Monday, January 24, 2011

#219-Monstrous Affairs and Festive Occasions...An Attempt at Cultural Theory

Why so soft? O my brothers, thus I ask you: are you not after all my brothers? Why so soft, so pliant and yielding? Why is there so much denial, self-denial, in your hearts? So little destiny in your eyes?

Recently, I came to a moment of clarity. But with this moment of clarity, the things that were normally "normal" suddenly appear as horrible demonic monsters.

Kind of like this kid seeing a lobster for the first time:

And this in a nutshell, is how i felt when my friend showed me photos of an Apostolic Birthday party wherein the females in attendance were to wear a costume of sorts (i will refrain from naming the specific costume desired for the party theme as to save the reputation of those therein)...

But it was something....Like this:

Except the "costume party" i am referencing was attended by those in their late teens and early 20's.

Guys were dressed for a formal banquet or something.

Girls were dressed for a game of "dress-Up."

Except with our Apostolic culture, the costumes that would normally be confined to closets only to be worn when girls want to play "dress up" has somehow become perfectly permissible in our circuit to be worn not only in front of mirrors so girls can live in a fantasy world and giggle at themselves in the process, but have afforded the public at large and churches themselves to take part in the laughter at their misplaced dreams.

To clarify, the dress up costumes have gone public, and they were the garb of choice at this party. Glitter, tiaras, plastic magic wands, and hideous broaches that look more suitable for a bouquet set-up next to a casket than in a church, were all in attendance.

And please don't get me wrong. It was a birthday party....I know this...People are more than welcome to be silly and dress up however they want...

But we are living in a movement where the young people want to get dressed up beyond church....

People in the world, from what i understand at least, don't look forward to being formal. It's uncomfortable. They (and yes I am being unfairly stereotypical here) begrudgingly dress up when they have to (e.g. funerals, weddings, church, etc...) and thank the world the moment they can derobe from such unnecessary formalities.

But somehow something has gone terribly wrong....Something awful...

Where being casually dressed is not to be preferred....and rather, being dressed semi-formally or even formally (in the case of the party) is the optimal attire for a good party...

And we are sillly....

Oh So Silly....

Telling ourselves about ourselves through the apparel we are wearing...

And Jesus is here also partying oh so formally with us,...

And somewhere inside each one of us,...

While we are partying, dressed like clowns,

Amening the preacher because we have the truth,

... we hear this strange, subtle, noise inside our soul letting us know, this isn't right, and someone better speak up...

But we don't speak up....And we end up going "hey, at least we are doing all of this in skirts and long hair." YAY!

So we are playing this game.. attending birthday parties dressed in such absurdities that the world can't relate to our manner of dress in terms of it's excess and formalism...

And we can also tweet preacher's quotes like this one from Because of the Times:

"The Emergent Church is Poopie!"

This is anointed preaching for sure.

(And no i wasn't there. I only know this was said because of twitter)

Is not the purpose of the excess formal costumes worn at birthday parties and church conventions reminiscent of the purpose of the Red Carpet walks the celebrities take part in on the way to an awards ceremony or a Movie premiere? At which point the red carpet walk has become "the real show" of socializing and laughing and fancy costumes and the show inside the theater plays second fiddle?
Why is this? Why all the care about what is both on the outside of the theater and the exterior clothing of the actors and not so much about what is on the inside?

Sure church conventions are about church. Sure, the sermons matter. And we will pray. And amen. And laugh at the preacher's terrible jokes because that is what we do.

But we will also flaunt ourselves like a peacock before and after and enjoy ourselves some us more than we enjoyed God.

My question is, why isn't anyone saying anything? Why are we mute to the fact that the most fashionable kids in our movement are the ones who have grown up in it? Is it because most of us are preacher's kids? And most importantly, why and how did dressing up for Church become so fun?

The Shining

There is a scene i studied in film class from The Shining (don't watch it)...

