Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Dress codes and determination

jacket2I ONCE VISITED a church in Eastern Europe where the custom held that anyone who preached had to wear a jacket. The rationale: when Peter recognized Jesus while fishing after the resurrection, John 21:7 notes that the disciple—before jumping overboard to meet his Lord—“put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work.” Thus, we need to be dressed in our best for Jesus.

Don’t laugh, new denominations—of which there are reckoned to be around 35,000 worldwide–have been formed on the basis of threads that thin. A friend told me recently about a church that dissolved amid arguments over whether men had to wear ties to services. It’s the old, “You do things your way, we’ll do them His way” mindset. Fidelity is a good goal, for sure, but we need to be careful not to confuse the ultimate destination with the direction we may choose to get there.

To be clear, I’m not saying that all roads lead to God. However, I do believe that, like with Mapquest, once you’re on the right journey, there’s more than just one route.

The danger with codifying things too strictly is that we strangle the life out of them by making our way of doing things part of the essentials. Tradition can be good, but it’s also worth remembering that most of the word is “addition”—something extra.

There is a difference between something being absolutely true and true absolutely. I don’t doubt that Peter put his outer garment on before his joyful reunion. I don’t believe that means we all have to do the same thing.

One similar, limited “truth” I’ve been reflecting on recently is that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” No doubt you have heard this, whether in a business meeting, a support group circle, or a fitness class.

Well, yes, but not always. Sometimes, doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results is called…practice. It’s what athletes and musicians do. That’s what is at the heart of author Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule, as detailed in his book, Outliers—that being the amount of time, he says, it takes to become world-class at something.

I wonder whether we prefer the “insanity” definition because it’s easier. It means we don’t have to keep showing up and trying again and again. Instead we can look for a quicker, more convenient, less costly answer somewhere else. But there isn’t always an instant answer or a magic pill.

When Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18, He didn’t say she was nuts. He commended her determination. Sometimes we do just have to plug away at things even when it seems crazy. You know, roll up our sleeves—having taken our outer garment off. As Phil Collins titled his best-selling third album, No Jacket Required.

Photo credit: Max-California via Foter.com/CC BY-NC-ND

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