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Essay

Dressing Like a Christian

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Later today, I am flying to the Twin Cities for my niece’s wedding, at which I am privileged to officiate, and for my daughter’s baptism at the church where I previously served as parish associate. Getting out the door and on the plane has taken more effort than usual. Besides the wedding prep, there’s been this blog to write, a doctor of ministry seminar to teach, final grades to submit, a backlog of emails to address, and not unimportantly clothing to buy. Eleanor and I have made four trips to shoe and dress stores in an effort to adorn ourselves properly for these rituals.

So much wedding preparation and festivities revolve around clothing. There is the frequently arduous search for a bridal gown. Entire movies revolve around anxiety-provoking and sometimes hilarious dress hunting scenes (think: Bridesmaids). Then the mother of the bride must find something to wear that is elegant but not too dramatic—that is but one of the many rules of etiquette surrounding her choice of attire if you pay attention to such things. Consideration is given to an array of other adornments: corsages, boutonnieres, bowties, wedding rings, and shoes. Especially the shoes, for they not only communicate a particular message but also bequeath comfort or pain throughout a long day. We don’t need sociologists to tell us that there is a universe of meaning coded into wedding attire. Clothing communicates a set of values about the marriage ritual and the identities of all those involved.

While this attention to clothing is perhaps heightened in wedding ceremonies, it is present in nearly all arenas of life. “Put on your Sunday best:” this is an admonition that many of us have heard before. “Wear that which conveys respect for God and reflects the dignity of Christian worship.”

Persistently echoing in the background are these biblical words: “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” (Colossians 2:12-14). Here we have a clear statement about the attire most needed: love.

Love is the clothing for us all. God first clothes us with love in our baptism. In this ritual act (this sacrament), we are clothed with Christ. We are woven into Christ’s covenant community. The clothing of love witnesses to the world that we belong to God and therefore to one another. To be clothed with love is to receive a gift with open heart and open hands.

Putting on love is a human choice, our choice, as well. It is a choice to belong to and with the church. The love of God wells up within us and causes us to declare: God’s people are my people. Then we live out our baptismal identity in the most ordinary and mundane expressions of kindness and patience. We put on the clothing of love with intentionality and persistence and contextual sensitivity. Love takes many forms. We must learn how to receive the love that is given by others and to give the kind of love that can be received by them. Thus some authors refer to different love languages: affirmation, service, tangible gift giving, quality time, and affection.

When we wear love, we bend toward one another. We become vulnerable. Our individual suffering, perplexity, baggage, illness and so forth no longer belong to just us; it belongs to all of us. Your(singular) problems  are now your (plural) problems .

As I celebrate a wedding and a baptism this weekend, I will be wearing new dresses and shoes; so will my daughter. But most of all, I hope to remember to dress like a Christian, to put on the clothing of love, this outfit from God which never wears out or fades away.

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