Rules are necessary for any group of people to function effectively. We agree to rules or laws of behavior so that everyone benefits. Most of the time the laws are fair and just. Sometimes the laws are designed to exclude people. There were laws that sought to exclude African-Americans from voting. There are rules about primaries in my state, Virginia, that some would say exclude candidates. There are rules that exclude women.
It is much easier to look at laws and rules of others and judge them to be just or unjust. It is much more difficult to look at our own rules to decide if they are just or unjust. We don’t like admitting that we may be unfair, unkind, or unjust. Yet, we are called to self-examination, especially during the season of Lent. We are called to look at our own lives to decide if the rules we have created for ourselves are unjust.
One area of rules is around the clothing of others. We have a rules about what should be worn at particular times and places. If someone is dressed in a way that does not follow our rules, then we often treat that person differently. We do not welcome them into our circle, our church, or our lives. We say that they must dress according to our rules to be accepted. I remember overhearing a conversation between two members of the same church about this. Guests had shown up to their church wearing clothing that was against the rules. These two church members did not feel that these people who did not follow the rules should be allowed to come if they did not follow the rules. They were seeking to exclude and not include people in the community of faith.
Then I recently heard someone talking about one of my own pet peeves about the rules of dress. I have a rule about wearing pants. Pants should be worn at hip level, and underwear should be under the pants. This applies to men and women. I have seen both sexes exposing their underwear over very low pants. If I exclude the low pant people, then what does that say about me? If I exclude those who do not follow my rules, then I am failing to be as loving as God calls me to be. If I exclude low pant people from worship, then I am no better than the folks who were talking about guests at their church. Just because someone’s form of dress does not agree with my rules about dress does not mean that the person is not created in the image of God. Just because their rules do not agree with my rules does not mean that they should not have a welcome invitation into God’s presence .
I invite you to consider where and how you are excluding others and how you might be more welcoming to others. Do you have rules that exclude others from your life, form the life of the faith community, or from the presence of God?