Us vs. Them

My goal in addressing the topic of dress and decorum especially while at church is to focus attention on the matter. However, based on some comments I have received on the postings in different areas, it appears that I may need to caution those of “us” who consider ourselves above the fray on this topic to refrain from judging and alienating those we perceive not to be in this class – “Them”.

In listening to people, I have come to realize that most of the time, people do not intend to dress inappropriately; rather, they are just not that intentional in their choices for church. I had one gentleman share that after reading an article I wrote almost a year ago, he decided to wear long trousers to daily mass instead of the walking shorts he used to wear before (not that these were “inappropriate” – he just thought he could do better). He claimed he wears them, even when it’s terribly hot, but changes out of them right after. What a great example of personal sacrifice and intentionality!

Others have asked me to address tattoos, piercings and wildly colored hair at church. Really these are more permanent and a form of personal “self expression”. They do however call attention to the body part that they adorn. So if someone is tempted to “read” the artwork on your body during a church service, it becomes inappropriate. However, if someone has two nose rings or seven earrings on each ear, while that isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I don’t believe it is disrespectful to God. Same arguments regarding purple or green hair, ugly boots or beautiful shoes – we who do not gravitate to these, need to get over it!

An “us vs. them” mentality can be a dangerous road to tread. When we start to believe we are better than others for whatever reason, we inadvertently open ourselves to the possibility of overlooking our own flaws because we are focused on theirs. Let’s face it, none of us are perfect! We are all the body of Christ and condemning or judging someone else because they may not be doing something that we perceive as “right”, doesn’t foster Christ’s love. Besides, sometimes we may judge incorrectly. A friend of mine had to wear a cap to cover a wound on his head from surgery. If someone had deemed him disrespectful for wearing it, they would’ve been dead wrong. Just because I dress in an acceptable manner, doesn’t mean I am closer to God nor does it mean I’m a hypocrite! Ultimately God is our only judge and we are reminded in 1 Samuel 16:7 – The Lord looks at the heart. Trying to understand the people that don’t necessarily think or act as we do; can make it easier to be more charitable toward them.

We live in a culture that encourages extreme amounts of exposed skin. (Remember how we glossed over the lewd Time magazine cover and moved directly to discussing breastfeeding?) As a result we can easily become desensitized and this becomes our norm. We thoughtlessly equate beauty with overt sexuality. Another thought process: “if you have it, flaunt it”. I was at the bank last week and saw a young woman in her twenties wearing a fitted tank top that was long enough to just barely cover her behind. I was afraid for her to move – she had no pants or leggings on. The older lady next to me remarked, “Hey, if I had a body like hers, I’d be wearing that too”.  Truth is unfortunately, I found myself in the same trap about a year ago. As a designer I gravitate to the “unusual”. Shopping for a bathing costume for myself before vacation last year, I found some within my budget that were what I considered “run of the mill” and then I found a one-piece that was very unusual and rather complicated (you had to figure out how to wear it). Either way, it just beckoned and I loved it! Regrettably, I’ve got to admit, I actually remarked to my daughter that at my age, I was quite pleased that I could still carry it off! Thankfully I resisted the great urge to buy it (not easily) because while I believed it was beachwear and it did me justice or vise-versa; it was rather provocative. In other words: I know firsthand that it isn’t always easy to resist the temptation to comply with what is considered very acceptable by the greater part of our society.

I am not by any means back pedaling – I still believe we should give God our “first fruits” in all areas – including dress for church. However, positive reinforcement might work better to further the cause. My daughter Michaela graduated middle school a few weeks ago and kids were asked to wear “church clothes” to the award ceremony. She wore this outfit (no, that’s not her).  Apparently her teacher told her several times how “sophisticated” she looked. On cloud nine, Michaela decided to analyze her wardrobe to ensure continued dressing in a more “sophisticated” manner. A little encouragement goes a long way!

When Jesus “protected” the prostitute from the stones of the righteous, He didn’t condemn her but He did set the expectation with “Go then and sin no more”. Expertly, He exemplified the Spirit of the law – with love. Let us pray for the grace to do likewise.

Marisa Pereira

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Marisa Pereira is a mother, fashion designer, currently runs a Design and Image Consulting business in Atlanta, GA, is a freelance writer and volunteers at her church and in the community. She holds a BA in Fashion Design and a BA in French with a minor in Psychology and has worked in the Fashion Industry for over twenty years. Frustrated at her inability to find appropriate church clothes for her 14 year old daughter, she heeded God’s call, and created the stylish but modest, Michaela-Noel clothing collection, now available on-line. Having lived in multiple countries, she is acutely aware of the emphasis cultures place on visual appeal. She analyzes the importance of presenting the best image of ourselves and passionately insists that it starts within. She regularly addresses adult and youth audiences – encouraging and teaching them to make a memorable first impact but more importantly - to create a lasting impression. Her websites are: www.mpcimage.com and michaela-noel.com.

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