Fashions and Outfits, Fads and Beliefs

When I was ten years old, bell-bottoms flooded the fashion world like a tsunami. They were everywhere, but my mother wouldn’t let me wear them. Her lame excuse was something like, “You shouldn’t be a slave to fads.” (I think she just disliked them.)

70s style US Stamp

Children always tell their parents that they are the only kid at school without an “X”: a cell phone, an iPad, or a personal condo in the Cayman Islands. Well, I checked. I was literally the only kid in my class without bell-bottoms, except for the one girl who wore a dress.

One day an older boy at school stopped me and asked why I wasn’t wearing bells. To a ten-year old boy, the only thing worse than being wretchedly uncool was to miserably admit, “My mom said I can’t.” So I just stood there, head down, conflicted and dejected.

As the older boy stared at me, wonder washed over his face, and he exclaimed, I know what you’re doing, you’re sticking it to the man, aren’t you? You’re sticking it to the man!

I had no idea what “sticking it to the man” meant, but I sensed a ray of sunshine pierce my storm. Not wanting to lie, I simply smiled. Sort of knowingly.

Three or four years later, bell-bottoms had the fashion-appeal of last week’s lukewarm latte.

Fashions rise and fall like the tides

We easily recognize fashion’s influence on the clothes we choose, but do we recognize how our beliefs about reality also rise and fall with the tides of trendy? For example:

  • A hundred years ago, it was fashionable to believe that eugenics would save humanity from a rapidly deteriorating gene pool. It was embraced by world leaders such as Roosevelt, Oliver Wendell Holmes, H. G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw. After WW II, the world recognized eugenics as a pseudoscience that simply promoted racism.
  • From the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, reason ruled spirituality, as if knowledge of God was limited to people with high IQ’s. Today, spiritual feelings rule our reality. We can’t know God’s love unless we feel it. But both bases of reality—reason or feelings—are just faddish foundations for beliefs, beliefs with the staying-power of morning mist.

It’s fine to say that black is the new “in” color (or that purple is the new black), but fads are absolutely ridiculous when it comes to beliefs. Imagine being scorned because you believe the world is round; the cool, in-crowd croons, “That idea is ‘Oh so yesterday.’”

Just like their bell-bottoms.

The true nature of reality

The true nature of spiritual reality is always a mystery. That’s why Paul says spiritual wisdom is nonsense to the gentiles and a scandal to the Jews: it doesn’t make sense to our natural selves! It just doesn’t fit in with our morning café-lattes or our half-sleeve tattoos.

In the modern mystery (movie or book), we assemble clues in order to piece together reality; but spiritual mysteries cannot be solved, only revealed: Paul claims that the “mystery of grace was made known to him by revelation” (Eph. 3:3). Spiritual reality is acquired when God exposes it; not by us collecting clues but only by God’s disclosure. Revelation!

Spiritual wisdom is born in humility—we only get it when God reveals it—but it grows when we choose to believe it; even when (probably especially when) it seems scandalous or nonsensical to our natural, suave selves.

There are beliefs that endure

Scripture claims that people of substance are the people who meditate on his words; they are like trees fed by streams, enduring the droughts, never withering, and always bearing fruit at the right time. They know spiritual reality unveiled to them through God’s revelation (Ps. 1:3).

But people who scorn Scriptural meditation, clinging to the beliefs of fashion, are like the husks of seeds, hollow and insubstantial, unfruitful, and driven about by every trendy wave (Ps. 1:4).

We don’t always feel spiritual truth, and it often doesn’t make sense to us every moment of our lives, but revealed spiritual reality is the only reality that lasts. Let’s reject the transient, fashionable beliefs of the world around us.

Instead, “Let’s stick it to the man,” or, “Stick it to the fleeting fads of passing beliefs.”

Sam

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12 thoughts on “Fashions and Outfits, Fads and Beliefs

  1. “Spiritual wisdom is born in humility” So right on Sam. A puffed out chest, the latest trend, and being the “Man” did not give me time to seek spiritual wisdom. When I say I grew up a 50, I am saying that I grew up spiritually and life could not be easier. Spiritual wisdom gave me another 15 years to date. Couldn’t be in a better place.

    • Hey Greg,

      I love how you say “being the Man” did not provide the spiritual wisdom you desired.

      Maybe when we “stick it to the man,” we have to “stick it to the man inside all of us!”

  2. Lovely write up! Only God can reveal.. I think sometimes are guilting of being nice Indiana Jones in our attempt to unravel mystery.. But it just comes.. The beautiful part is that you can actually tell when it comes.. Like you pointed out its usually doesn’t make sense, it’s usually a tougher option.. Narrow is the path indeed.. Thanks for this

    • Hi Chiwueze,

      I think many modern heresies (at least modern missteps) are the result of using our natural mind to unravel spiritual mysteries.

      The way of the world (and our flesh) is to promote ourselves; the way of the gospel is to give up ourselves; the way of the world is to grab for the best seats; the way of the gospel is is to humble ourselves.

      The gospel always looks counter-intuitive to our minds. the fleshly god would have taken the throne; the real God embraced the cross.

      May God grant us all such TRUE spiritual wisdom.

  3. Good stuff Sam. My Dad did the same thing for me, except the ‘in’ thing at the time was very tight pants, without cuffs, and he made me wear regular pants with cuffs. My classmates dubbed them my ‘windjammers’ with ‘cowcatchers’. Here’s an excerpt from a book I wrote on lessons learned from my Dad:
    When I was in middle school, the “in” clothing style for guys was tight pants without cuffs and loafers. Looking back on it, that style looks definitely not cool, but it was all the rage at the time, and for a middle school kid, that’s what counts.

