By Daniel van Voorhis –
This week on the Jagged Word we are all taking a stab at writing on the theme of Simul Iustus et Peccator. The theologians can parse this out better than I can, but here is how I, the Man About Town, look at it.
We are totally screwed.
The good news is better than you can imagine.
If we talk about God, religion, or “spiritual things” we should talk using the two statements above. And, in that order. The bad is really bad (my body and the entire world is slowly decomposing and spiraling headlong towards a shockingly horrific death of some kind). The good is really too good to be true. It’s that good.
And, in the meantime, we are living in this tension (sometimes we feel it, often we don’t). Many of my compatriots in the syndicate of this website, the 1517 project, and Virtue in the Wasteland get to spend a lot of their time thinking about how insanely crazy/awful/wonderful this existential news is. And they have jobs that allow them to hone the speaking and teaching of this radically bipolar, “jagged”, and anti-intuitive paradox for themselves and others.
Me? Sometimes I can only think about getting out of bed, dressing, and getting to work. But even something as mundane as putting on clothes and muddling through the workday is affected by these simultaneously true words. Because I am both screwed, but completely redeemed, I can get out of bed and take a little time to think about the belt I’m going to wear, or if the new Beach House album is going to sound like the last two, or if we should reconsider modern table manners. All of this Man About Town hooey and applesauce might just have a place of significance if I can straighten out my brokenness and the reality that everything is actually going to be ok.
I don’t want to use this week’s theme of Simul Iustus et Peccator as an excuse to awkwardly shoehorn Bible verses about clothes and culture into my column, but the first place my mind went when I was thinking about brokenness and clothing was some place up near the front of Genesis.
Stay with me here.
So Adam has just done the one thing, the ONLY thing he was told not to. One simple rule, and he breaks it. The creator of the universe, the guy that gave him everything comes looking for him and so Adam hides. When Yahweh calls out for him, the first thing Adam thinks is, “how do I look?” At this point he is either naked, or he used a few leaves to cover up a bit (leaves with sap that are a skin irritant, in case you were curious). How do I look? Dude. You have just colossally ruined everything. You’re batting .000 and have ruined your life and your posterity as well. You are toast. You know it. BUT, you want to make sure that you at least look ok.
In the face of God, the slickest wing tips and perfectly cut suit get you nothing. You might as well be in sweatpants and TEVAs. On your own merit, even with a healthy dose of confidence and self justification you’re going out like the Nazi’s in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark of the Covenant is opened.
But what if God isn’t looking for you to berate you or even gently nudge you with a few of those commandments you’ve been less than stellar at keeping? In the parable of the prodigal son, it is the father who could care less about what he is wearing when he comes bounding down the stairs in his bathrobe to meet his lousy, pathetic son.
We should wrap our heads around the idea that we are Adam, foolishly wondering if we’ve dressed for the occasion at the moment of our judgment. But we are ALSO the mud stained prodigal whose father abandons all decorum and manners to come to embrace us.
And so we don’t need to dress to please God. He came to us as a baby, naked. He was condemned for us, hanging naked on the cross. And now, everything is going to be ok. We are free. Free to think about how we might try to brighten up our days with a good book, a drink, or a pair of socks that bring out the color in our tie. We don’t have to think in drab categories of utility and false modesty. You are free. You could still rock sweat pants and TEVA’s, or imitate both the prodigal’s father and the big Lebowski wearing a bathrobe in public. I’m not here to lecture you. You are free.
But now that I don’t have to wake up in the morning with the existential dread of trying to do everything just right, I can relax and “worry” about the mundane things from my haircut to my shoes, and to the music I listen to, and my thoughts about the word about town.
I’m not worrying about how someone might judge me, in the comment section on a column on smoking or wing tips, or a podcast on climate change or gay marriage. Everything is going to be ok. And you can expect my Monday column, as ever, to give you the down low on style, manners and culture. When my conscience, or the law condemns me and I want to first think, “how do I look?” I have an answer: like a bum. But when I’m freed from condemnation and wondering if a half Windsor might fill out the spread collar shirt, well… I’ve got a few thoughts for another time.
All the Best,
The Man About Town,
Composed while listening to the Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin (1999)