Saturday, May 26, 2007

Summer Fashion Theology

Well kids, it's that time of year.

The leaves have matured from prepubescent spring green to a fully ripened summer foliage, and I slept last night to the hum of an oscillating fan.

Hot tea is giving way to iced tea down here in Dixie Land, and women everywhere are going through the ritual of Goodwilling clothes from closets that are housing more short sleeves and less wool.
It's time for summer fashion.

I've always had mixed feelings about summer. I love to garden, I love the changing menu of melon and green leafies and grilling, I love the clothes.
I love some of the clothes. But I hate being hot, I hate needing to keep long sleeves available for rainy days in the sixties - although I love summer thunderstorms - and I hate being sweaty when exercise is not being pursued.

All that said, some of you are raising an eyebrow at Bitty. "Fashion?" you murmur, knowing that I have evolving style. Everyone has a style, even if it's a bad one or a generic one. Perhaps it is the frequent exposure to Karin from Over the Rhine in small venues, perhaps it is going swing dancing with large groups of seminary students, perhaps it's the gradual settling into my own skin.

I love shoes. Purses. I love them even more on sale. I have finally reconciled myself to the fact that I like pretty things, quirky things, bright things, unique things, and that it is....
O.K. to want them.

Now, that may sound silly, but it's an important reflection for a couple of reasons: one, parsonage life does not often render luxury as something to be desired or attainable; two, taking mission trips rocks your theology enough that anything more than a toothbrush seems frivolous. Waste and excess become heightened in your sight, your vision, and it makes you nauseous to see the bloated consumption that is laissez-faire USA.

Now, Wesley had an important point in arguing that we should not have luxuries when our neighbors have not the necessities. Social ethics are an important part of the Wesleyan tradition, and social holiness was not divorced from personal holiness. If one truly experiences the work of the Holy Spirit, one's treatment of others and ones belongings must change.

That being said: a robust theology of creation assumes that beauty has value. It's the old, "should we spend large amounts of money constructing a soaring cathedral, or should we feed the poor?"question. I hate that dichotomy. As if beauty and love are pitted against each other in a limited-goods pragmatism. Our stomachs need fed, but our souls do, too. It's one thing I admire about the Eastern Orthodox church: they always have time and money for beauty, espousing a "holy materialism" that appreciates the goodness of creation and accepts God's goodness through it.

Now there is freedom in not being enslaved to goods. I attend a church that has no indoor plumbing, but where eighty percent of the budget goes to missions. A fasting from luxury is appropriate in kingdom economics. I am moved, though, by the simple fact of extravagance that God has shown us - that God would not only be, in nature, extravagantly beautiful, but would display that and share that with creatures. "Consider the lilies...they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned as one of these." This passage usually pops up in anti-worry sermons, but note the presence of beauty alluded to by Christ. If God "wasted" beauty on lilies that are here today but tomorrow thrown into the fire, how much more valuable is beauty in human beings? True beauty is always bedfellows with virtue, but this passage seems to imply that beauty is God's gift to all creatures, enjoyed by sinner and saint alike in nature, and displayed morally by the saint - moral actions are beautiful behavior, sinful actions are the height of ugliness and decay.

Here we go, now I've done it: I've just accidentally expounded a theology of lipstick. Or maybe it's not lipstick. Maybe it's a theology of valuing the creation around oneself, and oneself as a beautiful part of that creation, shown in behaviors that proclaim with joy, "I am special! God created me (only one of me, so take care of my body), created the world (so take care of it, celebrate it), all in....extravagance. Because fundamentally,
God is not a pragmatist. God is Reason so fully that our reason cannot completely capture it, God is Order in the fellowship of the Trinity beyond our expectation of design, but the thread of Scripture never suggests that couture perfume being dumped on Christ's feet was inappropriate. Beauty resounds in Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and offering beauty in worship delights the heart of Jesus. Note the beauty in the attitude of the worshiper and the abandon of pouring luxurious fragrance on a man's feet (like eight gallons of Chanel No. 5), in comparison with the withered ugliness of Judas' desire to gain (shouldn't that Chanel have been auctioned off for the poor, so that I could embezzle from the profit?).

I think I should say that it's because I have moderate feminist tendencies that I am free to celebrate the fact that there is nothing wrong with enjoying beauty. As a woman, I am fully woman - not just my mind, as many feminists would argue. No. I am embodied. (As they like to point out when arguing for abortion.) I can eschew shallow stereotypes on both sides: the model of June Cleaver as ideal woman, and the model of Janet Reno as the ideal woman. (That's part of what I like about Condoleezza Rice - she's intelligent, successful, a mature leader, beautiful, a sports fan, and a classic pianist - refusing to fit into anybody's picture of ideal womanhood because she is busy...being herself, and serving others through that.) Now that is a Proverbs 31 woman. 

Classiness is always fashionable, and virtue is the best beautifier. But the Incarnation urges us to take seriously our state of being human, not only in our fallenness, but because God created nature as a good, and gave us a model of its beauty in Jesus Christ.


Carrie said...

I enjoyed your Summer Fashion Theology. I think you should submit it to a Christian woman's magazine. Really.

Joy said...

good idea. or any Christian magazine. It really was good.