Ornamental or Instrumental?

I'd been mindlessly flipping through cable channels when I caught a quick glimpse of TV hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly bursting through the doors of an ornate cathedral, followed by a choir singing The Hallelujah Chorus. When my Spidey senses warned me that something was not right, against my better judgment, I lingered.

A young priest, at the front of the sanctuary, was addressing a packed congregation. Though twenty-seven year old Rev. Emily Bloemker had been told that she was speaking to a crowd gathered to fighting extreme poverty—which made me like her immediately—she was actually being featured on the show What Not To Wear and being given $5,000 to go shopping.

Absurd, right?

The big idea of What Not To Wear is that some unsuspecting person, who's been turned in to the fashion police by someone "who cares," is humiliated on national TV for wearing last decade's styles or baggy oversized clothes that are really comfortable. The premise of the show, reflecting what is true of our culture, is that bodies are made to be viewed.

Rather than treating bodies as instrumental, made to actually do stuff, our culture views bodies as ornamental. They're made for the visual enjoyment of others. To this end, Stacy and Clinton go to an awful lot of trouble to shame victims into looking more attractive for others. Sure, they'll frame it all kinds of ways, like "having some self-respect" or "treating yourself well" but the bottom line is that we sort of owe it to others to give them something scrumptious upon which to gaze.

We expect this from "reality" cable TV, but it should be different in the church, right?

On most Sunday mornings, in the New Jersey congregation where my 6'5" husband cloaked in a huge black robe served, he stood beside petite senior pastor L'Anni, at 5'4", draped in a lightweight white alb. They were totally Darth Vader and Princes Leah.

L'Anni wore that white Leah robe for one reason. When she didn't wear it, many of the comments she received as people filed out of the sanctuary after worship would be about her outfit. As a former robe-wearer myself, I can confirm that this situation actually exists. When the outfit is cloaked, the hair becomes the hot topic of conversation. As I make a mental note to knit some liturgical headwear, I'm forced to wonder if this might not be the reason Paul admonished first century women to keep their heads covered in church. I want to believe it.

We're in a weird pickle, aren't we? We don't really want to be scolded for looking plain, and neither are we thrilled when people's response to the preaching of the word is, "I love your dress."

None
August 18, 2010 at 12:05 PM

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