And it reminds me much of what the Apostolic Social scene has come close to looking like...

but in one of the scenes, out of nowhere the main character (Nicholson) is walking through the vacant hotel he is watching over during the winter season and walks into a ballroom packed with people dressed in formal attire from the 1920's. The weird thing is, the hotel is abandoned (outside of Nicholson and his family).

While the scene seems happy, in the rest of the film's context, it's utterly creepy...

By the time this scene plays in the film, it's clear something is wrong with Nicholson...He is either going mad in this scene or he is seeing ghosts....

But the question is why Nicholson, an author and father from the 1970's is experiencing ghosts (or imagined strangers) from the 1920's who are all formally dressed...

And one of my favorite cultural critics, Fredric Jameson, writes of this scene,

"The generation the director isolates is the 1920's, and it is by the twenties that the hero (Nicholson) is haunted and possessed. The twenties were the last moment in which a genuine American leisure class led an aggressive and ostentatious public existence, in which an American ruling class projected a class-conscious and unapologetic image of itself and enjoyed its privileges without guilt, openly and armed with its emblems of top-hat and champagne glass, on the social stage in full view of the other classes. This is clearly a "return of the repressed" with a vengeance: a Utopian impulse which scarcely lends itself to the usual complacent and edifying celebration, which finds its expression in the very snobbery and class consciousness we naively supposed it to threaten."

In summary, the reference to the 1920's in the Shining, is akin to the place of formal dress and wacky costumes that is playing itself in the twenty something generation in Apostolic Culture.....but as the the specific Why's..3 theories:

1. At conferences and conventions, no one can be distinguished from anyone outside of the youth president's and preacher's themselves. So style is used to differentiate the "elite" of Apostolic Culture from the masses.

2. The Truth is no longer a sacred relic in our movement. We can claim full truth. We can say we possess it. We can talk about the One God and the Acts 2:38 experience (all of which, I believe in). But in the past, it was much easier to claim this and really believe it, because our culture and world was easily segregated from the rest of society so our unique truth claims wouldn't be contested within our churches. The internet and the like makes "Our truth" a claim of intense suspicion and skepticism. Only the most detached and isolated can believe the completeness of their beliefs without having to that Mormon's are claiming the Full TRuth as well. Thus the sacred relic of truth, which is now left to the masses to discuss and criticize (and thus no longer be certified true because "the pastor said so"), more relics need to be built....One of the relics being style.... A place where our pseudo-superiority as a religious movement can be worn on our sleeves.... Of course much our style of "high fashion", like in the Shining, reflects a time past (vintage clothing) to a time where one can be innocent of their superior position and claim ignorance of not knowing the intense demands that being Christian in this pluralistic society consists of/

3. Growing up as Apostolics, we were told in Sunday school God was coming back at any moment and we are on the verge of End-Times revival. Well the revival hasn't happened. And God hasn't come back, so what is left to do? Save the world?

I'm scared to death that I'm livin' a life not worth dying for....
And I know that it sounds mundane but it's a stone cold shame
How they got you tame and they got me tame.


  1. AMAZING post. I couldn't agree more. And what's worse is that while we sit and admire ourselves in our pretty attire, the world does not. Instead they just disdainfully look at us from the outside and walk away in disgust.

    I can't exactly say that I blame them.

  2. wow, rough.. Although I agree. It just seems like the principle behind this verse has just been twisted.

    3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

    It seems the UPC has missed the point of the verse that is "don't let your adornment be merely focused on the outward", and in actuality they are saying, "hey look at my outside! I have a dress, and hairdo..I'm separated"

    Truly the real problem is the absolute silence on the matter. Most of us leave into something better..

    au revoir? I don't think so..

    Je ne serai jamais vous revoir, au revoir

    That's more like it..

  3. I think our proclivity for dressing up is simply an extension of our obsession with maintaining a holy aesthetic - or, at the very least, cultivated by that obsession.

    The irony is that our idée fixe with maintaining a righteous appearance is as repulsive to God as drawing attention to ourselves through vain adornment.

