing purchase, and be aware of its cost in terms of human labor (what was its maker paid?), natural resources (what impact did its manufacture have on the earth?), and corporate policies (what actions will its profit go to support?) And if she then decides to buy that fabulous accessory, well, rock on.

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, I should have written "was its maker paid a fair wage?"

And you can sign me Henrietta.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Katherine said...

I love this blog, I love this conversation.

I love that I finally have a better haircut and a decent pair of pumps in which to enjoy the banter.

5:13 PM  
Blogger PPB said...

This is an interesting debate. I'm not a fashion diva. I read peacebang purely for entertainment. (love the writing style!) I don't have the budget or inclination to be truly fashionable. And, truth be told, a number of my fashion choices have been listed as fashion "don't" on this page.

But, Reverend Blue Jeans, I think you miss the point. First of all, if you're wearing Birkenstocks on hospital visits, those are $100 sandals right there. But more important than money is this: we dress up for those things that matter to us. It's a way of showing respect. There's nothing that says how expensive that dress-up is going to be. My farmer grandparents wore their "best dresses" to funerals and church because it was a way of marking the solemnity of the occasion. It's a way of showing respect. In fact, I've done a lot of pulpit supply in economically poor churches and have found that, almost without exception, they dress up. They may be cheaply made dresses and suits, but they are their best and so they wear them. Even the teenagers in jeans are cleaned up so much as is possible within their means.

When you wear birks and jeans to the hospital, to me that says, "this is an errand I'm running, in between picking up some movies at Blockbuster and getting the tires rotated" rather than "This is important. I woke up today and thought about you."

I'm not advocating that one has to go out and buy all new clothes to be clergy. But I do think that dressing up---whatever that means for your income level and the situation--- is how we show that we care about something.

If I were the little old ladies, I would feel insulted by your comment. You're not saying you can't afford suits. You're saying "I have them, but this situation is not important enough for me to wear them." You can bet those same little old ladies probably wiggled into control top hose and tiptoed in heels to show that it was important to them. I'd recommend doing the same.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous philocrites said...

There has never been a human society "in a state of nature." And the number of human societies in which people wear nothing is almost zero. Even in those few that seem to be thoroughly clothing-optional, people adorn or pierce or paint themselves.

Why are humans like that? I have no idea. But it is clear that to be human is to be encultured, to live in a society with social forms that (on one level) are arbitrary and yet (on another level) establish the very possibility of human life. It seems weird to have to say this, but clothing is part of culture. So is language. So is religion. They're symbolic systems that only work if they're shared with other people. Bucking the whole symbol set completely doesn't return you to a state of nature; it just frustrates communication.

No matter what you're wearing, you're communicating things to other people. It doesn't matter how dressed up or dressed down: Other people are reading you. The upshot is: Know what you're saying, and learn to say it with integrity. But don't pretend that your choice is more natural than another. It's not; it's more likely just a code for "doesn't care what people think."

5:32 PM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

I applaud these comments! Rachel, I couldn't agree with you more that it is the way we approach a human being, not what we are wearing, that makes them feel welcomed.
Jade, I don't think naked = natural. Unless it's natural to want to be exposed to the elements and in pain a lot of the time.
Henrietta, given that many other bully pulpits exist to decry the exploitation of garment workers and to expose the environmental dangers of cosmetics, etc., PeaceBang avoids those subjects. She is all about irreverent fun. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. If I ever make enough money to afford even one Coach bag without dipping into my 403B, I'll let you know.
Polar Bear and Philocrites, LOVE what you said. And Katherine, congrats on your adorable hair!


6:30 PM  
Blogger Princess Pinky said...

Anonymous said...

But I would ask those who must just have those new pointy shoes: what will happen to those shoes in two seasons, when boxy toes are all the rage?

Well darling, those pointy toed beauties will fill the space in my shoe closet that currently holds my boxy toed shoes that are patiently waiting for their return to vogue. With fresh silica gel packs to keep out excess moisture, that fabulous footwear will again see the light of day.

10:56 PM  
Anonymous eric said...

Rev. Jeans here.

Of course the "state of nature" is not in any way reflective of any actual society's adornment practices (that I know of). That's why it's the state of nature. I think jadebluestocking gets it right--in a state of nature, humans might very well choose to wear nothing at all. But I think it's how we proceed from this baseline that's important.

For the record, I wear the "appropriate clothing" to preach, for hospital visits, and for funerals and weddings (shirt and tie for the first two, suit for the latter two). It's the day-to-day, at-the-office, meetings, etc. stuff where I try to challenge the norm. I'd never wear birkenstocks to the hospital, or sandals to a funeral.

12:03 PM  

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