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Monday, March 26, 2007

Chp 115. Dress code at Church services

“I can wear whatever I want. It’s my life. God does not love me any lesser for my outer appearance and what really counts is the inside”.

I’ve heard this quite a number of times when I used to go for the Mizo Church Service in Bangalore. It came mainly from the younger generation, and among them, a majority of them were from the female species.

It is ofcourse considered a normal psychological (and sociological) behavior for any youth to rebel against the existing norms of the Society. Nobody likes rules. Breaking (unwritten) code of conducts is considered cool and hep. It’s all a part of the adolescent phase.

But sometimes we need to contemplate on a few issues before discarding it as something that is natural or something that cannot be changed. It can indeed be changed! If the youth of Mizoram can dress up smartly to Church, why can’t the same youth dress up decently for Church Services outside Mizoram? Why is there a transition in the way one dress up for Church here in Mizoram and outside the State?

One reason is ofcourse the “Elder Factor”. In Mizoram, the Elders would definitely give you the “evil eye” if you dress up shabbily for Church. But outside Mizoram, the looks given by the Elders do not hold much water. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying our Mizo Elders (Families, Pastors, Civil servants, real grown-ups etc) outside Mizoram are not doing anything about it. Ofcourse they are; this is more of a hypothetical question “but are they all doing enough?”

Sometimes it might have to do with an ego thing too. Job opportunities outside Mizoram are definitely more abundant than in Mizoram. Hence many of our youngsters earn quite a lot. They soon reach that stage of being independent and having a sense of achievement without maturing properly first. Hence if an Elder (say an IPS or IAS officer) reprimands such a person for wearing shabby clothes to the Church service, the first thought on the youth’s mind would probably be, “Hell, I’m earning almost as much as you are. You’ve got no rights to tell me what to wear.”

Another important factor is ofcourse the climate. Places like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai etc are way hotter and more humid than Mizoram. Hence one cannot expect Mizos in such areas to come to Church in suits or formals all the time. It is only logical for guys to wear tee shirts to Church sometimes. And with tee shirts, one cannot really wear formal pants along with it, hence must resort to jeans. And with jeans, comes sneakers instead of formal shoes. Similarly, women wear sleeveless. After all, with all the bras and other inner padding they must wear, you really don’t expect them to wear full body covers in such a hot climate.

But hang on a second here. This is exactly a case of “giving an inch, taking a mile”. By wearing jeans or cargoes, why must some of us wear those really flashy, baggy, hiphoppy, over-sized, torn, multi-branded ones? Don’t we have “normal” jeans? Ofcourse there is no actual official definition of what “normal” is, and it all depends upon the concept of the majority and its conformity to social norms. By “normal” I mean a simple plain jeans: Not flashy, not over-sized, and definitely with no chains and other trinkets hanging all around the side pockets! Some of the guys claim they do not have the financial capability to buy “normal” jeans. Ironic indeed, when they could afford such extravagant jeans…

Similarly, to the women, sleeveless is a wise decision when it's hot. But aren’t you pushing things a bit too far with tubes and spaghettis? Some of the guys’ minds do definitely wander a bit when you come walking into Church dressed in such revealing top and short minis that concealed less than what it’s actually supposed to… I know some women want to be the center of attraction all the time, to be admired and complimented upon… but during Church time, the center of attraction is ALWAYS God. Or have we all strayed away from the path of the good Lord so much as to have forgotten this?

Then comes the extra fitting. Once again I am defining “normal” on the basis of its conformity to social norms. Is it really necessary for guys to wear earrings to Church? Or in that matter, large steel bracelets, bling-blings and 5 metres long steel chains hanging from their low waist jeans up to their large Nike skids? Or the 10 extra pounds of make-up some women apply on their faces with fiery dark-red hair color, making them look like the “madam” of a “pleasure house” at Sodom and Gomorrah?

Such dress codes mentioned above, are the same clothes such people would wear to Pubs and Discs. Leaving aside the iniquity of getting drunk and immoral lifestyles at such establishments, we are further diluting and polluting the Holy Sanctity of the Church by even daring to enter the premises with the same clothes of Sin! Sure, some of you may feel I am taking an extremist view on this whole issue, but for a second there, please excogitate and think of all the sentiments that you are hurting… There is a fine line between being liberal and being promiscuous.

