Monks wore robes to identify with people.
Medieval monastic communities identified with, and worked for the benefit of wider society. Bosch writes, “Even secular historians acknowledge that agricultural restoration of the largest part of Europe has to be attributed to them.” They lived simple lives and worked hard with dedication and perseverance.
Today, the same robes communicate the opposite message.
Over time, the same robes began to communicate a very different message. To me, robes do not say, ‘I am with you’. In fact, they say the opposite. To me, dress from a monastic community communicates, ‘I am separate from you’. I do not associate monastic dress with practical help but rather asceticism and eccentric behavior. I think this would be broadly true today.
Sometimes to communicate the same message, you must change.
I’m not saying any of these messages are wrong. I happen to think both of them are needed. However I am observing that it is very different from the original intention. Sometimes due to changes in culture you must change to stay the same. For the monastic community to continue to say, ‘I am with you’, through dress at least, required a change.
Of course clothing is just one way we communicate in culture. Each time we communicate we ‘dress’ our message in various ‘cultural clothes’. Emotional expression, language, dialect, body language, physical contact, music genre, use of technology, lifestyle rhythms, approach to time, plausibility structure, teaching style and heroes are all elements of culture we use in community life.
As I consider my role as a Pastor, I want to live and communicate an unchanging message in a changing world. I am seeing a lot of the ‘cultural clothing’ used by previous generations is now communicating the opposite message to the original intent. I believe one must be willing and ready to change our clothes to both keep the message and connect with people today.
A lot of listening and learning ahead.