Once upon a time there lived a poor man named Christian who had a very limited wardrobe. It consisted of only one garment - a robe given to him by his Lord as a present. He wore it to church every week and was content. He didn't care much for fashion and paid no attention to what others were wearing.
Now it so happened that there also lived an itinerant tailor who roamed the earth from end to end. One afternoon he knocked on Christian's door.
"Excuse me, sir", said the tailor. "I attend at your church from time to time and couldn't help notice your shabby robe. It stands out in sharp contrast from some of the real classy dressers in your congregation. So I took it upon myself to inquire and see if I might be of some assistance. I am, in all modesty, the finest tailor in the Christian world. I have designed clothes for some famous churchmen, whose names might surprise you. But I even make clothes for average people like you. In fact, I've created whole wardrobes for many in your congregation. Perhaps you've noticed?"
Christian admitted he hadn't. Then he looked down at his garment. It looked fine, even beautiful. But he was a bit flattered that such a popular tailor would be willing to sew for him.
"Well", said Christian. "I've never paid much attention to how I'm dressed. But I would like the others in church to think well of me."
The tailor smiled and discreetly edged his foot in the door.
"I can see already that you're a man of good taste. But let me tell you more."
"I will make for you a handsome suit of clothes. It will be made of the finest material, which I myself will weave. But here is the most remarkable thing - the material is invisible to those who do not truly know God."
"Why that's amazing!" said Christian to the tailor, who by now was standing in the front hallway. Christian felt strangely excited. "No one in church ever notices me", he thought, and looked down again at his robe.
It was very plain.
"Yes sir", he said. "I believe I'd like a suit like that."
"Fine", said the tailor. "I was sure you would." He whisked away, then returned in a flash with his equipment - loom, cutting table, etc. which he promptly set up in Christian's living room.
"Now", he said. "Let's decide what kind of suit would look best on you. Are you intellectual?"
"Well, I don't know", said Christian. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I've made some marvelous suits out of intellectual material", said the tailor. "I have some Higher-Critical thread that might weave up just fine. Perhaps with a matching eschatological vest, an existential hat, a pair of antinomian loafers ...".
"Well, I don't know", said Christian. "I dress a bit more conservatively than that."
"Ah, conservative! Something along traditional lines. Yes, yes. I often make clothes like that. Let's see ... something zealous! Perhaps some heresy-resistant material would be best. A nice blend of upholding-the-standards and avoiding-evil."
The tailor paused. "No, that's not quite you. Yes, I have it. For you we need something middle-of-the-road. A nice triple-weave of attendance, loyalty and tithing. Something comfortable, right? Woven from the finest thread - imported from Laodecia. Then maybe a hat that will keep out the sun, a sturdy pair of shoes that will go the second mile. Nothing flashy, just durable. Clothes that you know will take you through to the kingdom."
With that the tailor began to set up his loom. But to Christian's shock - there was no thread!
"Oh dear", he thought. "Could it be that I do not truly know God?"
"Look", said the tailor. "See how durable, yet fine the thread is". He held his empty hands out toward Christian. "Do you like it?"
"Uh, yes", said Christian. "Superb."
The tailor smiled to himself, then began threading the loom. All afternoon he worked, the shuttle clacking back and forth across the empty loom. Evening came. Finally he finished weaving and elaborately removed the finished product. He carefully carried the pile of air to the cutting table.
"See how beautifully muted the pattern is?" he said. "Such strong and durable cloth."
Christian squinted. Could he see it? It must be there, it must be! "Why yes", he thought, "I believe I can see it. I'm not a spiritual giant like the tailor but I believe I can even make out the pattern. Knowing God is certainly harder than I thought, but", he squinted harder, "I do believe I'm making progress."
Now the tailor was fitting the pieces and the suit began taking shape. On through the night he worked. Dawn came. At last he was finished.
"There!" he exclaimed, holding up a bare coat hanger. "Look at it."
Christian raised his head from the arm of the couch where he'd been sleeping and rubbed his eyes. Was it there?
"Oh my, my", said the tailor. "No time to lose. You'll be late for church. Here, let's try it on."
Christian took off his robe and was helped into the suit.
"Look in the mirror", said the tailor. "Isn't it great?"
Christian looked at his jockey shorts. "Great."
"I knew you'd love it. Here's the bill. I take Visa or MasterCard."
Christian was stunned. The price was enormous! Why hadn't he asked about the price to begin with? Too late. The tailor whisked Christian's Visa card out and ran it through his machine.
"Sign here. You're late for church."
"Better hurry along", said the tailor, pushing Christian toward the door. "I'll let myself out."
Christian stood on the porch. It certainly was cold out here. He looked at his watch. "My, I AM late", he thought, and began to run. He ran the several blocks to church, up the steps and into the lobby, out of breath. Then he remembered. His new clothes! And he looked down at himself. He was standing in his underwear. An edge of panic began creeping up. He looked around the lobby. And there was the Head Deacon – standing in HIS underwear. And there was the Choir Director and Education Superintendent - standing the THEIR underwear. It seemed like half the lobby was underdressed!
"Good to see you, Christian", said Deacon George. "Say, that's a sharp suit you've got on. I've been wondering when you'd get some new clothes."
"Uh, you look good yourself, George." Christian stared at George's long johns.
"You know, I think we have the same tailor."
Rich Hannon is a software engineer who lives in Salt Lake City. His reading interests focus on philosophy and medieval history.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/1299