    The pharisees' method of being separate from the wicked was also one entrenched in outward identity. Jesus offered an alternative distinction: love others as I have loved you; this will show the world that you are mine.

  4. Matthew 6:16-18
    Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

    My question in context with this verse is, Why is dressing a little more formally proposedly wrong? In the verse itself it references fasting and not drawing undo attention to yourself by acting like you're undertaking some great suffering. By extension does it not then make sense that for the remainder of the time you should in fact endeavor to appear to be in better condition than when you fast? Surely by this Jesus did not mean that ONLY when we fast should we appear to not suffer, rather how much more then should we appear to take joy in our walk with Christ when we do not deprive our natural bodies.

    From the standpoint of someone just coming into the church, would it not make it seem at least a more hopeful outlook to come into a church where it doesn't look like half the congregation is on their last month of welfare? True undo ostentation in adornment most definitely qualifies as crossing the line into "costly array," but to demonize in substance and practice, dressing to a higher standard of presentability smacks of a twisted form of reverse phariseeism. Instead of touting out a great abundance of useless and utterly senseless rules about every minute detail it rather says that after coming to God there is not change necessary. That no matter what you were doing before it is perfectly alright for you to keep doing it after you've received the Holy Ghost.

    Personally I agree with Paul on this one

    Romans 13:12
    The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

    Now this is not to say that we should go about wearing a full set of medieval armor, but it does denote a change in our BEHAVIOR. One thing connected to behavior, that is usually the first thing noticed, is that the person who has experienced the change actually looks different. How much more then should this be true to those of us who have been baptized in Jesus Name and Filled with the Holy Ghost?

  5. Very thought provoking.....

    I do love to see young people dressed every respect.

    And Joel your reference to the to the 1920s was down right eerie. It is time to wake up....

  6. I agree with you. We need to bring attention to Jesus and not to ourselves. Yes, we should dress appropriate as we are ambassadors of Christ but we should be conservative and not loud in our attire. I mean what does meekness and shamefacedness mean???

    Sis' C

  7. Are church conventions about church? I'm not sure anymore. I'm a mid-twenties "born-in-the-church," and I gave up on them a long time ago. Somewhere around the time that the song service went from rockin' to three brand-new choruses no one else had ever heard of before, all of which use a combined total of 25 words ("rain," "fall," "friend," etc.) and are sung 50 times, ensuring that everyone learns them and carries them back to their home church that coming Sunday, by which time the said choruses will be out of vogue.

    Maybe my memory is already failing... but I just cannot remember "it" being this bad when I was a 15-year-old. Maybe I was just oblivious -- and that is highly likely. I just don't remember the parade of ridiculous fashion, fashion so far from anything remotely relate-able. (Where are these kids getting these clothes anyway?) Or am I already turning into one of those crotchety old folks who raises a fist and says "Back in my day..."?

    The clothing, it bothers me. Or rather, it baffles me. I don't put myself in the position (i.e., attend large UPC events or even sectional rallies for that matter) to get bothered -- to see (1) the parade of flowers the size of grapefruits affixed to girls' heads;(2) loops of hair plastered and arranged and pinned into balloon-animal-like-shapes; (3) men wearing skinny jeans, old man sweaters aand ffixed with patches covering one breast, felt hats, and thick-rimmed glasses... etc., etc.

    I'm probably not even calling out the right trends, because I'm so behind on all of that. And I'm ok with that.

  8. Gavisas,

    You've got some interesting thoughts there and they're heavily packed with multiple angles for discussion, but to my reading at least, they seem out of touch with what Joel is trying to say.

    In this context, dressing up lavishly at Pentecostal events, I think it's appropriate to draw from Pierre Bourdieu's critiques of Structuralism in "Outline of a Theory of Practice." That is, practice and context are key to any observation.

    The outlandish, over-the-top outfits worn by many pentecostals at events like Because of the Times, youth congress, and general conference are one thing when they're viewed within the vacuum of the event itself--one might say that they dress up in honor of God or, as you say, an outward manifestation of the change God has effected in our lives--and another entirely when we fit them into the community of faith as a whole.

