After the opening reflections in Chapter One of Walden Thoreau moves on to some of my favorite material in the book. Specifically, Thoreau begins reflecting on simplicity as it relates to issues such as clothing, housing, furniture, luxuries, food, travel, and work.
Let's start with Thoreau's discussion of clothing. Some of my favorite quotes from Walden are on this subject:
As for Clothing, to come at once to the practical part of the question, perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility.I think we need a theology of clothing. There is too little theological discussion on this topic. Which is one reason why I enjoy Thoreau's extended mediation on this subject....No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience...I sometimes try my acquaintances by such tests as this;--who could wear a patch, or two extra seams only, over the knee? Most behave as if they believed that their prospects for life would be ruined if they should do it. It would be easier for them to hobble to town with a broken leg than with a broken pantaloon....It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes. Could you, in such a case, tell surely of any company of civilized men, which belonged to the most respected class?...I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes......We worship not the Graces, nor the Parcae, but Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller's cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.
As I've noted before, past shame clothing was the first symptom of the Fall. I think that is noteworthy. There is something about clothing that embodies what is wrong with the world. As Thoreau notes, clothing appeals to our vanity, our need to conform and our desire to signal our superior social status. Thoreau was right, we worship fashion. Clothing is a Principality and Power in our world. A false god. An idol. We see this clearly in the book of James:
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?Given all this, I find it shocking that we don't talk more about this subject. Why, I ask, are all of us dressed up on Sunday morning? Have we not read the warning of St. James? Isn't it clear that someone coming into our service with holes in their clothing would feel awkward among us? And why do we own so many fashionable and expensive cloths? What spiritual illness sits behind our craving for fashion?
Do we ever wonder about WWJW? What would Jesus wear?