Chapel Checker Part 2
After this encounter I started paying attention to the other students around me. The underclassmen who were “going somewhere,” who other students paid attention to wore ties every day. They did everything they could to look like the upperclassmen, who had to wear a tie and coat. The legalism was so entrenched that a student who had been there more than four semesters but was still academically a sophomore had to wear the “upperclassmen” dress even though they were in no way an upperclassmen. The system was more concerned with controlling behavior than changing hearts.
I realized that I was doing what she said, and I was doing it because I wanted people to think that God and I were tight. I wanted people to look at me and think that I was “spiritually mature”–whatever that means. In a year and a half I had learned the rules of the game. On this campus, people who were mature walked a certain way, dressed a certain way and debated certain things in a certain manner. They talked in a certain code and talked about “wrestling with God.” I did these things because I wanted to be cool. I had made the right friends and turned my head when the right people broke the same rules as the other people. In short, I had sold out to the system. I was a fraud. Instead of being honest and talking about what I really wrestled with God about, I only wrestled with the “spiritual issues.” There were things the “beautiful” could talk about and there were things you couldn’t talk about.
Kate’s comments forced me to realize that I had become the very thing I hated. I never wore another tie that year. I went back to what I called my “freshman dress code.” It was within the bounds of the rules and no one thought it was cool. I am not sure if I changed who my friends were of if they stopped being my friend. I do know that almost all of the friends I had that year would not be people who would consider me a friend nor me them three years later when I graduated.
This is the most insidious aspect of creating a subculture where behavior is modified but the heart is not allowed to be expressed. As it is with any good gang, the message my Bible College was you are either one of us or you are not. You either look, walk, talk and act like us or you are out. There can be no compromise, no dissent and certainly no discussion. Everything is done to preserve the status quo of the gang. Make no mistake in many respects, Bible College is every bit a gang. It is an overt attempt to change you from the outside in, which is completely backwards from how we see the Bible prescribe change for people.
To be sure, the idea of a sub-culture is found in any group of people. In other words any group of people will always have those that are the trend setters, who set the standard that others follow. The problem with a Bible College that has the kind of dress code that mine had is that it fosters the idea that there is a Christian way to dress. No matter how much it is said that there is not, actions always speak louder than words. Always.
Let me express it another way. In the house that I grew up in T-shirts were casual. If you’re shirt had a collar, it was a dress shirt regardless of how many buttons were on it. When we went out for fun we wore a T-shirt. Now when I went to college there was a group that believed that T shirts were not to be worn in public. If you went out, you were to wear a collar. Usually, what would be called a “polo shirt.” I realize now that this was because the school was full of what would be considered the “prep” sub-culture. My problem with this sub-culture that I encountered in college was that it became elevated to spirituality. If you didn’t dress that way, you were not as spiritual as those that did. It has nothing to do with the idea that you came from a culture that didn’t dress that way, it had to have something to do with your level of spiritual maturity.
Now stop and think about that for a moment. How many students do you suppose go to a Bible College struggling with the idea of their relationship with God? How many grew up in what I call fighting fundamentalism where they were taught they have to earn God’s love? Regardless of what is said, actions always speak louder than words and a system that sets up a “class” system will always over-ride those kind souls who stand up in front of a class and tell us that we do not affect how much God loves us. The system said something completely different.
Please understand, this is not about shirts and ties or hooded sweatshirts. It has to do with the idea that to wrestle with wearing certain things or not wearing certain things makes one spiritual. This is especially insidious at a college that is supposed to be about the business of helping you explore and deepen your spirituality. This is about the idea that says, “WOW, you and God must be tight because your wearing a tie more often now…” That is the way of the Pharisee. That is the path to death and destruction. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet many different people in many different career paths and some of the most ungodly, mean, dishonest people I have ever met always wore a tie and suit. Not all of them held the office of Pastor.