    Dad was not into stylish clothing – at least not for his boys. I’m not sure about the girls; I’m not sure about Mom; I’m not sure about Dad himself. But I am certain that for his boys, he was not into style. He made us wear “tie shoes” (i.e. anything that had laces) and baggy pants with cuffs. About the only option we had for the shoes were Hush Puppies.

    I was endlessly persecuted at school. “Look out, here comes Kennedy with his windjammers!” (That’s what my baggy pants were affectionately called). Or “watch out for those cow-catchers!” (my cuffs). They didn’t have a name for my shoes except the brand name “Hush Puppies”, which was bad enough on its own.

    After months and months of persecution, I cried out in agony to Dad: “Why do you constantly keep persecuting us by making us wear all this weird stuff! Why can’t we just dress like the other kids?”

    And Dad, in a very calm and almost plaintive tone, said: “I’m not trying to persecute you. I just want you to learn that you don’t have to do things just because other people think it’s cool. You can make your own decisions, and do what is right, no matter what others think or do.”

    Somehow, my eight-grade mind was able to grasp that truth, and from that point on I stopped fighting against Dad (at least on this one point). I started almost taking pride in my differences, and that laid the foundation for what some of my friends would say became a pathological disregard for style in dressing. I am really not that much influenced by what others think. Some would say this is a problem, and perhaps sometimes it is. But rightly applied, it’s a real strength, and one that I learned from Dad: do something because it’s the right thing to do – not because everyone else is doing it.

    • Ted,

      Your story is fantastic. And your father’s wisdom nurtured a great (dare I call it a “cool”) freedom from the winds of fashion.

      I’m just glad that your dad and my mom did not collaborate.

      Sam

  4. Hey Sam,
    My mom was always behind the trend (and almost always a second hand shopper, or hand me down receiver) so I did get to wear bell bottoms (corduroy nonetheless), only after they were no longer in style of course. Also I wore size “husky” so that tells of my cool factor in school. Whether it’s the former of our parents not allowing us to be trendy or the ladder of our parents having us participate late, it definitely builds character and teaches us a lesson, unfortunately some for good and some for bad. In our experience with our tween daughter we are trying desperately to buck the trends, so no texting, no social media, only modest clothes, etc. The real challenge is that 99% of her “same age/Christian” friends are allowed to have all that stuff. I find that the parents either don’t see the problem or they wouldn’t want their children to go through the teasing and bullying like they had to endure and are willing to comprise. This is a battle for the ages, the pull of the world on our kids is like a rare earth magnet. No wonder Jesus calls us sheep, we’ll follow each other right off a cliff.Thank God for parents who are willing to buck the trends. I pray for strength and wisdom for those parents, I pray that the parents that are either not paying attention or compromising that the Holy Spirit will wake them up and for all our kids (and us), I pray that the things of this world will be bitter in their mouths and sour in the stomachs.

    Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.
    1 Corinthians 16:13-14

    • Hi Russell,

      I agree that the LESSON of bucking trends is great; but it is ever-so-hard for kids to endure. We need to be with them in this.

      But there is hope! (See the story/comment by Ted Kennedy below.)

      I think what bothers me is, how much are we effected by fashionable beliefs? I’ve been reading Imitation of Christ and My Utmost for His Highest, and I’m AMAZED at how they say things that most Christians would cringe at today. I think we need those past cultures to speak into ours.

      Of course, they too were people of their times, but we aren’t of their times, so that doesn’t have the same pull on our hearts. But their words can certainly speak into ours.

      Sam

  5. Thanks for that Sam. This is such an important message. I’m constantly amazed with today’s culture, the way people talk so confidently about how we’ve “evolved” or “developed” to who we are now, “discovered” and “proved” what we now know, as if everyone beforehand was foolish and irrational and pitiable, and as if they can’t imagine the possibility that people a hundred years ago felt exactly the same way about things that we now consider rubbish, and that in another hundreds years people will feel the same way about things we believe. It plays into another line I’ve been hearing a lot on Facebook recently – that Christians are “on the wrong side of history”, as if they’re just positive that the world will keep moving a certain way and leave the Christians behind. But I think it was Tim Keller who I first heard observe that the Gospel has things to commend in every time and culture, and rebukes to every time and culture. So our job is not to find the right culture to live in, or even try to steer the entirety of history in a more “Christian” direction, but to hold to timeless truth and apply it to whatever fad or culture or country we find ourselves in. CS Lewis on the subject of apologetics:

    “Our business is to present that which is timeless (the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow) in the particular language of our own age. The bad preacher does exactly the opposite: he may think about the Beveridge Report and talk about the coming of the kingdom. The core of his thought is merely contemporary; only the superficies is traditional. But your teaching must be timeless at its heart and wear a modern dress.”

    I would give a self-deprecating “Christian nerd alert” for quoting Lewis, but I’ve read enough of your work that I’m pretty sure you’re a fan of his! 😉

    • I love that Lewis quote. I should have used it in the blog. But now I don’t have to!

      Modern Christians are okay at understanding the pains of modern cultural people, but we are pretty miserable at addressing them with the mysteries of the gospel. That’s why Lewis’s quote is so good.

      Thanks

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