When I first started studying 1 Corinthians 11, I was looking for further evidence beyond the regular arguments that this is not just a cultural thing, but a true symbol reminding us of the proper exchange in behavior between men and women. And so I asked myself, "How has headgear often been used throughout much of our culture?" (I am basing this entirely on American culture, because it is the only culture I am truly familiar with.) Since much of American culture is reflected in television and film, I began to reflect upon the images of headgear I had seen in both television and in the movies.
As a former theatre major in college, I can remember my costuming textbook had various drawings of both men's and women's apparel that corresponded to the changing times. Whenever we would consider adding a hat to an actor's wardrobe, that actor was responsible for using it not only as a part of his or her costume, but also as a prop. Headgear communicates quite a bit. It becomes an additional appendage by which we can amplify our body language. Watch this clip (approximately ten minutes) from Splendor in the Grass, our film of the month, and pay careful attention to the use of headgear as it relates to the attitudes of the people using it:
If you look carefully, you will notice the following:
1. Men wore hats but took them off in church. As they are leaving the service, the rain is quite heavy, and many hats go right back on. This "reverse look" at covering from the uncovered perspective helps us to further understand the idea of "praying without ceasing" as referring to the practice of prayer and not the action of prayer. After all, if being covered in prayer is a disgrace to a man and we are to pray without ceasing, when would a man ever wear a hat?
2. The use of a hat to symbolize who is the leader in a relationship. Ginny is clearly in charge of Glenn, whereas Deenie has submitted herself lovingly and adoringly to Bud. Look at where Ginny's hat ends up about halfway through the clip -- on Glenn's head!
3. The implied contrast between sinner and saint; rebellion and submission. The scene in which both Ginny's uncovered, short hair is contrasted against Deenie's covered, long hair together in the same shot is a mark of cinematic genius. The imagery is very strong and I wholeheartedly believe director Elia Kazan made this choice on purpose.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating things I can gather from this clip is that once you look at headgear against the backdrop of 1 Corinthians 11, you start to see things you didn't notice before. You begin to realize that even within secular society, the use of a hat or headcovering is quite symbolic.
Note that it was common in 1928 (the year in which this story is set) for women to cover, and for men to be uncovered. Although the main characters in this story are most likely not Christians, it demonstrates that headcovering was understood to be a way of life in society. It was not just for the Corinthians. The year 1928 is much closer to our present-day culture both chronologically and technologically than it is to the Corinthian culture in AD 55, yet the practice of headcovering in society was quite commonplace in both cultures. Ironically, we view headcovering more as a matter of fashion that was particular to that society at that time in history. The truth is, the hat or heacovering has been a staple of the feminine wardrobe for centuries. That means, the only time headcovering has ever really been a "cultural thing" is in our present day society -- because it is our custom not to wear it!
This clip is only one example. Imagine all the times you have seen a man wearing a hat on television, perhaps in an old Western or an old episode of Little House on the Prarie. What do a group of men do whenever a woman enters their presence? They take their hats off! As soon as the woman leaves, the hat is returned to its rightful place on the head. Even in brief encounters, respect for God's order is acknowleged. Should a woman walk by, what does the man do? He either "tips" his had to her or slightly lifts it off his head. Ask yourself, where did such a custom originate, and why is it not the other way around (women tipping their hats to men)? Is this just some strange ritual that manifested out of thin air? Or can we trace its beginnings to a specific custom that explains why it began and the reason it has continued for centuries?
The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:2 that this is not a temporary fad reserved only for the Corinthians. This is a tradition. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for breaking the command of God for the sake of tradition (Matthew 15:3). That is, they focused too much on ritual and not enough on the meaning behind it. Our modern day culture appears to have outdone even the Pharisees: for we have forsaken both God and tradition. We are a people who no longer needs God to tell us how to live our lives. In essence, today's woman says, "I don't need God -- I've got it covered," as she bares her head to the world.
13 Therefore the Lord said:
“ Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work
Among this people,
A marvelous work and a wonder;
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”
15 Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the LORD,
And their works are in the dark;
They say, “Who sees us?” and, “Who knows us?”
16 Surely you have things turned around!
Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay;
For shall the thing made say of him who made it,
“ He did not make me”?
Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“ He has no understanding”?
(Isaiah 29:13-16, NKJ)