or, A Revealing Metanarrative Dispatched From the Elite
Over the last few years, I've come to know and love a good number of students from King's college here in Manhattan. After an unrelated event we all attended, I ended up with an audience of the President of King's college, J. Stanley Oakes along with a number of students. In what began as an innocent but earnest plea on my part to get the President to consider changing their strict dress code which has young Manhattan college students wearing suit and tie to school, and really should have ended amicably, grew to something that became so much more as the following public display escalated to my amazement and aroused emotion. Here's what the president of King's college said:
That artists, creative types and NYU students, "dress like bums". And that "they" can dress however they want but he's going to teach his students to play successfully in the game of power and politics.
Concerning my boldness to address the issue - that ministers "usually know a lot about what's inside the church, but not about the real world outside".
After claiming that they were trying to prepare students for the reality of the business world, which was countered by the assertion that a lot of the business world itself has gone to a more relaxed dress code, he replied, "Most of them still wear suits, at least the ones I respect".
(Wow, even the corporate casual world is unsafe, well, at least, unrespected - I guess all those high tech millionaires don't know as much as an educator)
When asked, "Why can't students just wear normal cultural clothes to school, and then dress up when they have a business appointment"? He said that important businessmen and recruiters come to the college to find talent, and when that was countered with, "Yeah, but why can't they just wear a suit when they have an appointment with that businessman"?
Okay...get ready...he replied,
"Sometimes they come unannounced like Jesus".........
"Sometimes they come unannounced like Jesus".........
....whaaa..(head shake so that cheeks flap like on tv show)..haaaaa?.....
I think someone who has a high position in the administration of King's college and has the word "President" on his office door is a little beholden to the business elite, and the normal regular elite too. Some people he likes to scoff at, others he likes to compare to our high and mighty coming King.
People speak from their heart. He has his entire student body fetching water for the man who might show up unannounced like a thief in the night. Meanwhile they have to walk around like Mormon missionaries in front of all the other cool kids in NYC.
(the social contract has agreed that it is culturally and ethically acceptable to make fun of Mormon missionaries).
But what really got me the most, what really offended me to the point that I was roused to reply strongly (I told him he was arrogant...about three times:), was this little tip toe down the lane called ignorance-of-the-postmodern-mindset-of-an-entire-generation...(and concerning why I should just accept his position and not question it so passionately)...
..."I've found over the years that when someone has been doing something for 35 years it usually means they know what they are doing and you might want to listen to them"...
...Wow, I'm just smiling now remembering it....so the status quo is correct. those in power do know what's right. Don't question and innovate and be progressive. 35 years of the old way of doing things is more important than new cultural trends and realities. The Metanarrative is true, just accept it 'cause it came from someone who's been doing it for 35 years.
35 years ago many countries were still under their colonial masters. 35 years ago America had its own colonial ambitions in Southeast Asia. 35 years ago our country was still digesting the meaning of the recently passed civil rights legislation and was embroiled in race riots and anti-war protests. AND 35 years ago an evangelicalism that was just beginning it's ascent to power was silent on racism, silent on colonialism, absent from the arts and media. The AIDS crisis was only a decade away then, and the church is barely just now showing up to help. Not to mention evangelical silence and complicity then and now with IMF/World Bank, "So you just got freed from the shackles of colonialism, hey no problem, have we got a deal for you...." And let's not even talk about the environment.
The kind of thinking that was writing the theology and ecclesiology of 35 years ago in that world, is not the kind of theology and ecclesiology we need going forward to this new world that is in such a state of epochal transition that no one even understands it yet. A world that can only be titled, "post" to the modernism that came before it. We need fresh thinking.
If this was just some guy I had a casual conversation with in private, I would keep my horror to myself. But this was a public conversation with the public leader of an institution of higher learning - this is the guy training the young students that we will need in the coming years to lead us into the unknown postmodern era looming ahead of us. This is a man deeply out of touch with the reality of the world around him, and forcing an entire student body to live in his private version of unreality - which causes them to be ill equipped and unprepared to reach their peers all around them with the gospel of peace because they look like some kind of weird religious types to their cool Manhattan cohorts. Basic missiology, cultural context needed here.
Students of King's College - rise up and change the system - if you can't force a college in 2007 to change their dress code, how will you end poverty, abolish the modern slave trade and repair the broken ethics of our corporate culture?
We all know what context means. We all know you can dress casual and cool most of the time, but when you have a big job interview, you wear a suit. Maybe after you get the job, they'll let you wear something more comfortable - maybe they won't. In America's public and private institutions of government, law and some of the commerce you still have to wear a suit, but in the media, civil society, education, the rest of commerce, high tech, science, the arts, and the church, you get to dress from business casual, to casual and cool, to really cool. That's the future, and you'd be better off spending four years learning how to dress in the real world of NYC - in all of its changing contexts - than in an outfit anyone back home could have shown you. We need fresh, culturally conversant thinking.
This wasn't a conversation about clothing or institutional dress codes, this was a conversation about what kind of thinking we want and need our leaders to have. Fresh, progressive, culturally conversant, culturally contextual, local, communal, humble and non-elitist, refusing of power centered metanarratives, relational, kind.