Sunday, September 4, 2016

Why I Will Never Endorse a Dress Code at Church

Church is a very special place.

I get it, I feel it, I believe it.

It's a place for reverence and focus. A place where we put something else (God) before ourselves. A place that lends itself to a respectful attitude and appearance.

I'm on board with all that.

What I'm not on board with is when we use these assumptions about Church (worship, really) to impose our own desires, aesthetics, and priorities on others.

In almost every church community I've ever been a part of, someone inevitably decides that some population (usually youth) is not dressing appropriately for worship, and that we need to make clear to them "our" expectations for attire--at best, this manifests itself as "clothing guidelines"; at worst, these folks want to institute a straight-up dress code.

I think I understand where these people are coming from. As I mentioned above (and as I was raised, and why I personally feel subconsciously uncomfortable attending worship in anything less than nice slacks) Church is a special place, and worship is a special time that we set aside during our week for God. One of the ways that we indicate this is by the way we dress.

However, a dress code does little to nothing to convey all of this. And we need to understand that no matter how clearly we may think we're explaining our reasoning, there will always be someone--a first-time visitor, a "Christmas and Easter" member, a visiting family member--who won't get the memo. All they'll see is that there are rules (always more rules with those Christians!) dictating the requirements that they must meet in order to encounter God.

This is an especially important realization when it comes to youth. Many of us forget that our teenage years were fraught (whether we realized it or not) with the difficult and exhausting task of figuring out our identities. For the first time, we realized that we didn't have to do/believe/say/wear the same things that our parents did, so we had to figure out what it was that WE wanted to do/believe/say/wear. This isn't just a rebellion thing; it's a developmental thing. We were figuring out how to be US. And while we all go through this stage in different ways (maybe you never struggled to figure out what clothing defines you; maybe for you it was about what music you liked or something else) we all went through it. And it is so, SO important for us, the Church, to show these kids--our kids--that we support and love them through it all.

I experienced this, too. I grew up in a loving but strained household. My parents ultimately got divorced, my sister had many of her own problems that are not mine to share here, and I struggled with depression and anxiety. I was good at school, but it wasn't a particularly peaceful refuge socially, and again--depression and anxiety. I didn't know who I was or where I belonged.

I remember lying in bed one night, thinking about the idea of home, and realizing that the only place I felt it was at church. Where my ideas were heard and valued unquestioningly, where my identity wasn't challenged or pressured but embraced and encouraged, where I not only knew, but FELT that I was loved every single time I stepped through the door.

If someone had told me that I couldn't be me--saying what I believed, joining in where I wanted to join in, coming as I truly was--it would have been just another place that I was buffered around and powerless. I would have been someone else's version of me. I wouldn't have been able to hear God's call to ministry. It wouldn't have been home.

"But Katey," you say (even though you're really just talking to your computer screen), "it ISN'T your house; it's GOD'S house."

But the thing is, it's not really God's house (gasp!). It's a place that we've more or less arbitrarily decided that we're going to focus exclusively on the divine (to our detriment, really--we shouldn't limit our relationship with God to one space). God doesn't "live" anywhere. Or more appropriately, God "lives" everywhere. And God's sensibilities aren't offended by something as silly as how we choose to cover our bodies. God loves us AS WE ARE--whether in a ballgown or bikini or in the buff (although I don't recommend attending church in of those options; you'd likely be extremely uncomfortable). There are certainly times and places where we need to cautious about our dress choice, but it's for the sake of other human beings--not God. God welcomes and loves us as we are--at all times and in all places.

And aside from all that, didn't Jesus say, "I go and prepare a place for you in my Father's house" (John 14:2, paraphrased)? He's not talking about some distant, ethereal heaven--Jesus is all about bringing about heaven on earth (N.B.: The Lord's Prayer--"Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN). The end game of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is to welcome all of us into God's house HERE and NOW. And if we have a place in God's house...doesn't that make it our house, too?

Long story short, God wants to be in relationship with us. Full stop. No conditions. No requirements. No dress code. So who am I to impose rules on God's house when Godself has called everyone--lepers, Pharisees, AND the underdressed--to the table?

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