I know the first thing pro skanky-clothes sympathizers are going to say is, the ones who wear decent clothes aren’t all sanctified. Sure, they (we) aren’t, but atleast many of us got the decency to show respect when it's required. And by doing that, the faithful around us definitely feel comfortable in the presence of Christ. It is important to be considerate of others’ feelings too. Just because some of the guys who dress up decently aren’t decent, does that mean you must show your true colors by coming to Church almost naked like a cheap prostitute or an F-word addicted rap artist?

Again, I have read such discussions like “what if it’s a prostitute thirsting for the word of God, or a drug addict seeking God’s help and forgiveness, or a woman coming straight from work where her profession demands of her to wear such an outfit… don’t they all deserve to receive the Lord’s blessings too?” Ofcourse by all means they all do, the good Lord welcomes especially such people into His fold. But before you indulge yourself in such empty rhetoric, remind yourself about this: Our community is small and most of us know each other personally; hence we all know very well that such people are not the above mentioned people. They are merely students and a few proletarians, who definitely have a set of decent clothes for Church but decide to act otherwise, for reasons best known to them.

Once during my time in Bangalore, I was already seated inside the Church (Mizo Service) one fine Sunday, when a girl came and sat right next to me. It was hard not to notice her: She smelt like the perfume section of a high class Shopping Mall. Her long brown-dyed hair was curled beautifully, with the perfect touch of eye shadow and liner making her even more attractive. But what made me notice her the most were her legs. In other words, her milky white thighs. Because she wore an almost knee-length skirt which revealed even more when she sat cross-legged right next to me. During the entire Church sermon, I found my eyes subconsciously wandering every now and then to those legs…

As a human being, it is quite natural to have such “feelings”. Everyone, regardless of whether they are sinners or people of God, are susceptible to the temptations of the flesh. In that particular situation, I think I would have definitely listened more attentively to the ongoing sermon instead of being distracted by uttering a thousand times in my mind not to look at those thighs 3 inches away from me…

Some people might brand me as a conservative. However, as a Christian, it is our moral obligation to lead a Christian Life, a life that will distinguish us from people of other faiths. Do you want that distinctness to be all about wearing extravagant outfits or revealing micro skirts? Do you want the non-Christians to think that that is what being a Christian is all about? At Bangalore Wesley Church, one can easily observe many “roadside romeos” hovering around the Church premises waiting for the Mizo Service to be over so that they can ogle at some of our women. Sad…

Coming back to my opening line, “I can wear whatever I want. It’s my life. God does not love me any lesser for my outer appearance and what really counts is the inside”, ofcourse God loves us all for our inner thoughts and action rather than our outer appearances, but the real question is this: Do you really think that a person who claimed to be worth loving and yet show disrespect to Him in His Home, is actually worth being loved? Or are we going to fool ourselves endlessly by bringing up irrelevant topics like the fact that some people who dress up decently at Church are being hypocritical... How does that affect you in any way? That’s the hypocrites’ problem. God will deal with them on Judgment Day. Whereas in your case, not only are you being disrespectful, you are also creating a whole lot of unnecessary distractions…

Hence as a conclusion, comes the proverbial question: As a responsible Mizo adult settling outside Mizoram, are we all doing enough about the dress codes at our Mizo Church services? Giving them the “evil eye” or gossiping behind their back will not suffice. We need to walk up to such people and tell them frankly but politely, face to face, that such dress codes will not be tolerated and that maybe they might be better off not coming to Church at all if they are going to continue dressing up that way… Sometimes it might even be proper to ask such people to leave the Church premises right in the middle of the service infront of everyone… the embarrassment will not only assure them of ever repeating that again but will also make others think twice before putting on that skimpy outfit. Do we have the guts to tell them that? Or are we going to spend the rest of our lives bitching about that particular person “eeee kha nu kha maw? BiakInah a rawn in chei hot thei rapssss” without anyone ever actually telling the person that he/she is out of place?

Less gossip, more action, that is the key to our progressive development. Trust me, we Mizos have an advantage over our non-Mizo Christian friends when it comes to this. At many non-Mizo Christian services that I’ve been to, the Churchgoers don’t know each other personally, whereas our Mizo Church services are more of a community thing. Jonathan (Anglo) whom I befriended at an English Church service back in Hyderabad once told me that there are always such elements at every Church, but there was nothing much they could do about it since they don’t know them and there was also a question of privacy and wanting more people to attend the mass etc. But among our close knitted Mizo society, we can indeed do the needful. The question is this: The next time you see such a person at Church, will you rise to the occasion and tell that person it’s not right? The power to make the change rest in your hands my friends.