Our Sunday best

I grew up knowing that church required everyone to put on their Sunday best. Nice clothes were a good start.  Shined shoes, ironed shirts and skirts, tied ties, vests or jackets.  Stain free, hole free, certainly denim free.  Bright and shiny, you were put together and your wonderful self was what people could see.


And…your Sunday best wasn’t complete without the smile, and the pleasantries to go with it. The answer to the question of how are you, was to say while smiling, of course, “Great, thank you.  How are you?”  You were to say this, even if life was falling apart and you’d never been worse.  After all, it’s Sunday and you’re in church.  The holy place where the saints of God sit.  Never mind the wisdom of Luther, who said truthfully that we are both sinner and saint.  Only one half of us got invited through the doors of the church.


lauraHow we got this expectation of bringing only the Sunday best, is unclear. Maybe it’s a warped idea that to worship God, we’ve got to be pristine, faultless, guiltless, and it’s easier to pretend we’ve got it all together in a spiffy new shirt and a big smile.  Or maybe the Sunday best dates back to a time where church was the place where you networked with the big wigs, and needed to impress the person in charge of your next point of business.  Or maybe it came from the stories that said Jesus was perfect and demanded that of us too—and we casually forgot the stories where he calls a woman a dog, where he gets angry in the temple and throws tables over, etc..  Or maybe it was just wasn’t safe to be anything less.


However we got this idea of the Sunday best, it still lingers in our pews. Sure, denim and t-shirts are allowable now, even commonplace.  But still the show up and smile, tell about life through rosy glasses with the folks in your pew, act as though you’ve got it all figured out and under control, for most of us, I’d suspect, THAT, is still all too alive and well.


And, it’s killing us.


But I’m equally convinced, that wherever there is any remnant within ourselves or in our communal life together, that only our Sunday best is welcome….that is a place where we we will be stifled, wounded, and unable to see a way towards healing or towards cheapest tadalafil online uk wholeness.


This goes for church life, home life, life with our friends and neighbors. I’m not saying run around and tell everyone your deepest darkest secret.  But I am saying it’s time for us to have the courage to be real, and honest with one another and honest with ourselves. 


I’ve become convinced in recent months that one of the most significant reasons that our faith communities cannot really engage in some of the hard conversations that we need to be having, is because we refuse to let anyone see us in less than our Sunday best. We don’t want to talk about race or racism or privilege or oppression because then we’d have to actually admit to ourselves that there are times that we’ve messed up, that there are times we participated in creating and perpetuating problems, or that there are times we’ve been anything other than our most loving selves.


But y’all, we’ve got to have these conversations. We’ve got to engage one another, we’ve got to learn our history, get our own prejudices in check, and ultimately leverage whatever racial privilege (and whatever other privileges you may have) to change the oppressive junk that permeates our culture.


How do we get there? We’ve got to ditch our Sunday best and get comfortable being real—real with God, real with others, real with ourselves.


The only way to get comfortable being real (and vulnerable) is to practice. For Lent, the congregation I serve has taken up the practice of the Examen.  One person called it “a fearless inventory of the everyday.”  Another said “the exercise is the sacred opportunity for examining yourself and your life, in gentle compassionate ways.”  I say its an opportunity for us to learn to at least be real with ourselves about what we do, why we do, where God is at work, where we need to make confession, and where there is hope.


So I pass it along to you as a tool and resource for the work that lies ahead. Because we can’t go running with a banner calling for justice, if we haven’t figured out our own stuff has contributed to the mess.  And, in order to see it, we’ve got to ditch the Sunday best.  We’ve got to have the courage to get real with ourselves, with God, and with each other.


–Laura Arnold, Pastor Decorah Congregational UCC and Program Support/Adjunct Lay Education for Iowa Conference UCC

4 Responses to Our Sunday best

  1. John Chaplin says:

    Found the 5 elements in “the Examen” very cool. Thank you!

  2. Jonna Jensen says:

    Amen, dear Sister! Thank you! Hurray for all steps great and small to surrender our “Sunday best” and take up our Sunday (and week-long) truest.

  3. Liz Colton says:

    Thank you for this! I’ve thought much the same thing. May I put this in our next church newsletter for St. Paul Congregational UCC in Oskaloosa? I’ll give you credit, of course!

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