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CHURCH SHABBY

We don’t have to dress like Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse when going to church, but isn’t something other than shabby chic appropriate?

By Ronald E. Keener

There it was — right in The Wall Street Journal. Daniel Akst, a writer in New York’s Hudson Valley, apparently got fed up with it and spilled his mind out in an opinion piece to the WSJ:

The “it” is denim. “Never has a single fabric done so little for so many,” he wrote.

“Denim is hot, uncomfortable and uniquely unsuited to people who spend most of their waking hours punching keys instead of cows. It’s time denim was called on the carpet, for its crimes are legion. Denim is an essential co-conspirator in the modern trend toward undifferentiated dressing, in which we all strive to look equally shabby no matter what the occasion.

“Despite its air of innocence, no fabric has ever been so insidiously effective at undermining national discipline,” he wrote. Or, dare we say, Sunday church attire.

Outraged at church

Now I don’t know if Mr. Akst regularly goes to church and especially to a community church, but he’d be absolutely outraged if he did so these days.

For where are blue jeans worn most proudly but in church? On the platform. Behind the podium. Among the worship team and backup singers.

Denim and church are two words that now go together — the denim church. Where is our pride in serving our Lord? Isn’t dressing better a way of honoring Him?

Where did this fashion trend begin? Certainly not at Willow Creek Community Church, where Bill Hybels is usually outfitted in business casual and a preppy look. Probably not even Rick Warren does the blue jeans thing. (And on his “trademark” shirts, Warren says: “I haven’t worn a Hawaiian shirt in two years. I don’t even own one.”)

Better from those who lead?

Sure, both preachers and their legions would say: “Come as you are. Your warm body is more important than what you are covering it with,” but can’t we expect better from those who lead us?

Somewhere along the way down church lane preachers and music leaders wanted to be sure that nothing separated them from the unsaved and unchurched — and that included dress. Alas, blue jeans became the cloth of choice, the conversion fabric — church shabby chic, if you will.

Now no one would ever put syndicated columnist George Will in blue jeans, but Daniel Akst’s article stirred Will to produce his own views. He suggests that “For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don’t wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.”

Well, okay, George is an old fuddy-duddy, conservative in every way. (Maybe this writer too.) This country isn’t going back to the days of dressing with class, even if we still enjoy the moves of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in those classic movies.

Ragged jeans

But church? I wince when a pastor wears ragged jeans. Often torn, with fringes at the bottom. Hasn’t anyone at least heard of Dockers? And there are the backup singers who might have flip flops on their feet — if anything.

The pastors of today don’t want to set an example higher than what the unchurched think of themselves, and heaven forbid if they asked something of God’s people that might honor Him. Dave Browning (who wears jeans to church) of Christ The King Church in Washington State writes that “the average person in America owns eight pairs of blue jeans, so I consider them to be the least common denominator of fashion.” (E-mail me below for a copy of “The Pastor in Blue Jeans” that was anonymously placed in his offering bucket.)

Christian merchandisers are no example either. There is a company called 316 Jeans that is lasering scriptures on high-quality denim these days. “The fitted, handmade Diesel Denim cotton used for the jeans has detailing and is vintaged,” reports Christian Retailing on one product. “The front, right hip pocket includes the lasered Bible reference, and the written-out Bible verse or saying is lasered down the middle of the left front leg.”

No, you don’t need to be dressed to “the nines” to attend church — or preach from the pulpit — but I’d settle for the sixes or sevens.

Comments? Ron@churchexecutive.com.

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