Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Lord, help me dress for success.

Reading for Sept. 27, First Mennonite Church. Colossians 3:1-17

Dress for success! Look the part! The clothes make the man/woman. Dress codes. School uniforms. Team jerseys. Letter jackets....

I could never be accused of being a "fashionista." Comfort and practicality are the top determiners of my wardrobe. However, I cannot deny the power clothing has over me. Going for a run wearing baggy sweatpants and a shapeless old T-shirt feels hugely different from running in my sleek black Lycra with the bright blue and fuchsia slashes! In the Lycra, I feel like a serious runner, someone who cares about fitness and goes home to a salad and nut lunch. In the sweats, I am the couch potato, overcome with a momentary flash of guilt, running to justify my second bag of Doritos.
Bizarre isn't it?

Maybe not so bizarre, but something we need to understand so we can decide how we wish to act and be. The clothing we put on, the identity dress towards, affects how we act and who we become.

The famous Stanford Prison Experiment (Philip Zimbardo, 1971) powerfully demonstrates how every human being is susceptible to shaping by external forces, to "becoming" the role we wear. I'm particularly interested, here, in the place clothing plays in the experiment.

In the experiment, 24 physically and psychologically healthy young men were randomly assigned either to the role of guard or prisoner. Guards were dressed in military style uniforms and given sunglasses. Prisoners were given shapeless smocks, nylon caps, and numbers. What happened, in a nutshell, was that the young men took on their roles to a frightening degree. Guards quickly became abusive, prisoners took on a victim mentality. The experiment was supposed to last 2 weeks, but was cut short after 6 days because of the obvious psychological damage it was doing to both sets of actors. (Interestingly, it took a courageous outside observer to blow the whistle! Even the experimenters had gotten caught up in their put on identities!)

When we decide we want to be followers of Jesus, there is a "uniform" that can help us become more like him. Colossians 3:9 uses clothing language, saying that you have "stripped off the old self with its practises and have clothed yourself with the new self..." The follower is to get rid of anger, wrath, malice,slander and abusive language and to replace those with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. And when we don't quite manage these things, we reset" (re clothe?) by the action of forgiveness. All of this clothing is available from the one outlet, which is love.

It all sounds good, but we know it takes time and thought to change the wardrobe, to change our actions and to live like the new creations we are in Christ.

The clothing image is trans formative. There is a choice here in what we wear. When I get up in the morning, if I put on my Lycra running suit, I am more likely to go running than if I put on baggy sweats. Likewise, if I get up determined to set aside anger for compassion, and slander for kindness, I am much more likely to be aware of my actions. I may not feel kind, but if I decided to "wear"kindness, my clothing will influence my actions. I will grow into the role of what I have chosen to wear.

Philip Zimbardo said; "Situational variables can exert powerful influences over human behaviour, more so than we recognise or acknowledge." Reading Zimbardo's work has been a helpful, humbling influence n my life. None of us is able to be "good" apart from solid accountability structures, being surrounded with what we want to become, and everyday choices that shape us. Christ gives us a choice about who we want to become. What do we choose?

Physical clothes are easy to put on, to have others see. How can we put on these Colossians clothes?

I think I might put a prayer up on my closet door, to remind me each morning of what I want to choose that will help to shape my identity as a Jesus follower. Something like this (a beginning draft for a poem...)

Lord, help me dress for success.

Give me a little cotton for compassion, to absorb and alleviate pain.

A bit of Teflon, so anger and abuse slips off and doesn't stain.

Accent the outfit with a bit of white, a reminder for me not to fight.

Perhaps a forgiving polyester shirt, I can wash and wear again.

Surround me in the fleecy warmth of love, Your gift of peace from above


Questions: How would your treating someone kindly (even though you do not feel like it, they don't deserve it, you don't like them...) change you?

How did it (or would it) feel if after you have verbally attacked someone, they responded with quiet kindness?

How does this "kindness for unkindness" play out in the church community? can you see hope in this approach to each other?

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