Saturday, November 20, 2010

Christians merrily skip naked

A friend of mine once said "All fashion makes the same statement; 'I am wearing this so that you will think something about me'". The fashion industry is not driven by our need to avoid physical nakedness, but by the need to avoid social nakedness. We need to tell people what to think of us. It is driven by the idea that we construct our own identities, that to a large extent we are 'self made men' or 'self made women'. Buying the right clothes will change who you are, will present a different story to the world. This is true whether you swallow popular fashion, or if you are part of a subversive subculture. Not that we should single out fashion in particular. Our whole consumerist culture is based on this social need. To be somebody, to be anybody, we must accrete the value of different objects onto the basically neutral and meaningless centre of our lives. You dont buy a giant plasma, or consume high culture, or buy a hybrid, because you really need to. You buy it because of the person you would like to be. "I purchase this so that you will think something about me" is a phrase we all say, not least to the mirror, so that we will think something of ourselves.

Unfortunately the churches have, for the most part, capitulated to this consumerist culture. Its crass forms, such as fish stickers for the car, perpetuate the idea that you can (and perhaps must) buy your way into a christian identity. But they also blind us to the more subtle ways we have incorporated the idea of 'self construction' into our churches. How many of us would really accept the christian who could remain faithful to Jesus simply by the regular nourishment of christian worship. For starters, in his efforts to construct his christian identity, he must take responsibility to choose a church with 'good teaching'. Surely he needs to be able to read the bible himself, perhaps in a few translations? And then he must join a bible study, and listen to some mp3 sermons. Perhaps if he really wanted to secure his christian identity he could do a ministry apprenticeship, or even theological college.

But this construction of identities, consumerist and christian, goes against a key biblical idea. That our true 'selves' are hidden with Christ in God. Rather than an empty, meaningless core, that must be made meaningful as it is enveloped in stuff, even christian stuff, the core of our identity is infinitely meaningful as it is united to Christ and enveloped in the being of our triune God. This identity is hidden, but real. It is most definitely not constructed by us, not even by our christian activity. It is simply given to us in Christ. Grasping this truth should make us sit lightly to the social need to 'construct ourselves'. (and indeed is part of why christians dress so daggily). We are not afraid to be ourselves as selves truly loved by God.

Through a world crushed by its own elaborate costumes and grotesque masks, christians merrily skip naked. The church must paint nudes. With all their blemishes and shame, vulnerability and boredom and yet in this, their beauty and allure. We must paint nudes so that others would find courage to break the crust of their self made sarcophagus and find themselves beautiful and alive in Christ.


byron smith said...

How many of us would really accept the christian who could remain faithful to Jesus simply by the regular nourishment of christian worship?
I never knew that theological naturalism could be so beautiful, invigorating and joyful. Thank you.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Well said.