Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Naked in Church

I recently e-mailed the Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas about “proper attire” for preaching there this coming Sunday (on Saturday I’ll also be leading a morning retreat on “Seeing as if for the First Time” and an afternoon retreat, “The Wounded Healer vs. Getting Hooked in Our Wounds”). And so I thought of naming this post “Proper Attire.” But “Naked in Church” is more likely to draw you in!

I have many “naked” dreams, easily explained because I sleep in the buff. That may be T.M.I., but it lessens attempts to over-psychologize these dreams, though much could be made of an introvert having such dreams! Of course, I have dreams about being naked in church as well. And it always seems normal and I am unashamed, but sometimes think perhaps I should be, because I am the only one in the nude.

A couple of weeks ago I had a dream in which I was visiting a traditional Lutheran church, sitting naked on the last pew. But it was okay—it was a “Reconciling in Christ” or welcoming congregation, and no one seemed to mind!

Last week, in the early morning hours of All Saints Day, I had two such dreams. In the first, an African American woman pastor had invited me to participate in worship at a praise-style service for her multi-racial congregation. In the second, I was to be the speaker during an interfaith Pride service—at which I was only shirtless, but debating whether to wear a gay rainbow flag stole.  (At least my naked church dreams are ecumenical, interfaith, and multiracial!)

And though any of us may feel either shame or pride in our bodies, given our own expectations and unfortunately that of others, I was feeling proud because I had lost 25 pounds over the summer through vigorous running, swimming, workouts, and careful eating. (This is true, not a dream!)

All this is to say that I think our God-given birthday suits should be considered “proper attire” in church, because this is one of the places we encounter a God who can see right through our facades and modesties to our vulnerabilities and strengths.  After all, confession began as a spiritual discipline that could be described as being naked in God’s presence, honestly confessing virtues as well as sins.

The Rev. Roy Birchard, a friend who served an MCC in Manhattan, once gave a remarkable sermon on Joseph’s coat of many colors, which was really a robe with sleeves, meaning he could do no manual labor, suggesting privilege.

Attired in his preacher’s academic robe and stole, Roy explained how this “uniform” gave him “authority” to preach and do sacraments, as well as to teach. Taking it off in the pulpit, he revealed a suit and tie beneath that he wore in his day-to-day work in the national offices of the Presbyterian church, then in New York City. Stripping further, he removed his tie, coat, and shirt, revealing a simple white t-shirt beneath, over which he pulled a black leather jacket. “And this is how I dress when I go out to the bars,” he said, implying that each layer represented a different kind of drag that gave him access and authority in different venues.

Adam and Eve once strolled naked with their Creator in Eden and were unashamed. King David danced virtually naked parading the Ark of the Covenant, God’s presence, into his new capital, Jerusalem.  Jesus was baptized naked at the hands of John the Baptizer, and Jesus heard God call him Beloved.

So being naked with God is quite traditional!

But I’ll have clothes on this Sunday.

Related post:

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  1. Jesus was also crucified naked, despite the universal insistence on depicting the Corpus on a Crucifix with a discrete loincloth. And of course I've seen no religious art depicting a "Naked Baptism". You are absolutely right that we need to get off the body negativity ethos and continue to emphasize the importance of a healthy and wholesome acceptance that all of us need to learn the true meaning of vulnerability.

    1. Yes, I thought of including the crucifixion, but I was I was going for more "positive" images, though the vulnerability of Jesus could also be viewed as positive. And Lord knows we need more vulnerability in the church! And God was certainly with Jesus in those moments, despite the fact that Jesus felt forsaken by God.

    2. Jesus could not have been crucified naked because the bible says they cast lots for his clothes.

    3. Casting lots for his clothes means they were off his body! Standard Roman crucifixion procedure was to strip the victims entirely.

    4. Very true, genuine and powerfully explained about human vulnerability. Insight provoking.thank you.

    5. Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed,