The First Date

I frequently speak with groups of people in the planning stages of mission trips to Haiti and there’s always at least one person in the group who doesn’t know me and has never read the blog, who will ask the question, “What about clothes? What should we wear in Haiti?” And no, in such situations I do not rattle off my Top 10 Mistakes, but do try to give reasonable, easy-to-follow suggestions on what they should pack to wear that will be appropriate for their specific mission. “Just be yourself,” I usually say, “Wear things that make you feel good about yourself and the Haitians around you will respond positively to your presence as well.” But I still usually feel like my point hasn’t really gotten across and get the impression that the questioners are looking for a utilitarian list of dos and don’ts. So after several of these interactions during my recent trip to the States, I found a new way to illustrate my advice.

Think about yourself as going on a first date with Haiti. You’ve heard about Haiti maybe through the internet, or through shared acquaintences that introduced the two of you, and you’ve decided that you wanted to get to know him better. You’re able to land a date with him and are really excited but you want to make the right impression. No matter how much your heart has feelings for Haiti, you know that you can’t show up in just any outfit. You want to impress him but you don’t want to look overzealous and overdo it either. You want to look your absolute best but you also want to keep it casual because you don’t want him thinking that you’re trying too hard. You have no idea what his intentions are but you simply want him to see you as attractive enough to want to get to know you better and possibly pursue a relationship. But you remain confident that if he is interested in a relationship it will be based on who you truly are so you want to be authentic in your clothing choice. Just be yourself, but the best version of yourself. You are really interested in Haiti and you would be so thrilled if he gave you a great compliment on your style that first date, but you’d be crushed if you found out from your friend later that he really liked you but thought your shoes were ugly. So you remain very conscious of your style choices, but don’t worry to the point of it creating a false impression.

You know enough about Haiti to know that he won’t be taking you out anywhere fancy, probably just a casual dinner at a chain restaurant and maybe a walk in the park afterwards. So you wear sensible shoes, but not the dirty tennies that you wear for your morning jog. A nice shirt that’s not overly embellished, but not something as casual as a t-shirt which would make you look sloppy. Your favorite pair of jeans or pants, or a skirt to show off your legs, but not anything with too many pockets that might make it look like you’re stashing away leftovers from dinner for your camping trip over the weekend. You do your hair and put on a little make-up, just enough that you don’t look like you just rolled out of bed, but not so much that you look like a drag queen on her way home from the rave. You know that Haiti sees enough of them in his everyday life and you would like him to see that you’re a bit classier and more modest, someone with an education and interesting views.

If you make a good enough first impression, you’ll get the chance to get to know each other better, with each encounter getting more and more comfortable with the each other to where you don’t have to worry about what you wear at all. But if you make a bad first impression, Haiti’s not going to be interested in seeing you more or getting to know who you really are. If you don’t peak his interest from the first time he sees you, he’s never going to get to know your heart or all of the good intentions that lie within in. He’s never going to care about all of your good ideas or your interesting talents or how your relationship with him could actually help him improve himself just as he could help you improve yourself as well. You know that Haiti is a guy that sees a fun personality, caring heart, and strong spirit as important, but you also know that he’s not blind. You’ve got to show him that you’ve got the whole package from the start and care enough about yourself and respect him enough that you put some thought into your appearance. Not because you’re vain, but because you know he enjoys it and because you feel better when you look good. And when you feel better about yourself and appear approachable to others, you will be more effective at building that relationship that you’re after.

So, I know it might sound silly, but next time you’re packing for a trip to Haiti, or any other place where you intend to be in service to a different community or culture, think of yourself as preparing for a first date with them and see how it changes what you might pack. If you do it well enough you might just end up starting a relationship in which you end up growing old together despite all of your fashion hits and misses and can even laugh at each other in your underwear knowing so much about one another that none of it matters.

God is a Fashion Diva

Disclaimer: Please don’t get bent out of shape about the gender infused pronouns used in this post. Our English language has its limits and forces us to attach genders to things that shouldn’t be gendered. If I was writing in Creole, I wouldn’t have that problem. I chose feminine pronouns here just because of my choice of the noun “diva”. That does not mean that I think God is a woman or that fashion is only for women.

This is for all of those out there who like to respond to my fashion posts with the irrefutable, “Oh yeah? Well Jesus doesn’t care what I wear, he knows my heart.” I wanted to take a moment and introduce everyone to the God that I find when I read my Bible. She is a TOTAL fashion diva! I understand that part of the divine mystery of God is how She appears differently to each individual that believes in Her, so I realize some people might think I’m crazy for making such claims, but it seems clear to me that God didn’t create humans just so we could ignore the power of Style. It may not seem like the most important aspect of who God is, what with all of the problems in the world that She created, but I can’t read Her Word without being convinced of Her great love for that world so much that she wants her children to look fierce while we’re living in it. For real, She started showing just how fabulous She is from the very beginning with Adam and Eve in the garden.

Genesis 3:6,7 –

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

What was, in fact, the very first thing that humans did when they gained wisdom? Made clothes. The highest priority for those who had suddenly been made wise was not solving math equations, inventing tools, trying to decipher psychology, organizing government and civilization, discerning deep spiritual truths, or even trying to help one another; it was sewing together clothing. Those first few fig leaves sewn together represented the first steps that have now evolved to the highest couture that we see walking the runways of Paris, Milan, and New York. God has shown us that the epitome of wisdom is materialized in fashion design. In fact, it is so important to Her that God just couldn’t see Her precious creations walking around in those fig leaves for long. They were so last season. No, the Lord God is such a diva that She had to show them what the hottest fabrics were for the dawn of creation. Just a few verses later She demonstrates from the beginning the timeless versatility of leather.

