Friday, March 17, 2006

You Are What You Wear

You are what you wear. Few things – tattoos, body piercing – get closer to us than our clothes, as a visible statement of identity: who we are. This is not a recent phenomenon: clothing has always identified our family connections; our line of work; our relative position in society. All that has changed is that – as in all times of globalisation throughout history – our choices are no longer tied to one family; one trade, or business, or profession; one class or caste or rank in society. That is not to say that we have unconstrained freedom of choice; just that our choices are more likely to be constrained by more global politics and/or economics.

This fundamental link between who we are and what we wear might explain why the Bible ties the two together. God is described as a tailor and/or patron providing new clothes in Genesis 3 (cocking a snoot at the Politically Correct brigade, God’s first collection is made of leather and fur), Psalm 30, Zechariah 3, Matthew 6 and Luke 12, Luke 15, and Revelation 3. The context of these passages ties this action to a restoration of broken relationships (at least partial, and pointing to a full restoration to come); the conferring of righteousness (being considered right before God); and the meeting of our material needs by God. Clothes are, therefore, outward symbols of God as our Restorer, our Righteousness, and our Provider.

Moreover, we are encouraged to clothe ourselves with certain divine attributes: glory, splendour, honour, majesty, and strength (Job 40; Psalm 45; Isaiah 52); compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3); humility, again (1 Peter 5); and even to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13). Then there are the accessories: crowns of beauty; garments of joy, and praise; turbans (Psalm 30; Isaiah 61; Zechariah 3; Revelation 4). Not to mention the Lord Of The Rings / Narnia battle costume (Ephesians 6)…

Not that long ago it was the tradition, drawing on some of these ideas, to give new clothes at Easter. Few people could afford to buy clothes throughout the year; by doing so at Easter, the clothes you wore took on a symbolic meaning: every time you got dressed, you put on the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Not that long ago – within the memory of the older residents of Sheffield; within the folk-memory of the city - and yet, in observance, a tradition that has been lost, within three generations.

This week Jo suggested we revive the tradition; and institute a new family tradition in the process. And so today we went out and bought new clothes for our children: clothes that will be put away until Easter Day, and then brought out as part of our celebrations.

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