At the week-end I posted on Facebook a link to Esquire‘s Style Blog which has named Pope Francis the best dressed man of 2013. (You can read the article here.) Little did I realise the storm that would ensue, both on Facebook and even more via email. By Sunday evening I was beginning to feel I had been coshed. What would happen were I to post something SERIOUSLY controversial?
The first thing I noticed was that most people were uninterested in why I had posted the link. Fair enough, but also quite revealing. They either assumed they knew (most of them didn’t), or used the opportunity to put forward their own views on the subject and on others they linked with it (sometimes rather tendentiously). Normally, that can be quite entertaining and sometimes really illuminating, although I do have reservations when the argument turns nasty or personal. What struck me most forcibly, however, was how many people seemed to read the original article selectively and reacted to certain phrases without considering the import of the whole. I think that is becoming more and more noticeable in all forms of online engagement. We talk about ‘surfing’ the web, but increasingly we seem to be skimming through arguments, too. As an advocate of ‘slow reading’ (a.k.a. lectio divina), I’m not very happy about that. If we can’t even absorb the argument of a short piece like that in Esquire, what hope is there for more densely argued pieces?
This morning I posted on Facebook the reply that I gave most of my email correspondents. I said that the article had interested me because of what a secular magazine had to say about clothes and their meaning and the way in which the writer had interpreted papal dress. Without necessarily sharing the writer’s view, I thought it was good for those of us who wear some form of distinctive dress for religious reasons to think about how it appears to those outside the circle of church and monastery. Most people are interested in what we wear and how; they rarely ask why. I found it interesting that a secular magazine had made a stab at trying to understand. In fact, I found it encouraging. What I didn’t find encouraging was the reaction of many (not all) of my fellow Christians, which ranged from the dismissive to the aggressive. In effect, the variety of replies actually confirmed what the Esquire writer had said: dress does matter; it does make statements; but how they are interpreted may not be what the wearer intended.