Genesis 3:21,22 –

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Long before giving us humans the gift of Her Son to forgive our sins, God gave us the gift of fashion. But this fashion diva doesn’t stop there and let Her people run off and wear whatever short shorts, cargo pants, safari gear, and matching t-shirts that they want without at least some strong advice against it. She continually peppers Her Word with clear reminders of just how important it is for us humans to carefully consider the items that we put on our body. In Proverbs, for example, we see that noble character isn’t found only in the good intentions of the heart, but in the the fabrics that adorn our bodies.

Proverbs 31: 10, 20 – 25 –

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

In this passage we see that charity, respect, strength, dignity, and even joy are inseparable from fashion. If a good heart was all that mattered, then this passage could end after verse 20, where the woman helps the poor and needy, but no, it goes on to show that she and her family are clothed in the finest linens of the most beautiful colors and she even makes sure that everyone else has the fiercest garments and the hottest sashes to wear. As long as you’re clothed like a boss, you’ve got nothing to fear, because God dwells within the strength and dignity that comes from that. She created us to care about ourselves and how we look. She didn’t make us beautiful, extravagant creatures just so we could ugly up Her masterpiece with crappy clothes from the recycling bin. She also created us each to be unique children of Hers in Her own image but still each one different, so why would we ever want to hide that creativity that She invested in each of us by wearing something that matches everyone else or just makes us blend in? She created us to be filled with the utmost joy and goodness but if we believe that, then we must dress as vessels worthy enough to embody such a gift.

Haiti 899

I’m pretty sure this is some sort of lily.

But God’s focus on fashion doesn’t stop with the Old Testament where all the rules are kept. She walks that catwalk right on through the New Testament as well. Even during Jesus’ ministry he proves that he, in all of his tolerance and love, did not come to the earth just so that he could become our scapegoat for poor fashion choices. He was not only frequently criticizing those who overdressed in order to set them apart from the common people, like the Pharisees and kings, but also advised his apostles on specific ways to dress appropriately as they went out into service to the world (Luke 22:36). We may think that Jesus didn’t care about fashion because we’re used to seeing the contrived images of him in big white robes and plain old sandals, but Jesus was dressing in a way that made him most accessible and most relateable to those that the Great Fashion Diva Herself sent him to the earth to serve. He didn’t dress like a king but he didn’t dress like a beggar either. He didn’t dress in any way that set him apart yet still dressed in a way that honored the sacred creation that he represented. Jesus understood that his ministry was to be built on relationships, and warned about the dangers of allowing the clothing you wear to interfere with those relationships. He knew what it meant to consider the lilies (Matthew 6:28-30) which know how to embrace the beauty with which their Creator Diva has graced them with. Many people think that the lily verse proves that Jesus doesn’t care what we wear, but in context of the relationships he was building, this verse seems to show more how he simply wants us to have faith that he will provide what we need to wear in order that we may add beauty to our fabulous Creator’s garden. Of course, we can’t be completely like the lilies, otherwise we’d all be running around naked. Thanks to Adam and Eve, that’s not possible, so we have to find our own way towards achieving effortless, yet dignified fashion that is effective for whatever God has called us to.

Even Paul with all of his rules consistently made fashion a focus of his letters to his friends and churches that were trying to reflect the beauty of God. While encouraging their faith and deeds to speak for themselves, Paul would give specific guidelines as to what to do and not to do when dressing and accessorizing as to not allow their fashion to interfere with the ministry and service that they were intending to carry out in the world. (1 Timothy 2:9-10). It is our job now as the Church in this modern world to take these examples and see how we need dress in ways that do not interfere with our missions to our fellow brothers and sisters. How can we dress in ways that honor the splendid artistry with which we were created and still not distract from our service to others and our reflections of the image of God? How to do carry ourselves with a fearless faith in the Great Fashion Diva who knows our past, present, and future, and has promised to provide for us what we need to carry out the callings that She has placed on our lives?

Because the day will come when we will leave our life in this world behind along with all of the shopping malls and department stores that came with it. That doesn’t mean that the Diva won’t continue to make sure that we will be clothed in a way that represents all of our new found victory, worth, and glory. In the Word She drives Her point home right through the end.

Revelation 3: 4,5 –

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

I’m hoping that I’m living a life that will someday end in being clothed in that final white garment by my Diva God’s side. I hope that I’m living with enough faith that I’m aware of the Spirit’s presence with me even when I’m picking out clothes to put on each morning. Living in a way that reflects her image as the extraordinarily beautiful deity that She is, following the examples that she’s given me and not ignoring the resources that She’s provided us with to make and wear respectful, beautiful clothing. I think that even though She knows my heart because She’s the one that formed it with her own hands, She still smiles when She sees me looking good as I follow that heart through relationships and personal discovery in this fancy, fabulous world. And I smile knowing that She’s there with me through it all, possibly shaking her head and rolling her eyes at the fig leaves that I’ve donned wishing that I would put on that leather jacket already!