I am in Aurora, my hometown of 4250 in Nebraska this weekend. My shoelace in my shoe broke, so I went to the store to get one before church in my suit and flipflops. I saw one of the workers there I know, and I told her that my shoelace had broken, so I had to wear my suit with my flip flops to come get a shoelace. She said “Oh, today it wouldn’t matter I don’t think– you could just about wear whatever you want.” I said, “yeah, I could probably show up in my underwear” and she said, “yep, they’d just be happy you were at church on a Sunday morning”.
In Omaha, I’m the only one under 50 who wears a suit to church. I happen to like suits because then I’ve got a jacket with pockets to put stuff in. But I also like to wear them because most of my friends over 70 at Church still like to wear them, so I do as sort of a badge of honor, but also because of respect and a sort of meaning that I think the suit can represent– a meaningfulness of the occassion.
Now don’t get me wrong, most of the churches I end up attending look and feel more like chatty political conventions before the ‘show gets on the road’ but still there was once a time where even in the low-church churches that I grew up with (without much ritual or formality) people used to take dressing up for church seriously. But then it too was seen as being too ritualistic– “God accepts you as you are– you don’t need to change to receive God’s favor” and then the little bit of formality left was thrown out with the bathwater.
Wearing suits is not kneeling, receiving communion at the front of the church, reciting creeds together, or smells and bells, but it is a formality that most evangelical churches have dispensed with along with most other tradition along the way. Much like choir robes and formal dress for pastors up front, its all gone.
In a world where people wear their pajamas to target (much less walmart) and its not unusual to find people wearing shorts at a fancy steak place, its no wonder that our churches have casualized as well– its just the way we live in America today. But it is an interesting aspect of how our culture has infiltrated our churches as well.
Of course some will say that God doesn’t care if you wear a suit– and of course he doesn’t, at one level. But what this total an entire eschewing of formality and tradition does is it pretends that humans are not habitual creatures, and it also pretends that what we do with our bodies, dress, or postures has no bearing on who we are, or what we think or feel. But coming from a Business school, I can assure you that is false. When a student wears a suit and tie, they act differently– more professionally and awarely– than they do when they have their knee-shorts and baseball hat on backwards. The dress affects the individuals attitude. And we know this. A person who dresses well commands attention, whether we like it or not. If you go to walmart in your pajamas, you are basically ignoring all social protocol and acting as if you are not in community when you are at Walmart. Our actions indicate a lot out about our inner state, and our inner state is affected by our actions. Anyone who exercises knows this. If you kneel prostrate on the ground when you pray, it affects your attitude. As Jamie Smith and others have been trying to point out recently, we are physical beings and we need to stop ignoring the connection between our physical habits and our spiritual state.
So all this came to mind from a brief stop at the Aurora Mall this morning. People can wear whatever they want to church, and God loves everyone, but to pretend that how we behave doesn’t affect our spiritual state, or that habits and tradition are not important to us as human beings, is a superficial and false view of reality.