Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

Fringe Benefits

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Numbers 15:37-41) transports me to the alteration shop, where a team of busy sewers are adding a fringe tassel to each article of clothing worn by the covenant community┬ámembers. Fringe is the fad, tassels the talk of the town, with a blue cord adorning everything from khakis to culottes, from blue jeans to bikinis.┬áThere is more than fashion at play here, though, as the people of faith are responding to a direct command from the Lord. The tassels are not for show; they are to serve as┬ámnemonic devices, tailor made to help the people remember who they are and what they are supposed to do. It’s like tying a string around your finger, as a reminder to accomplish some forgettable task. The tassels and cords on the fringe are to help the people remember the commandments God has given them. It is as if God is dressing them every morning and pointing out the fringe, saying, Now children, remember who you are. Make sure and remember today, that you are not prostitutes. You are not indulgers in every lust that enters your heart. You are sons and daughters of God.

This is the background passage to Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees in Matthew 23. Those religious leaders engaged in such a predictable human thing to do, to take something fashioned for sustaining one’s faith and slowly alter it into something ill-suited for spiritual growth. The Pharisees had taken this simple memory cue and turned it into a show of superiority. Like honor society tassels at graduation, the fringes were worn proudly by the keepers of the law, a sign to all that they were people of exceedingly high rank. The irony for them is that their lust for power and prestige led them to employ their tassels for the exact opposite reason God commanded: the fringe fed their lusts and prodded them into pious prostitution.

Here’s hoping for a new season where fringe again becomes fashionable, so I can break out the old leather vest I sported many years ago, complete with fringe all round. I got it for an original play I was in when I was in fourth grade. Timmy Messer and Phil Davenport and I were all big fans of the book Squanto and the Pilgrims. One or the other of us checked it out and re-read it from the library every week. Mrs. Teague finally got the bright idea to ask us to dramatize the book for the class. Our mamas sewed us leather vests with lots of fringe. Timmy got to play Squanto, since he was the smallest. Phil played his father. I played Chief Massasoit. Reflecting back, I think reading that story so many times was a key source of my developing an awareness of injustice and oppression; Squanto helped turn my eye toward the fringes of society. My vest will no doubt need some serious alteration, so if any of you are good with needle and thread, give me a call. Sporting it again would be a great mnemonic device, helping me remember who I am, a follower of Jesus, the one who identified with the fringe element.

How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith?



  • September 27, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Once again you take a passage we would normally read over quickly to get to the next “relevant” passage and you have made it relevant. I am reminded of a story a friend told me one time. I wish I could name the source but I can’t. It had to do with a worship group who had a cat show up at the worship place and was always in the room during worship. (I know I am not telling this exactly right but I think you will get the point.) This went on for a long time and one day the cat disappeared and without the cat there the peoople couldn’t worship. The cat had become a fixture, a tradition. People had forgotten how the cat had com to be and thought it was an essential part of worship. Interesting how we do turn things into something they were not intended to be.

    Comment by Kelly Dotson

  • September 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Kelly, thanks for your good words, and for sharing the story. It’s a familiar dynamic, to be sure. The grace is that we do on occasion break out of those fixed traditions that are no longer serving the mission.

    Comment by Stan

  • September 27, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Stan, as always, your passages give me pause for thought! Thank you so much for these words.

    My client, Barbara Watson, is an excellent seamstress and has made quilts for my grandchildren, pillows for my massage studio and has repaired Hal’s kilt. Just let me know if you want her to work on your vest.

    Hugs to you and Kim, Sherry

    Comment by Sherry

  • September 28, 2011 at 4:50 am

    Another fascinating take on the idea that it’s the fringe that reminds who we really are.

    Maybe it’s time to start digging around for my Indian Guides leather vest adorned with fringe.

    Thanks again Stan!

    Comment by Mark Siler

  • September 28, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Sherry – always glad to hear from you! I think Barbara would have to start from scratch on a vest, as I have no idea what happened to my fourth grade version. I do have a quilting project I’d love to have help on, though. Ms. Jessie gave us a piece of cloth that she had stitched all the names of her Sunday School class members on, and I’d love to have that quilted. I’ll call you sometime and check on what that project might cost.

    Comment by Stan

  • September 28, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Mark – sounds like the makings on an InOurElements uniform!

    Comment by Stan

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