Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Duty of Being Unfashionable #JesusFollowers

Let us consider the duty of being unfashionable. It is not always a duty to be unfashionable. Fashions may be right, as well as wrong; good, as well as bad; and when they are right and good it is a duty to be fashionable. Or a fashion may be neither good nor bad, and then it is neither a duty to be fashionable nor to be unfashionable.

There is nothing objectionable in wearing fashionable clothes rather than unfashionable clothes, if you wish to do so, and can afford it. As a general thing it is best to conform to the customs of society when they are innocent. It is not worthwhile to make oneself a martyr for small things.

But there are fashions in other things than dress - fashions in literature, in philosophy, in art, in manners, in morals, in politics, in religion. And it may often be our duty to swim against the stream, to resist the current; in short, it may often be our duty to become unfashionable.

There are fashions in literature. Every original writer is unfashionable; he follows no fashion. He writes in his own way, not in that of any one else. In this sense, therefore, it is a duty to be unfashionable in literature. The good writer has a style of his own; he does not flow with the stream; he always seems to be swimming against the current of commonplace; he is original in thought and expression. He is so because he is true.

So also in art. The true artist has style. Everyone who sees the paintings of the masters soon comes to know each one of them by his style. Style means originality, personality put into work. The great masters have style; their imitators follow a fashion, they imitate the external form, but the soul escapes them. It is the duty of artists to be unfashionable; that is, to be themselves, to be genuine, to be sincere, simple, and true.

The religious fashion of thought in the seventeenth century in England was expressed in the Church’s Catechism. Our present fashion of thinking is wholly different, and yet many thousand churches in the United States hold to that creed, and insist that the religious faith and feeling of the twenty-first century must be expressed in the language of the seventeenth.

All the great religious reforms have been unfashionable at first. Christianity was unfashionable among the Jews. Religion, in its very nature, begins in unpopularity. All the prophets of God are lonely at first.

The unfashionable thinker of today sets the fashion for the age which is to come. Let every lonely, conscientious, God-seeking soul remember this and take courage.

The best illustration of the difference between eccentricity and a true independence, is to be found in the conduct and character of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus conformed in common things to common practice. There was nothing singular or eccentric in his behavior. He came eating and drinking like other people. He dressed and conversed according to the fashion of his time.

He conformed to outward customs in his behavior. But inwardly he stood apart; his soul held fast by the great unchanging realities. He held to the universal religion of the human race, with which fashion had nothing to do. His religion was no innovation; no interruption in the course of nature; not supernatural, except as all divine things are both natural and supernatural. It was the religion of universal mankind – the truth and good brought to the highest point.

The originality of Jesus consisted in this - that he saw this truth so clearly and so deeply that he has made others see it too. He has filled the world full of God's truth and love. Jesus saw it clearly and uttered it plainly, and he made it a religious rule for mankind. Others, before Jesus, have taught the forgiving love of God to the sinner; but he taught it so that there is not in all Christendom an ignorant, humble, and unhappy child but knows that if he cries to God his prayer will be heard. Others have taught the great law of duty, the eternal distinction between right and wrong; but Jesus has filled the human heart so full of it that its sound has gone out to all the earth, and its word to the end of the world. Jesus makes a new heaven and a new earth by making old things young again; by renewing the primeval youth of the human mind and heart.

The fashion of this world passes away. Everything but the deep foundations of being changes from day to day. Fashions in speech, in dress, in manners, in opinion, come and go. But there are some convictions which are above fashion. Such is the faith of man in God, duty, and immortality. These beliefs are untouched by any fashions of thought. Man, in every age, has looked up, out of the finite and visible world in which he lives, to worship something unseen and eternal. We may be sure that this faith in God is not a transient fashion, but a permanent necessity of man's soul.

Guest Message adapted from a sermon by James Freeman Clarke (1886)

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