Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as “Find Your Kimono” in the book Outspoken: Conversations on Church Communication. But it’s also an excellent story of a church communication hero so it’s worth revisiting.
I’ve become obsessed with the kimono. That traditional Japanese garment worn by both men and women that the Chinese also lay claim to. Regardless of its origins, the kimono has been on my mind lately.
Hudson Taylor was a
n American British missionary to China in the late 19th century. Taylor was a guy who thought and lived differently. Taylor wasn’t your average missionary. He didn’t just want to go and tell the gospel story to a group of people; he wanted to embody the life of Jesus in front of China.
This desire led Taylor to shun the standard Western garb he came over with in favor of donning the suit-and-tie of the Chinese world: the kimono.
In one move, Taylor gained more cultural credibility than 100 years worth of preaching ever could. To the Chinese people, he became “one of us.”
Taylor was smart. He knew that to be accepted into the culture—the very culture he was attempting to reach—he needed to speak the same language. By adopting the kimono instead of stubbornly holding onto his Western wardrobe, Taylor communicated, “I am here to share a message with you, but I’m also here to learn. I want this to be a two-way street. You can trust me.”
That kimono got Taylor into places he couldn’t have dreamed of, all for the sake of the gospel. The sheer audacity of a white, Western man wearing a piece of clothing reserved only for those on the “inside” was enough to gain an audience with even the most skeptical person in all of China. It was simple, it was absurd and it got people to ask questions. Genius.
We need to be more like Hudson Taylor. We need to look around and find the kimonos of our culture and start wearing them. We may not want to change the way that we do things. We may not want to change the way that we’ve always looked. I’m sure Hudson Taylor never said to himself, “Boy, these flowing silk robes sure make me look manly!” But we do it because of what it communicates to the people around us.
For instance, my kimonos are mostly digital. Having a Facebook profile is a kimono. Blogging about my issues with Fred Phelps is a kimono. Tweeting about my excitement over my new home brewing kit is a kimono. These are simple (140 characters or less!), absurd (“Picketing again? Really?”), and they get people to ask questions (“I thought the Bible said Christians couldn’t drink?”).
Wearing kimonos isn’t for shock value or novelty’s sake. It’s to show humility to a watching, waiting, weary world. A humility that says, “I want to tell you about someone who can change your life. I also want to see who you are, what makes you tick. Hopefully I can share the same. I’m not here to speak at you, I’m here to share my life with you.”
Check out Outspoken: Conversations on Church Communication for more brilliant insights, most of which don’t involve kimonos.