I’ve been in London the past two days, as we are making our way to the Holy Land. London is a marvelous city, one of my favorites. It is quite English, very international and increasingly Euro. Like many places in Europe, secularism is far more advanced than in America (or America expresses its secularism in a far more “religious” manner). Today I was thinking about clothes as we traveled around the city (they were more interesting than the clothes worn in East Tennessee).
I grew up in relative poverty in the American South. At least, if I had a definable social group, it would have been poor, white, and Southern. There were very definable social groups within the public schools beyond the elementary level, and one of the hallmarks of those schools were very identifiable groups – generally defined by what was worn. There were groups and sub-groups. What was most interesting in those years was that there was nothing that distinguished the poor except for the lack of a cohesive group. We were individuals who could not afford clothing that would mark us as belonging. Thus our belonging was mostly marked by the fact that we “did not belong.”
Much of my youth and adult years has seen fashion used to define. My teenage child can tell a particular decade by the clothes worn. My awareness of such things stopped somewhere around 1975. Here in Euro London, I have no clue as to signals that may be given by clothing. I am certain that such signals are being sent – but they are subtle, extremely diverse, and, I think, increasingly marked by individual statement rather than group identification. If you will, it is the “secularization” of clothing.
I am no sociologist, so at this point I may simply be talking through my hat, as they say, or commenting on something that has little reality about it.
I generally wear my cassock in public – it’s something many, but not all, Orthodox priests practice. It certainly draws looks even in America – though the look may be mostly one of curiosity. Here, I find that it draws looks of anger, disgust and other negative experiences that I rarely find at home. A taxi driver, angry that I was slow crossing the street, yelled an epithet out his window that a cleric back home would simple never hear (and I find London cabbies to be a very friendly and knowledgeable lot).
One of the inner difficulties of secularism is its tendency to neglect the heart (as Christianity would traditionally understand it). T.S. Eliot called us a generation of “hollow men.” C.S. Lewis described us as “men without chests.” I would more likely describe us as “people with clothes,” for it is not so much the inside that defines the modern man as the outside. This, of course, has the advantage of allowing a person to assume a number of different roles, even identities (genders in extreme cases), with a simple wardrobe change. “The play’s the thing.”
The underdevelopment of the inner life makes for a certain kind of misery or malaise, and it makes for a very shallow evangelism. It also explains the fascination that the newly Orthodox have with some of the “outward trappings” found in the culture of the Church. The inner life takes much longer to acquire. The outward things are not a problem so long as they are not substituted for the development of the inner life.
I was recently given another award by my Archbishop (Russian practice loves to give clergy various awards of distinction). I told him later, “You’re only making it harder for me on the day of Judgment.” He smiled and I know he knows. He has told that when his sister was alive and living with him, he would return from a weekend’s visit at a Church, where all the honor the Church can muster surrounds and greets a Bishop. When he would walk through the door at home, he said his sister would call out, “Bubba, take out the trash.” That is the development of an inner life.
I trust that as I make my way to the Holy Land my clearest focus will be on taking out the trash. It is the deeper need of my heart.