the things we wear
Lets begin with a story in the Bible …
Its one of the stories a lot of people know because it's the one at the very beginning. Its one of the ones you read before getting too confused and bored.
It’s that story of Adam and Eve, one of our foundational myths describing why God created and how God wanted the world to work. It’s one of the stories we can turn to when we are wondering about those huge existential questions of purpose and meaning.
So the story talks about how Adam and Eve are there in the Garden of Eden, this little patch of paradise on earth, and God, She comes to them and says:
“Here’s the deal. Come and partner with me. Come join me in loving, caring for, growing this garden until it encompasses the entire world. We’re going to transform this world into one where everyone has enough and everyone has a place. We’ll do it through practicing things like grace, hope, justice, and peace. That is what I made you for. That is where you will find your life.”
So Adam and Eve say ‘Sure. Let’s do it!’
But in one hot second, what happens?
They mess it up.
They do the exactly opposite of what God asked. Instead of taking God up on Her offer and practicing love, generosity, and peace, they practice conceit, greed, and selfishness.
And what ends up happening to them?
As a consequence for their actions, because they chose that way of life, they get told that they’ll have to work hard for a living, they get told reproducing will be painful and dangerous, and they get kicked out of the Garden wearing only fig leaves.
Now I dont know about you but the most interesting part of that whole thing to me is the fig leaves.
It’s such a strange detail isn’t it? So strange, apparently, that some translations of the Bible don’t even bother to state it.
But here’s my question:
Why fig leaves? Why would the writers of this story be so specific as to say fig leave?
Well, if you know your figs, you know a fig leaf has the texture that feels a lot like sand paper.
Can you imagine wearing clothes - especially the kind we imagine Adam and Eve to have worn - made out of fig leaves?
Yah. It wouldn’t feel very good, would it? There’s nothing you could do could possibly make it feel right.
So why include this?
Well, what if the writers of this story are making a point?
What if the writers were letting us know
what we wear matters.
Every so often this thing will go down in my house that usually unfolds something like this:
We’re about to go out somewhere, I tell Dawn "I’m going to get changed, be back in a few," and then like 30 minutes later, Im nowhere to be seen, so Dawn comes upstairs wondering whats happened to me, and she finds me in our bedroom, staring into my closet, with every. single. thing. I. own. on the floor around me, having a freak out.
She’ll say ‘Nick, There’s lots to wear here. Just wear this.’ To which I’ll say ‘But thats not the problem.’
More often than not, the things in our lives that make us freak out, disappear, and stare into our proverbial closets are not the things that are truly bothering us.
They're just a symptom and a sign post. They're just how whatever is underneath it all finds its voice.
If you’ve ever had a random moment of road rage after a blissful day or just balled over a mere commercial, you know what Im talking about.
Are you with me?
Now over the years as Ive gone through this again and again, Ive come to realize that the truth isn’t that that I didn't have anything to wear, it’s that we wear more than clothes.
The pile of clothes on the floor became a sign of this malaise and anxiety towards the way I was living. It wasn’t the clothes I had a problem with, it was all the other stuff I wore: it was my attitudes, my postures, my habits, and my dispositions. None of it fit. None of it felt right.
I wasn't looking into the closet for clothes, but for something that closet couldn’t offer me. I was looking for a new way to exist and be in the world.
Anyone else know this feeling?
Yah, Im sure we all do.
Part of why scholars think the story about Adam and Eve still endures and has such meaning is because it captures this sense of malaise and anxiety, this sense that we all, in some way, wear fig leaves, that we all are staring into our proverbial closets, asking this ancient and universal question:
What does it mean to be human?
What does a life that feels right look like?
What kind of life fits?
What kind of things am I supposed to wear?
There’s this other story in the Bible.
It’a s story about how a bunch of religious leaders are trying to get in the way of Jesus and his movement. They dont like that he’s challenging their power and turning their world upside down. So they hatch a plan to get rid of Jesus and it’s, to give them credit, pretty devious. And that plan was this:
They’d bring before Jesus a woman who was caught in the act of adultery and ask ‘what should we do with her?’
See, on the one hand adultery was against Jewish law. The Bible pretty clear that any man and woman who commit adultery should be stoned to death. But on the other hand, Roman law was also clear: you can’t kill people. Only the Roman Empire could practice capital punishment.
By saying the woman should be saved, Jesus would go against the teachings of Moses and lose face with the public. By saying she should be killed, he’d break the Roman law forbidding capital punishment and risk be killed. Like I said, pretty devious.
So they go and catch a woman in the act of adultery, and they drag her (and only her) from her bed, through the streets, and into the Temple, one of the most public places in the city.
So she’s not just in front of Jesus, but she’s in front of hundreds of people, probably naked given that she’s just being pulled out of bed, and they turn to Jesus and ask:
‘what do we do with her?’
And Jesus, in one of the most mysterious passages out there, caught between a rock and a hard place, bends town to the ground, starts drawing in the dust with his finger. What? We dont know. But while he’s doing it, he asks the all the men there, and presumably loud enough for everyone else to hear:
‘Whichever of you is without sin, you may throw the first stone.’
One by one, we’re told, they drop their stones and they leave. And after everyone’s gone, what does Jesus say to the woman?
“Go and sin no more”
Its kind of a frustrating way to end the story, isnt it?
I want him to apologize on behalf of the men. I want him to offer her compassion. I want him to honour that woman. But instead, all he does is say “go and sin no more.”
That’s how you’re going to end this? You’re gonna leave her with something so clearly unobtainable? Something so clearly shame inducing? How’s that an act of love? Where’s the grace in that? Is that what you’d say to us?! How can we possibly live up to that?! How is that helpful?!
Anyone with me on that?
But here’s the thing …
What if that statement, “go and sin no more,” is exactly the right thing he could say to her?
What if Jesus knew that after this, after being publicly shamed, after being used as bait, that this woman may find herself in front of her proverbial closet wondering what to wear?
What if Jesus knew she’d have to choose what to wear when she’d see the men who tried to kill her walking down the street?
What if Jesus knew she’d have to choose what to wear when she’d hear people gossip about her?
What if Jesus knew she’d have to choose what to wear the next time she’d see a woman being publicly shamed?
As Rachel Held Evans puts it, what if Jesus knew that she’d have to choose what to wear to avoid the "irony of becoming just like her accusers."
Does she choose, like they did, to wear anger, fear, hatred, and vengeance?
Does she choose something else? Does she choose a different way of being in the world?
Jesus wasn’t asking her to never again sin. He was inviting her into a different way of being human, one that goes back to the very beginning, a way intimately connected with God, a way that brings us deeper into life, not further away from it, a way of being human that was always meant to be, a way clothed in things like grace, compassion, hope and love.
My friend John once told me about how one Christmas morning he noticed that the baby Jesus was missing from his nativity set. He looked everywhere for it and eventually found it in the hands of his daughter, being dangled over the toilet.
John said “You cant flush Jesus down the toilet! We need him!”
And his daughter looked at him and asked: “Why? Why do we need Jesus?”
Its a good question, isn’t it?
We all ask it and we all should ask it.
And there are lots of answers to it, most of them are all pretty good ones.
But one of them is that we need Jesus not only because he shows us what God is like but because he shows us what being human is like. We need Jesus because Jesus shows us what to wear.
And as people who, from time to time, struggle with what we wear, whether its staring into our proverbial closets, picking up our stones, or something else all together, we need someone to show us where true life is and what that looks like.
So for the fall, we’re going to do just that. We’re going to spend some time in a sermon series called ‘The Things We Wear’ and look at the different postures, attitudes, and dispositions Jesus gives us, things like grace, hope, and indignation, and ask what do they look like lived out.
So for you who are looking for something to wear, join us as we try on different things and trust that it’s there, clothed in these things, that we can find the life we’re here looking for.