Fri | Nov 22, 2019

Tony Deyal | What God has put asunder

Published:Saturday | November 9, 2019 | 12:14 AM

As I start writing today’s column, I feel like a mosquito in a nudist camp or, to make it current, I feel like a mosquito in Trinity Cathedral in Trinidad with a fashion show and scantily clad models, male and female, in full swing, swagger, bump and grind. In other words, I know what to do but I don’t know where to start.

I can, of course, begin with the ‘current’ response which consists mainly of a lot of people who are deeply shocked. The barely clothed models parading along the aisle of the church have incited the ire of the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago, Rev Claude Berkley, who takes it as an affront. Given some of the revealing pictures of the rear view of the models, the critics should also have been taken aback.

In fact, because there are people who see the display by the svelte and sleek models as “no big thing”, they should also have taken a side or two. In the meantime, the media Aedes aegypti are biting left, right and centre, generating considerably more heat than light, revenue than reason.

This is why I could have started with the sign on a church billboard in the US which asked, “You think it’s hot here?” In which case I would have continued to say to my regional and diaspora readers in Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia and elsewhere that regardless of what it is like in your country, Trinidad is so hot that the Met Office is considering a three-wave heat warning, which includes advising people to wear as little as possible and stay indoors in large cool buildings like churches.

Another option for starting this column was a letter to God written by a little boy who asked, “Dear God, I went to this wedding and they kissed right in the church. Is that OK?”

This leads to the heart of the issue – what is acceptable or unacceptable in a church, and are Trinidadians overreacting?

Recently, on September 17, The Telegraph ran an article headlined ‘Southwark Cathedral criticised for hosting scantily clad London Fashion Week show described as “antithesis of Christian gospel”’. The Telegraph reported that British designer Julien MacDonald brought his collection to the place of worship on Monday night as part of London Fashion Week. Since the year 2000, the Cathedral has charged money for the use of its facilities, using the income to help fund the upkeep of the building and costs of worship, as well as ensuring it stays open to the public free of charge.

CONDUCIVE WITH CHRISTIAN VALUES

Rev Dr Gavin Ashenden, the former chaplain to the Queen, acknowledged that the Cathedral has made its premises available for fashion in the past, since one of the things they try to do is build a bridge between secular society and the Christian church, and that’s not a bad thing. What he saw as unacceptable was the contradiction between the ethical content of what they are trying to host and its direct contradiction to Christian values.

He said, “The Cathedral should ask itself to see if the complaints about the fashion industry – as promoting a narcissistic self-referential display for the very rich – are indeed conducive with the values of the Christian gospel.”

He added, “I think the fashion industry is the antithesis of the Christian gospel. It’s about the exposure of the poverty of our souls and that’s about hiding the state of the soul in an excess of glamour.”

In other words, what God has put asunder, let no man, regardless of his ecclesiastical rank or open mind, put together.

However, a spokesman for Southwark Cathedral responded, “Southwark Cathedral has, over many years, been used for a variety of different events, including those related to the fashion industry. We were pleased to be invited to work with the British designer Julien MacDonald as part of this year’s London Fashion Week. His show brought many people into the Cathedral who might not otherwise have come, and many recognised it as a beautiful and special place.

“The show was delivered in a professional, respectful and energetic way. Fashion and its impact on the environment, how we use clothes as part of daily life and what clothing is appropriate are important issues for Christians and others to engage with as aspects of modern living.”

TRULY MODERN ROMANCE

Laird Borrelli-Persson of Vogue, who pointed out that there were at least 22 shows in churches by high-fashion designers recently, wrote, “For a bride, the aisle is a runway; a church setting can add pomp and circumstance to a fashion presentation. The effect is magnified, of course, when the venue is an exclusive one, like Westminster Abbey’s Cloisters, which Gucci secured to present its Anglophilic ‘Resort 2017’ collection. The theme allowed designer Alessandro Michele to indulge in a ‘gothic sea of inspiration’.”

Lauren Sharkey of RACKED had a different perspective: “When I first heard that Gucci would be showing its next cruise collection in London’s historic Westminster Abbey, I was confused, to say the least. After all, the relationship between fashion and religion has always been fraught with twists and turns ... maybe religion is finally hearing the line it’s been preaching for centuries: Forgiveness is everything.

“I, for one, am only too happy that the church is stepping into a new age. Even though fashion and faith may sound like a strange combination, it’s about time people saw that religion isn’t the be-all and end-all. That it’s OK to have fun while still believing in a higher power. Whichever way this goes, let’s hope this is the start of a truly modern romance.”

Others think that the Trinidad response, especially by the Anglican Church, is overreaction verging on hypocrisy, since in its home base, England, the hallowed and much vaunted Westminster Abbey held a show but the presence of stone genitalia in places of worship is all part of the “rich tradition of church decoration” over the centuries.

In addition, although gambling in the form of bingo is big in fundraising for both Catholic and Anglican churches, fashion shows help to attract a different and certainly more well-heeled people, like Jimmy Choo and Louboutin both on- and off-stage.

This leads me back to the start which, as T.S. Eliot said in Little Gidding, we will “know the place for the first time”.

I want to end with a question that any self-respecting mosquito could easily have asked at the beginning. Given all the nudity, controversy, bacchanal and finger-pointing, the media primed like a Gatling gun ready to spit fire in all directions and leave those who are not dead, badly wounded and worse, informed, do you think that God will ever go back to that church?

Tony Deyal was last seen contemplating another conundrum similar to the medieval “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin”. If God is everywhere, is He present in Hell, too? Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com