    Side Note: Regarding one's dress as an indication of relation to Christ, since you like to agree with Paul, I might refer you to any of the Epistles--take I Corinthians or Galatians--where the author has nothing but derision and contempt for exterior showings of Christ's work of justification. More specifically, examine I Thessalonians 1:4-10 where the author discusses how he and others have recognized/identified the full acceptance of Christ in the Thessalonian church. It's a bit deeper than apparel.

    But I digress, back to context and performance. The issue here is that we're speaking about the event of a conference/gathering where, quite out of touch with the reality of life, pastors and their ilk dress ornately as a requirement for the rules of the event itself. As I'm sure you're aware, the pastors/group of people who can afford to travel to the conference, buy expensive, usually new, outfits specifically for it, and also eat out at decadent restaurants for the length of the event (take a look at the pictures uploaded of food from BOTT on twitter) live a lifestyle that is quite apart from the majority of their fellows in the community of faith. Particularly now, when the US economy is in year three of its protracted malaise, the majority of church goers in this movement live closer to the red than they have in the past. So, while you're correct that we don't have to look like we're "on [our] last month of welfare," I'd also point out that the majority of people in our movement are in fact closer to that end of the spectrum than the minority who live an unrealistic lifestyle. I'm no adherent of Dave Ramsey as so many UPC'ers are, but I'm fairly certain he'd frown on living putting one's self further into debt trying to dress spectacularly to show God's works in us.

  9. In summation, understanding the dress/performance of the event in the context and reality of the movement as a whole points to the utter unreality of the event itself. Joel isn't speaking of dressing "a little more formally," which isn't wrong in itself, he's discussing the type of garishness witnessed in the events above. We're in a lost and dying world. It almost brings to mind the foolish arrogance of the French and Russian royal courts on the eves of their respective downfalls--they continued to party while the world outside their parties went to hell in a hand-basket. Eventually, all of those facile defenses and rhetorics that have been built up to protect and support the gluttony of the insulated minority will come crashing down.

    In a cursory way, this post is a plaintive plea to the minority who generally occupy positions of influence in the movement. Look at the pompous parties masquerading as serious conferences and see them in the context of the community and this world we live in—trading hackneyed syllogisms and fruitless attacks on straw-men smacks more of a “Disregard” of the times we live in, than because of it. Glorying in decadence built not on God, but on lines of credit and a liberal use of the return policy at high-priced clothing retailers, is a devastating indication of the separation/disconnect that the leaders of this movement have with the state of things. This world is indeed lost and dying and they are crying out for this wonderful Truth God has in His grace and mercy allowed us to hear, but one has to wonder if the group discussed in this post can stop gorging long enough to notice.

  10. Spot on, chady. That was insightful to say the least.

    I don't think dressing formally for church is an inherently sinful practice. The problem from my experience is that it becomes something of a spiritual (or even literal) class marker. When the majority of a congregation is implicitly expected to dress up, those who choose not to, or more importantly those who cannot afford to, are marginalized.

    I would hope we can all agree that a church house is the last place the underprivileged should feel alienated.

  11. I agree that the apostolic fashion is pretty crazy - and I haven't even been to a state or national event in over a year. There are things worn, that in my opinion, are worse then if I wore a basic necklace. It's as if what makes it a sin, is where it's located on my body. Enormous chain belt? That's cool. Move it up to my neck? Gasp!! Not cool. Big weird headband in my hair? Awesome. Move it to my wrist? Whoa, slow down, not awesome. So what part makes it a "sin"? The fact that it's adorning my body or that it's around my neck?

    Another point that I'd like to make (and I have made in comments here before) is that while watching the first part of the NAYC video is where they printed out "Let's show hell what kind of generation we are."

    WHY are we showing hell? I'm more interested in letting GOD see what kind of generation we are. Then letting Him mold us into the kind of generation He needs us to be.

