Monday, January 5, 2009

Jeans, Bibles, & Postmodernism

In 2002 my wife and I were doing some Christmas shopping at Old Navy when I saw a brand new pair of jeans that looked like they belonged at a thrift store; they had curiously placed holes in them and were faded to just the right color. In fact, they looked exactly like a pair of my own jeans that I accidentally sprinkled with battery acid almost 6 months before this. I loved my “distressed” pair of jeans—I thought they were cool. Apparently, some secret agent in the design department of Old Navy who went around small towns in central Illinois looking for the latest fashion trends thought they were cool too. There were now whole racks of these “distressed” jeans in Old Navy stores across the country. I was glad to be in style. I felt validated. I now had some ammunition to use against my wife who often told me that I had no fashion sense. But I also felt somewhat cheated. I had to work kind of hard to get my jeans to look like they did. Now any teenager with $34.99 could walk into a clothing store and purchase jeans that looked just like mine.

In 2009 I'm pretty hard pressed to find your run-of-the-mill, respectable, "undistressed" pair of jeans. I remember back in the 80s that holey jeans were in, but as a kid growing up in an uncultured town in central FL, known mainly for its orange groves, one couldn't really walk into K-Mart or even drive to the Winter Haven Mall and just buy holey jeans off the shelf. And even if one could, my parents would never waste good money on jeans with holes in them. No, holey jeans had to be earned; you had to come by them honestly. Not so today.

There are endless analytical assessments that we could make about postmodernism, pop art, discoveries in quantum physics, and deconstructionist theories of language which have made their way in to the popular culture of generation Y, and created the opportunities for the celebration of style over substance. And, as someone who was a teenager in the mid 90s and a card carrying member of generation x, the celebration rubs me the wrong way. But, I have to admit, generation y--or whatever you're called now,--you're jeans and vintage tees look pretty cool. Also, you're bound to be more successful than your predecessors, because you're not wasting your time spilling battery acid on your jeans in "random" places; you can buy your distressed jeans and get on with life. Also (and I know I'm rambling), I dig some of you guys; you're my friends--people I care about--so I'm willing to overlook what your style says about you and get to know the substance that is underneath.

Doesn't it seem like there would be something inherently wrong with going to the local book store to pick up a "distressed" bible. I'm sure you wouldn't have to look to hard to find one. I had a friend in Bible College who carried around a bible covered in duct tape. I think the duct tape was a necessity at first, located in random places, but he just kept on covering it till the whole thing was a silvery gray. Years ago, I took my favorite bible with me on a camping trip; it got a little wet and soon began to fall apart, but some hot glue and duct tape made it good as used.

I think that a genuinely distressed bible says something about a persons substance--that they love the word of God enough to take it into dirty places with them, that they use it often, that they are so attached to it that they keep it on their person regularly, even if it means that it's going to get a little distressed in the process. If an authentically distressed bible is indicative of a person's love of it--like an old ,well-loved teddy bear,--then a a distressed bible is something to celebrate.

About a year ago we started a project at Bristol Christian Church called the Well-Worn Bible Project. This was simply a website devoted to the depiction of well-worn bibles belonging to the people of our congregation. The site has been neglected for a while, but I'd love to add to it. If you have pics. of your well-worn bible email them to me; I'd love to add them to our site. And if there's anyone out there who has a knack for developing interactive web pages, I'd love to see this site made into something to which people could instantly upload pics of their bible and a brief description.

My hope for you, readers from all generations, is that you celebrate substance over style, that your bibles are well loved as the word of God, no matter what its general physical condition may be, that you allow the word of God to penetrate your heart and make it new from the inside out, that you are substantively transformed by the sanctifying word of truth (John 17:17). A picture of a well-worn bible to add to my collection is icing on the cake.


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