Before I get into this, I should say that I’m aware that I’m about to stick my foot in my mouth. It’s not that I want to offend anyone, but it’s pretty much inevitable when speaking about religion in any capacity. So this is my official disclaimer. I’m going to tell you a story, and that story takes place in church. I am in no way trying to piss anyone off so I apologize in advance if that happens. You have been warned.
About a month ago, I started taking Thumper to church. I grew up in Catholic family where, like most of the people I knew then, we went to mass every Sunday. And although when I was young, I didn’t really enjoy it, I happen to actually like mass as an adult. Of course, that doesn’t mean I go every week, or, ever really, because I’m also one of those people who thinks that being busy and sleeping in are (kinda) valid excuses. Also, I’ve been afraid of taking my child to church because I can’t stand the thought of other people staring at me and judging my parenting skills because my offspring can’t sit quietly through mass. Whatever. The point is, I finally felt it was time for us to give it a try and it turns out Thumper is pretty good at sitting (kinda) quietly during mass.
So there we were one Sunday, waiting for mass to start - sitting at the back of course, in case we ended up in need of a hasty exit- when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see an older female church-goer pulling the sleeve of my off-the-shoulder shirt back onto my shoulder. She leaned in close and said in a voice that can only be described as scary, judgey and condescending, “Do you mind to cover up?” Except that, of course, it wasn’t a question at all. It was a you-had-better-not-show-that-shoulder-in-these-here-parts-again statement. Except that she was Italian, not country western. Whatever.
Even though pretty much no one else could have seen or heard what had happened, I still felt embarrassed. And angry. And baffled. So I ended up not paying much attention to mass and trying to figure out what the hell actually happened, while wearing my off-the-shoulder shirt like a smock.
There are so many angles to this situation that I almost don’t know where to start. Obviously I don’t really know how she intended her comment to sound. Was she actually judging me and trying to make me feel like an unwed hooker? Or did she think she was being helpful and polite by asking me to be a little more conservative? Was she asking me to cover up for her sake, or for the sake of other sensitive church-goers? Or was it on behalf of God and for the sake of wearing your Sunday Best in His house? I’m only left to speculate.
If I hadn’t been sitting in a church where my grandmother and aunt are well known, I might’ve dropped the sleeve right off my shoulder again. But considering my aunt had introduced me to the woman who asked me to cover up the very week before, I figured that I should continue to wear my shirt as a smock/moo-moo for the duration. It was a decision I made out of respect for my aunt and grandmother, but it begs the question, why does everyone else wear their Sunday Best?
My first instinct is to say the idea was born out of society’s need to impress and outdo each other. The idea of us wearing our fanciest clothes to church reminds me of the first half of the 20th century, where, it’s my impression anyway, most families were taught to project an image of perfection, up to and including having the best clothes, immaculate hair and the most well-behaved children. And so, as much as I can’t blame that woman for thinking it was inappropriate to show some shoulder skin in church because it’s clearly just what she was brought up to believe, I feel that the notion is a bit out dated. It’s now the 21st century where our society, or maybe it’s more accurate to say the younger generations, at the very least, are trying to be more accepting of each other, where imperfections, whatever they may be, are okay, and where being different, be it coming from a blended family, having a different sexual preference or not wearing the “best” clothes, doesn’t automatically have to be a death sentence.
That’s not a totally fair assessment of the situation though, because there are people who believe that wearing your nicest clothes to church is a sign of respect to God. And while I do understand this belief, I can’t say that I agree with it. I think that the basic teaching of any faith is to love your neighbours and be kind to one another, and I think that your clothing has no bearing on your ability to follow that lesson. In the end, I believe that whether you’re in your own house or God’s house, being a good person is more important than the clothes you wear while doing so. Wasn’t Jesus friends with prostitutes and outcasts? Something tells me that Mary Magdalene didn’t have the best clothes in Jerusalem, but is that what Jesus asked of her? No. He didn’t ask her to cover up her shoulder. He asked her to treat others as she wanted to be treated, with respect, kindness and compassion.
I know this topic is not as simple as I may have made it seem. I know the teachings of the Catholic Church have their roots in ancient times and traditions and are so much more complex than I have given them credit for. No matter the comments and opinions that this post is going to inevitably gather, both from friends and strangers, I’d like to continue believing that the God I believe in doesn’t care what I wear to mass, as long as I’m there.
So will I be wearing my
conservative best dress to church next week? Nope. But I’m probably also not
going to ever wear my off-the-shoulder shirt there again. Not because I believe
that woman was right to ask me to cover up or because I think I should have to cover up, but because I believe
that respect is a two way street.
Also? That chick was scary and I’m actually very passive aggressive and will do just about anything to avoid awkward confrontations. Plus I can stick it to the man in many other ways. I did have a baby out of wedlock and live in sin for two years. And I don’t wear pantyhose when wearing skirts and dresses. Take that, big scary Italian broad!