I am a modest dresser. Not because I am particularly moral, I am just chubby. I cannot remember a time I felt comfortable with my shirt off. What is funny is taking my shirt off would not be cause for any great surprise: “Whoa, I thought Karl was super buff, but I guess I was wrong!” I find comfort not having my creamy white doughboy physique on display.
Several years ago, while on a mountain vacation my wife and I decided to indulge in a hot springs retreat. We found one near by, highly rated, inexpensive, beautiful and rustic. It was also “clothing optional,” but we thought a few folks in birthday suits, hidden in the dark water was no big deal—to each his own. Of course, we had our swimsuits.
When we arrived we found a pleasant welcome center, and a very nice older lady took our money. She gave us a map to the different pools and natural springs on the property and instructed us to park and follow the trail. We gathered our things, followed the trail and made a startling discovery: “Clothing optional” was apparently not as optional as the description implied. Not one person had even a thread of cover. They were elderly, young, skinny, fat, athletic, a human potpourri, and they walked, swam, and laughed as if they did not realize they were nude! I am not speaking of a gathering of Greek gods and goddesses, but of the most ordinary humans you can imagine. I wanted to giggle. It was like they were a mass of people who had lost a bet and they were paying it off by total and absolute humiliation. But it seemed the only one conscious of clothes was me. I put my socks on.
I belong to a “naked” church. Every week at The Refuge I see brave brothers and sisters peel off protective layers of dishonesty and masks. There have been many moments at The Refuge when I have gawked, disoriented at the freedom and ease I witnessed. “Don’t they know I can see them?” I thought. I know about their abortions, addictions, affairs and even crimes. Do they have no shame? The question is the answer. I have often had the feeling that I was the only with “clothes” on. I longed to be brave like my friends, but fear of exposure can keep us trapped for years.
Shame sucks the life out of those who clothe themselves in shadows. Shame exposed, however, is powerless. Like a vampire, shame cannot endure in the light. But it is hard to overcome shame, and it is scary. Given the choice to run naked in church or tell our true story, most of us would become streakers. The role of a church community is to create once again a Garden where we walk in the cool of the day and hear the voice of God, naked but with no shame.