Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (1 Samuel 2:18-21) transports me to the pre-teen fashion world of the early 1970s, a fashionable era if there ever was one. I wore a mixture of hand-me-downs, Fain’s bargains (irregular items from Belks), and an occasional original handiwork from my mom’s Singer. That is to say, I was not setting any pre-teen trends, and on the rare instance when I really wanted something trendy, like a pair of the suede Puma Clydes all my friends were wearing (before the era of Air Jordans, when Walt “Clyde” Frazier set the bar for footwear), my Dad endured my begging and pleading and held the line on his resistance to paying $20 for a pair of tennis shoes when you could get a decent pair of Chucks for $12.50. Two home-made items are particularly etched in my memory; one, when leisure suits became the rage, my Aunt Zelda surprised me one Christmas with a hand-sewn light blue polyester model that never seemed to quite fit. The second I was actually quite proud of; during my time in the Jackson Five fan club, I convinced my mom to forego the McCalls and Simplicity patterns she was accustomed to, and go rogue. She sliced open the outer seams on a pair of blue jeans from the knees down, and sewed in a triangle of loud multi-colored fabric I spotted at the remnant store. I had seen Jermaine sporting these fancy pants, known as elephant bells, on a tv show, and I had to have my own pair. You couldn’t have bought anything any better at Bon Marche.
Young Samuel was making his own fashion statement there in Shiloh as he fulfilled his altar boy duties in the house of the Lord. I imagine his threads would have been quite the rage in the alternative universe of the early 70s. There was his stylish linen ephod, and he could count on mama Hannah breaking out her Singer every year to fashion her miracle child a new little tunic from the latest Simplicity pattern. I can’t help but love these little details scripture throws in, on the fringes of the overarching meta-narratives of miracle and covenant infidelity and prophetic diatribe. There, in the midst of the epic drama of salvation history, you have a young boy on loan to the Lord, wearing linen, with his mom coming to see him once a year with a new handmade robe. It’s this level of detail that often grabs me in scripture. It makes me wonder whether or not Samuel looked forward to that annual gift from Mama, if it gave him a nostalgic connection to home and hearth, or if he was like Ron Weasley, enduring the humiliation of having to wear the new handmade sweater from Mama Molly year after year, while his classmates sported threads from Madam Malkin’s at Diagon Alley. Either way, I’m glad the biblical writers include these small touches that humanize the history of God at work in the world. It makes the ethereal matters of the spirit world downright tactile/textile – Hannah is working, quite literally, with the fabric of faith. It reminds us that behind every precocious girl and boy wonder doing great and mighty works of faith is a mother and father weaving and stitching and knitting and quilting to cover that child with some protection from the elements.
I’m preparing to go up to West Virginia this weekend for a youth retreat, where I’ll be playing music with the Ecclesia band for 500 or so teenagers. It’s been a while since I’ve been around that much teen spirit. I wonder how much of their spirit will be focused on what they’re wearing. I know they’ll be much more tatted and pierced than even the most outrageous of my peers were 35 and 40 years ago. But, I imagine they will be about as obsessed and self-conscious. I doubt there will be many home-made leisure suits, but I’ll be on the lookout for some retro elephant bells and Puma Clydes. I imagine I’m more likely to see pre-ripped jeans and Chuck Taylor high tops. Or maybe some pre-ripped Chucks.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.