  12. Nice post and I'll have a more thoughtful comment later but for now one thought:

    AP youth are dressing like peacocks for the same reason peacocks "dress" like peacocks -- attract a mate.

    You'll note they tend to dress less peacocks like after a few kids.

  13. These observations makes me fear going to the National Youth event this summer. I went last time in Tennessee, and the hypocrisy is amazing. Hypocrisy is still a sin, isn't it?

  14. John, that is the irony of this to me...

    For many individuals, the peacocking doesn't stop at marriage.

    Many of the most popular preachers who are married in our movement are still dressing as such.

  15. It doesn't stop at parties and conventions. I know of two prominent UPC couples who've had weddings in the past couple of years that looked like something out of The Great Gatsby. I've never seen more ornate, elaborate, embellished designs and fanfare. Joel, what you're describing seeing is the celebrating of ones self. These people are exactly what Paul described in 2 Timothy 3. The message says it best, and it sounds like he was looking at one of these "celebrations" when he wrote it:

    "As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, wild, savage...bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They'll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they're animals. Stay clear of these people...These men are like those old Egyptian frauds Jannes and Jambres, who challenged Moses. They were rejects from the faith, twisted in their thinking, defying truth itself. But nothing will come of these latest impostors. Everyone will see through them, just as people saw through that Egyptian hoax."

    We're living in a time, in a movement, where conservative pastors pay for their daughters to get plastic surgery (I'm withholding the name for their sake, not mine), where it's acceptable for a preacher to preach about social justice, while wearing thousands of dollars on his person, where the styles of our Youth Boards private parties rival those of New York, Milan and Paris.

    Sadly my personal conclusion is that these people are beyond saving from themselves. The only answer is to ignore them and keep going. Stop paying attention to them, stop reading their tweets, blogs and facebooks. Start teaching your young people that when they see them at events not to aspire to be like them, but to pray for them, because even though they're pretty on the outside, their insides are dead mens bones.
    It's all sad really, but I won't let them ruin my perspective.

  16. I usually disagree with this blog. However, you are 100% right on. I can't say it well enough. Can't stand the promoted vanity among apo girls/women. Somewhere along the way we've lost something. Do agree with the last statement though....I will not let it ruin my perspective. We don't throw away what is right in order to change what's wrong. We work on what's wrong within the context of full truth.

  17. Joel I think it's safe to say that the two of us do run in different circles. Impart I have never been to a national event like Youth Congress and only one or two major district events so I’ve have been mercifully spared some of this. While it is clear that there is a 1920s era decadence that penetrates some parts of our movement I would like to contend that there are one or two other narratives that lead to some of the interesting clothing styles.
    People have, to varying degrees, the need to express their individuality through some form of outlet or outlets. Within our movement creative attire so long as it minimum concealing standards has become an acceptable and encouraged way of expressing one's individuality. For instance, although it is hard to see the, my profile pic shows me wearing a green lab coat which I obtained with the help of a bottle of kelly green Rit dye.
    I had the opportunity of going to a hyphen event in Oklahoma a few months back and on the itinerary was a personality test and discussion. One of the interesting parts of the discussion was that of the four personality classes that the test we took distinguished in the broader national population about 12% of people would classify in the artistic/emotionally expressive category. Within the church environment however this category was over 30% and pushing on half of the population. (Of note that this gain was at the expense of the spontaneous/thrillseeking/carpe diem group which makes up just over a third of the national population and almost none (<10%) of the church population)
    If we accept my two assertions that creative attire is acceptable outlet to express individuality and that there is a higher number of artistic/emotionally expressive individuals within the apostolic movement than without and if we assume that the artistic/emotionally expressive individuals are going to have a higher need of expressing their individuality. It is not surprising that we see a large number of somewhat flashy and atypical choices in clothing. Since this narrative focuses on expression instead of impression we should also expect to see that these clothing choices are made in an economical fashion. In support of my assertion of a second expressive narrative I must say that I have known several people who did not dress expensively but definitely expressively including several GoodWill fashionistas.