Clothing Optional

Clothing Optional

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.

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12 Responses to Clothing Optional

  1. Anonymous says:

    Love this Karl….so true!

  2. zoggdog says:

    It is interesting u would write this post this week. Last week, because I was in 100 degree temps in lake powell, I broke one of my cardinal rules. I exposed 7 friends to my chubby pastey white chest & belly. luckily I was not arrested for visual pollution. It is true that years ago I wld have rather exposed my body in church than to tell the truth of the darkness in my soul. Tho, it is still very uncomfortable sharing certain things about myself, with safe people, I have found it quite freeing. Kinda like that feeling some 40 years ago, when I had the courage or stupidity, to romp, naked, on a clothing optional beach.

  3. karlw says:

    getting old/mature changes things, we tend to care less about such trivial matters. I am graced with the privilege to watch you be free-er every day.

  4. Congratulations, Poppy! I cannot even imagine the emotion among the Wheelers/Hansons especially considering Frankie became part of the family by adoption. Can’t wait to hear the whole story!!

    • karlw says:

      sea are over the moon! it happened quickly through a family friend. it is so ideal, karla has been able to be a strong support for the birth mom. the birth parents parents are all supportive of karla and chris raising this child. welcome to frankie’s world, the rest of us are her guests!

  5. what a stirring picture of The Refuge and a hopeful vision for the whole church!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Karl, Thanks for sharing this. So true. It is so rare to find a place where the masks can freely (and safely) be removed.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Karl, thanks for sharing. So true. Hard to find a safe place to take the masks off.

  8. Karl, THanks for the great words of truth! I try to cultivate this very thing at the rehab that I minister at every week. I share my faults and my victories and try to be myself and not some “super-dooper-Christian-hero”. One time I shared that I had trouble with cussing–especially at work and this recovering addict dude from South Africa tells me “If I hear you cussing outside this room after the service, I will NEVER listen you again!” I promptly told him, “Well then, you’re an addict. Why should I listen to you?!?” He looked at me shocked and I said, “Do you think that is fair to judge me as you did? Last week you said something profound and I was totally blessed by it because you are my fellow brother, my fellow struggler in Jesus. I can learn something from you because I’m not judging you by your addiction. I see your heart.” He was very silent after that. I think he was raised to believe that the pastor was supposed to be perfect in everything. I broke that mold. I feel more at ease teaching outside the church because when I did share honestly in church groups, I would get people feeling sorry for me and wanting to “pray for the weak brother” crap. I was just sharing to encourage honest sharing! Don’t they understand this?!?! You are blessed to have a group like you have! I’m halfway thru Kathy Escobar’s book, “Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus” and have highlighted the heck out of it! I may lead a group at my home with her wonderful book in the future. Well, keep being naked but keep the shirt on! (I have no room to talk! I will not take off my shirt in public because…uh…my belly button got too big! Ha!)

  9. karlw says:

    what a great response! if we limited who God could use in our lives to only those who had it all together (btw, it is that reasoning that makes it a professional hazard) we would be drifting all alone.
    side note: i have seen lots of men, like me with unattractive bellies, with no shirt. what amazes me is that they do not care or notice. that is what i want, to be a unaware. in truth, i do not care a wit what they look like.
    Happy yoiu are liking Kathy’s book!

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