Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dress for Spiritual Success

I can recall a time in American life when Sunday was a dress-up day. The majority of people seemed to be in church on Sunday, and those who were in church dressed in Sunday attire that set the day apart as something special. In many locations “blue laws” actually spelled out restrictions based on religious standards that were designed to make Sunday something of a Christian Sabbath. Most of those laws have now been repealed, and the “enforcement” of special treatment for Sundays has pretty much passed from the scene. So has Sunday as a dress-up day.

The prevailing trend in most successful churches today is a “come-as-you-are” dress code. First came special days called “casual Sundays.” Then every Sunday became casual Sunday. Eventually dressing up for church became viewed as stuffy and somewhat elitist. Requiring or expecting some kind of dress code now is considered a major deterrent to getting people to attend church. Today’s “Sunday” attire is more akin to leisure dress on a level of or even more informal than “business casual.” Basically we have de-formalized dress not only for Sundays but also for weddings, funerals, and other special occasions.

Accompanying this trend toward casual Sunday attire has been a secularization of the day itself. No one misunderstands the pro football fans who dress in their team’s colors or even paint their faces to show their support for their team. By their dress and conduct, these fans know how to make an occasion special, to express commitment and show support for their team. Devout Christians are as likely as any others to rearrange their schedules, attend these games, and dress for the occasion. These out-of-the-ordinary dress and behaviors set the occasion apart from mundane daily life. It builds team spirit, develops a sense of extended community, and fosters a system of shared values that bind the fans together.

Christians were wrong in trying to impose faith on the entire community through “blue laws,” but I think we also have lost something in secularizing our days and times of worship. Something of the awe and grandeur of worship has been lost as we have made the occasions informal, folksy, and secular. A sense of the holiness of God and the sanctity of worship has been lost. We try to stir up emotions by swaying and clapping to popular styles of music. We try to make worship occasions friendly and inviting to outsiders by creating a comfortable setting that accommodates their daily experiences.

I think we need to retrieve the sense of something “special” in the Christian experience. Our times together with each other and in the presence of God need to be distinctly different from the secular and the mundane. The church building should be a special place. The “church time” together with family and friends should be special. The expressions of a “team” spirit, a common purpose, a mutual goal, a shared commitment, and a supportive community should make our times together unusual and extraordinary.

I am not sure of how we can best accomplish these goals, but I think we must begin to strive for a sense of specialness about our “game days,” our times of worship and study, our opportunities to grasp together the holiness and awe of God’s presence. One simple place that we can begin is in our “Sunday” dress. As we attire ourselves and dress our children, we can reflect, discuss, and intentionally shift our attentions away from the secular mundane toward the specialness of being together in the family of faith, in the presence of the holy God, in the place we call “church.”

How we dress is a minor spiritual practice that might not seem like much; but like every spiritual practice, with intention, purpose, and interpretation, our “Sunday dress” can create an attitude of preparation that shifts our minds from secular to sacred and adds a special significance to the times we spend together in church.

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