London Fashion Weeks kicked off this week to great fanfare. It reminded me that it’s been over a year since my last blog post on the 5-Year Project. The project continues; however, my blogging about it has all but dried up. Incidentally, it’s now nearly 10 years since I began my 5-year project.
I’ve been reflecting on the reasons for the lack of 5YP blogging over the past year.
Partly it’s busyness. Last September I was appointed to a new role, which meant not only a new job, but also a new city and the consequent implications of moving house, finding new schools, uprooting of family that this kind of move entails.
My new role is as Principal at an evangelical theological college, London School of Theology. It’s one of the leading evangelical academic institutions and the largest school of its type in Europe. Less than 9 months in it still feels a new role in which I’m finding my feet. …and my voice.
Put simply, I’ve not yet quite found a way to reconcile my new role as a leader in theological education with what might appear to be a vain or self-centred concern with style and fashion.
How does one at the same time speak with gravitas and wisdom as a public theologian on the one hand and blog about men’s style on the other? How do I reconcile my personal and research interest in holiness and the contemplation of the divine with apparently frivolous reflection on ties, pocket squares, tweed blazers and chinos? To what extent is there potential conflict between my identity as scholar, Christian leader, and theologian with that of dandy, and David Gandy wannabe? And how far are my convictions about the importance and significance of the representative and public role of Principal in an evangelical theological college almost inevitably in tension, if not conflict, with the values and commitments of the fashion and menswear industry. I don’t doubt that it is possible to find ways of bridging these two worlds, indeed I believe it is important to do so, but on what terms and using what models?
One potential model is that of the guilty pleasure. Whatever hobbies I pursue in my spare time aren’t anybody else’s business, as long as they are not too unwholesome. In the grand scheme of things, of all the vices a man could have, a love of clothes is probably not among the worst. However, this model implies that one’s pastime is something one probably shouldn’t be doing, (hence the guilty pleasure). I’m not sure this model works for me. Moreover, I’m a blogger. If you’re going to have a guilty pleasure then you probably shouldn’t blog about it. Then again, perhaps that’s why the 5YP blog has been silent for over a year.A second model is the nerdy special interest. Whether bird watching, stamp or rock collecting, rebuilding classic cars or woodwork, here is a pursuit that many people don’t find interesting but it’s one’s special interest. John Stott, for example, was famously an obsessive bird watcher, who was also a church leader, theologian and writer. Twitching was his little nerdy quirk.
However, this model does not seem a good fit either, perhaps because the nerdy special interest is clearly differentiated from the self. An interest in your own clothes has a whiff of self-centeredness and vanity about it.
A third is the alternative pursuit, the stimulating of the other half of the brain and the self that is underutilised in the normal pattern of one’s life. It’s the engineer who is also a musician or gardener, the senior executive who’s a weekend racer, the priest who dreams of also dancing on Strictly, the primary school teacher who’s an amateur boxer, the plumber who is also an artist and a dab hand at baking. This model seems to present greater potential. The scholar-priest who’s also a fashionista doesn’t sound to dissimilar to these other alternative pursuits.
But there is dissimilarity. The very narrative of alternative pushes against the grain of integration. The theologian in me wants to move away from the compartmentalisation that seems inherent to the idea of alternative pursuit towards an integrative engagement between my emerging identity as a theologian (I am only now coming to terms with that identity) and whatever name one gives to an identity connected with a love of style and clothes.