Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The lonley hill

Max Weber attributed to Protestantism “a feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual in what was for the man of the age of the Reformation the most important thing in life: his eternal salvation.”

If you’ve known me in the past six years or so, you’ve probably heard me rant about how inextricably we have linked salvation to American individualism. But the funny lesson of the week for me was this: I am such an American individualist.

My Mom was once forced to attend a cocktail party, and after scouring the mall in a vain search for a cocktail dress that she could wear with a straight face, she finally decided on a pair of black velvet overalls. I love telling the story because the principle is strongly engrained into me: just because the other women were subjecting themselves to uncomfortable, flashy dresses didn’t mean that my mom needed to be cold that night. They all shivered in their cocktail dresses, and my Mom was warm in her overalls.

And somewhere along the line people started pointing out to me that I never seemed to wear anything but my Tevas. I had not noticed, but they were right. In fact, as the winter wore on I found that I still craved the comfort of my well-worn, versatile sandals. And when occasions of formality arose, I still wore them. Six years later, I am still wearing them almost exclusively. I hardly notice other people’s shoes; I see no reason for them to be noticing mine.

And when the worship team that I had been a part of for a year-and-a-half instituted a business casual dress code a year ago, I stepped down.

Whoa... what just happened? Somewhere along the line, I became the individualist who refuses to allow anyone else to infringe on something I feel justified in asserting for myself. That sounds wise when the “anyone” is a cultural bandwagon; it sounds downright pagan when that “anyone” is my church.

There are so many battles out there to be fought. Depending on how they are worded, most of them can sound like worthy battles. But most of them are not hills to die on. Having comfortable feet is good; alienating myself from my church in order to have them is not.

Last Friday, with tears in my eyes that came from an agonizing combination of confusion, hurt, and humiliation for being confused and hurt, I let my pastor buy me shoes to fit the business casual dress code.

There are far too many hills out there for me to die on all of them. Beyond that, there’s a remarkable freedom in submission, in letting go of my own individual rights. It is what being part of a church—yea, being a Christian—is all about.

Embarrassingly, I am still a little sad about the shoes.


Wonders for Oyarsa said...

Sounds like good things are afoot there, Em. By the way, between the movie and the retreat I went on this weekend, I've been doing a little listening of my own.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point about the velvet overalls is that the cocktail party actually entailed a hayride out in the Texas cold, so your mom was the only lady properly dressed for that occasion. Sometimes instincts are the right thing to listen to.
Good that you are back on the worship team, it makes a difference with you there. Thanks for serving there in spite of the dress code.