If you peruse my bookshelves (large plastic tubs usually without a lid) you will quickly notice that I have a thoroughly eager appreciation of things surrounding kings and courts. I don't really worry about the whys of my fascination. I just indulge it, as it is fat-free, not considered a sin or moral dilemma, and the only addiction involved is reading. History fascinates me at almost every turn -aside from the pioneer era in America, which makes me want to beat my head against a butter churn. I assume that it is just the rich brocade of history's tale that catches my eye. The hues of history are varied and complex, but always rich if you can view it at least somewhat within context.
I've read many a textbook, journal, and novel about European court life. This is a broad subject, more so than you might imagine. Each reign of each monarch within each land saw distinctions from the preceding and following monarchs. And yet, there is enough within the grand scope for me to battle my thought for tonight.
I was once thinking of the ridiculous rules of court etiquette. Some courts required your hair to be smeared in pomade and then dusted with white powder. Other courts dictated how long the tips of your shoes could be. If you were a servant in the royal household, you would be honored beyond measure to be in the room while your Sovereign sat on the 'other' royal throne. This is just the fun stuff.
Obviously you know that courtiers, and indeed all people, were subject to the intricate subtleties of class distinction. This wasn't just King, Ye Olde Middle Class Knight, and Peasant. The titles and lands and bloodlines and fealties created hierarchies within hierarchies, loyalties that led to success and then once again into treason. This was not an easy world to live in, at almost any level. To raise the fortunes of your family, one had to work for generations, taking small steps towards a better life for the Family, as an idea rather than a personal gain.
Well, as I pondered the craziness that was court life (at least during the eras I read about) I thought these exact thoughts: Wow. You had to know how to dress for multiple events every day. Not only did you have to be in fashion, but you had to be appropriately modest and appropriately garish, as the situation and company demanded. You had to know the ins and outs of familial alliance. One false or unguarded step, and the work begun by your ancestors could be ultimately demolished. Power struggles were important, and you had to stay on top of who held it. Not just the obvious Princes and Bishops, but the servants or chaplains or children that might have the ear of the Prince and Bishop. There was never a safe room or moment where one could let down their guard and just speak freely. To do so could quickly turn to death, exile, or at least a good stripping of titles and lands. What a crazy world to live in.
And then, my next thought: Sounds like church.
It was kind of a funny thought at first, and really the comparison is a bit humorous. However, it isn't funny because it is outrageous. It is funny because it is so freaking obvious.
I can fill the pages with stories about what you cannot wear to church, what you cannot wear on the 'stage' at church, what you cannot wear if you are in the choir or want to sing a solo, if it is Christmas Eve, if it is Easter, if it is a Wednesday night in July or a Sunday morning in January. Each occasion calls for the knowledge of What Not To Wear, or you risk your position and standing and then you *gasp* might be talked about by the vicious and dreaded Church Ladies. If you walk in to any Evangelical church in America, you will be totally judged for each piercing, tattoo, and lipstick color that is perceived to be too gauche of the accepted code. They accept you, of course. But then they expect you to know better and not be so different, yada yada, please remember not to wear white after Labor Day. Jesus doesn't like it.
I'm sure that you, like me, have stories about power. It goes so far beyond Senior Pastor, Random Church Goer, and Peasant (Nursery Worker). If it were only that easy! No, one must know the subtleties of alliance. Little Miss Jones might seem sweet in her little white gloves, but ask her to make a pot of coffee and she'll have your job for not respecting your elders. Upbeat Urban Couple are happy to help in anything you need, but if you don't nominate them to be Sunday School Party Committee you'll have a knock-down-drag-out and it will probably be on Facebook so that you are made an example for all the other hopeless normal people who dare to have an opinion.
The family element exists in church as well. Your family can make or break you. Make sure your teenage daughter doesn't wear black nail polish or LORD HELP US you are NOT going to get that oh-so-coveted board position. On the flip side, if your cousin leads worship, you can expect the Gold Treatment. You get invited to sit at The Cool Table at the All-Church Potluck.
Of course, I'm kiiiiiiind of exaggerating. But am I?
Obviously I know that different events in our life call for different clothes. I wouldn't want to do a television interview in my pajamas, nor would I wear a wedding dress to the park. But I also know the story of a little girl and her tears at not being allowed in a church pageant because her dress wasn't pretty enough. I know. You know.
There isn't a conclusion here, or at least not a philosophical conclusion. I have thought about this parallel for a few years, and my thoughts go so much deeper than I do here. I don't think it is necessary to draw it out, just to note that if you aren't familiar with some of the stuff I talked about, do a Google or Wikipedia search and see if you find Little Miss Jones staring back at you through the pages of history. She's there, and when she sees you, her words are the same: Bless your heart and bow before me.
American Christians in 2011 are somewhat obsessed with the idea of church and state. We want these things, or at least the narrow way in which we view them, to be mixed. I think it is interesting to note that the 'state' of today is more akin to the 'church' of yore, and vice versa.
Modern church usually fits into one of two categories: King/Senior Pastor has absolute power and everyone else can only hope to wipe his butt. Or, more frequently, he is the head of a constitutional monarchy in which he has power by influence, and the Sacred Board really tells everyone what to do and where to go. The people think they vote for stuff but their concerns are only addressed if they are going to riot and take their money to another King.
Eh? I don't know that I totally agree with what I'm saying, but I think it is interesting enough to talk about. Let's keep going.
The modern state is as complicated as the church of yesteryear. There are specific codes and regulations for carrying out various duties, and there are even certain dress requirements! Power and responsibility is countrywide, regional, and then specific down to the small hamlets of suburbia. Each member has an 'upline', someone else to look to for help or to be their scapegoat.
My husband, who is more intelligent than IQ tests can determine, would no doubt tell me that there are certain Truths in life that will resurface if ever they are covered. If Art were outlawed tomorrow and all the brushes and paints burned, we would tell the tale of Beauty using dirt and clay and blood. If the Church, in her haste to rid her house of idolatry and sin, cleaned out the good with the bad, then perhaps we could surmise that the State adopted the Truths of how to to organize a vast operation that takes care of people.
Or, more likely, as the hearts of men and women have turned collectively away from a religion, they have in turn embraced a kind of belief in which they can all share: Nationalism. In centuries past, a country would be called a 'Jewish nation' or 'God's country' or 'Buddha's followers'. Instead, we now look to Mother Nation to lead and guide us. We ascribe to her ideals, and look for her to provide our food and our work and our life.
Through the wise and flawless lens of history, we can look back and see that the rules of court became more exaggerated when the power of the court was threatened. When the people began to question and grow restless against the wicked abuse of power, the rules became pronounced. This was a way of blinding the courtiers from seeing that the entire system was collapsing. It took many years, but it was still crumbling. The people, the collective people who didn't care about hair pomade, were hungry and didn't have time or breath to waste on the length of their shoe tips.
What does this say, if you carry it over to today's church? As I said, I'm not trying to make an iron-clad parallel. But just for fun, let's go there.
The people, the collective people who don't care about wearing white after Labor Day, are hungry and don't have time or breath to waste on who wants This Sunday School Room. The people are moving against the systems that don't work. The ones that are True will stay. All the others, I hope, will crumble enough for the rest of us to see what was real and needed, as opposed to what was comfortable and convenient.
When that day comes, I'm going to find Little Miss Jones and tell her that she is a Royal Beyotch.
OFF WITH HER HEAD!