Dress Shopping and Cultural Influence

In the last twelve months, I’ve purchased one fancy dress. In the last two weeks, I’ve purchased twelve…and returned them all. I have a wedding to attend next weekend and  I’m attending as the date of the father of the bride, so what I wear is a bit more important than the standard guest attire. At least it feels like it to me. It’s an evening wedding in the Fall and I’m avoiding the color of the two mothers and the bridesmaids. And my boyfriend is wearing a rust-colored tie during the wedding and a bright Tennessee-orange vest at the reception. So, no navy blue, dark purple, or black and needs to look decent next to both rust and bright orange. That makes life a little complicated.

I can’t find anything. Part of the problem, I admit, is that I’m about 20 lbs heavier than normal and I don’t feel good in anything I put on. But, part of the problem is that I’m trying to be oh so careful about being appropriate. I don’t worry much about dressing according to expectations any more. But, in this case, I’m choosing to. 

I’m intentionally conforming to dress requirements in order to honor people I care about. But, conforming to society’s norms can be far more dangerous than the appropriate cocktail dress if we’re not careful. 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Romans 12:1-2)

I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of these verses for a couple of reasons.

“God helping you” reminds us that we can’t do this kind of thing on our own, it takes the Holy Spirit. It’s not performing, it’s transforming.

“your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life”  It’s easy to think about our spiritual life as something separate from everyday, something special occasion, like attending a wedding. But it’s about God WITH US in our everyday moments. All of our everyday moments.

place it before God as an offering” How you live those everyday moments is worship. It’s a moment-by-moment offering you choose to give God, or keep for yourself.

And then we come to exactly what I want you to think about today, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” We are living in our culture as resident aliens. We’re subject to the laws and citizenship rules of our own political boundaries, but our true citizenship is in heaven. This truth, our heavenly citizenship, needs to shape our behavior more than the country in which we cast our political vote.

Conforming has everything to do with our behavior. “It refers to any behavior that occurs as a result of others’ influence – no matter what the nature of the influence.” (Breckler, Olson, & Wiggins, Social Psychology Alive, 2006) We’re easily influenced. The advertising and marketing industries spend billions of dollars each year, because advertising and marketing works. We’re influenced by what we perceive around us. The color of our rooms affects our mood. The opinion of our friends affects our own. The fashion we see around us affects what we find appealing. And the values of our culture shape our behavior–if we let them.

Influence by itself isn’t a bad thing. But, the key is found in Peterson’s phrase, “without even thinking.” We live  much of our lives without even thinking. It’s so much easier! We can shortcut decision-making, keep from offending others, and feel like part of the group. But, God calls us to something different. 

God calls us to intentionality.

He wants you to live in your world, in the midst of the family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers where he has placed you. But, he wants you to be conformed more and more into the image of Christ, not conformed more and more into the image of our those around you. We can’t escape being influenced, we’re affected by everything we see, hear, and experience around us. It shapes us. The question then becomes what we’re allowing to shape us. 

If we aren’t intentional about what influences us, we’ll be shaped by whatever we come into contact with. When I moved to Tennessee, it didn’t take long for my Midwestern speech patterns to begin to shift toward a more Southern dialect. You probably won’t hear me with a serious drawl, but I notice it when I listen to my SoulShaper recordings. It can be subtle. It might be a word choice, a phrase, or the way that “fine” sounds a lot more like “fahn” than it used to. 

Wearing the wrong dress to a wedding, or speaking like a Southerner isn’t going to kill me. But, appropriating my culture’s values without thinking about it could.

God calls us to intentionality.

Choosing Christ over CultureIf you’ve never thought about the influences that shape you, it’s time to do so.

  • What are you thinking about?
  • What are you listening to?
  • What are you watching?
  • How are you using social media?
  • Who are you speaking to?
  • What motivates your actions?
  • What drives your schedule?
  • What controls your finances?
  • Why do you make the decisions you do?

I’m not at all suggesting you should be choosing the cliche Christian answers to those questions. Life’s more complicated than that. Popular Christian culture has pitfalls too.

I’m suggesting you be intentional about your own choices. Take them to God. How you’re living is critically important. Don’t leave it up to chance. Chance will lead you down the path of least resistance. The easy way. The way that makes the fewest waves. The way that looks a lot like everyone else’s way.

Intentionally conforming your life to Christ means loving radically. It means sacrifice. It means making choices that may not look like your neighbor’s. Or, your parents. It means making choices based on the influence of the Word of God and the will of God.

Spend some time noticing how you’re being influenced this week. Ask God to point out the places that your culture is having too much sway in your life. And then commit to intentionally conforming your life to Christ in that area.

P.S. If you’re wondering about my shopping results, I asked the bride if she would mind if I wore the bridesmaid color, since it’s an evening wedding and other guests will certainly be wearing black. So, I’m set. Black is my jam. Now I have more options than I have events!

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