Runway Gospel and Gunn’s Good News

I’m back! A big thanks to all the wonderful guest bloggers who filled this space with fresh insight, wit and wisdom while I was in transition. I’m settling in to my new office and getting to know my new church folks, and learning what God looks like on the prairie. And I want to tell you all about all of that, but there’s another big event this week that’s on my mind and heart, and if it’s not on yours, it should be… That’s right, it’s time for the season finale of Project Runway!!!!

Wait…what do you mean you don’t care?

I can’t tell you how many eye rolls and dismissive scoffs I’ve witnessed in response to my enthusiasm for this show. Admittedly, when I first started watching it (my husband got me hooked—true but different story) I counted it as a guilty pleasure show. But as the seasons unfold, I’m becoming more and more convinced that a deep thread of spirituality runs beneath the runway, like a river that flows all the way to New York Fashion Week. (Sorry, my metaphors are rusty). So, in a nutshell, here are my Top Life Lessons from the Runway. This stuff’ll preach.

1.       Make it work. Yes, I know this one is obvious. Like I said, I’m rusty. But, the Great Tim Gunn says it at least once an episode, and its always good advice. Use what you’ve got, in the time you’re given; move past the mistake, the bad color choice, or the conflict and, you know…make. It. Work.

 2.       One day you’re in…the next day, you’re out. (Or, when it’s Heidi talking—‘oout.”  How does she add like, 4 syllables to that word?) Here is the commercial tagline for the show, and it speaks a powerful reminder that Relevance is not to be taken for granted. Did you hear that, Church? Did you hear that, Congress? Did you hear that, cool kids who used to be bullies but found that your popularity peaked in high school and it was all down hill from there? However you illustrate it, we’ve got to evolve. That which mattered to people yesterday will not seem so important tomorrow. For better or worse.

 3.       Edit.  Have you ever gone to a church or business website that threw so much information at you that you couldn’t find the actual address? Or hours of service/operation? Have you ever read a sentence that was so convoluted and over-punctuated that you couldn’t find a verb in the whole dang business? (#ironyyes). Ever felt pained by a friend’s social media over-share?  Ever walked into a house that is so full of STUFF you could not find the people? Several contestants are eliminated each season for simple failure to edit. They have over-designed, over-accessorized, and/or incorporated “too many ideas” in a single garment. Know what story you want to tell before you start telling it. Otherwise, people stop listening. With that in mind, it is also important to…  

4.       Stand by your design. Yeah, the finished project might look like a disaster. Or you may love it and the judges hate it. But whatever happens, you can’t blame another person, a fabric malfunction, or a last-minute model change for the outcome. It’s YOUR design. Live with it. Own it. Unconditionally. This is how we love our children. This is how God loves us. And speaking of God loving us, PR also teaches us about

 5.       The Powerful Narrative of Salvation. The current season had a surprise element  called the Tim Gunn Save. This granted Tim Gunn the power to veto ONE elimination that he thought unfair or untimely. Spoiler alert: He used it for a hearing-impaired designer who was especially well-loved by other contestants, and by viewers. It was a sad, sad episode when Eric got sent home.

But then…hope. Tim walked into that rap room and told the heart-broken designer, “You know what? I think the judges were wrong, and I’m going to use my TIM GUNN SAVE to give you another chance.” Everybody in the room was in tears, and Jeremy and I (at home in tv land) were on our feet doing ridiculous old-married-people high fives. That right there is great television.  Or rather… that right there is the nature of our faith. Whether it is our partner, our church community, or our network of friends—or ok, maybe Jesus—somebody sees something of value in us, loves us for all the broken mess that we are, and calls us to get the eff up and be better next time.

6.       And that’s why the runway is also about Transformation. Yes, I know that how we look on the outside is not the most important thing in the world—but we can’t say it’s not important at all. Changing how we look can change the way that we feel. And as Nina always says: if you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing, you feel confident. You are more likely to take risks, meet challenges, try new things, engage new people… And really, isn’t that how most good things begin? The ‘real people’ challenges always demonstrate what a new look can do to change someone’s story.

7.        Be unique.  There is nothing the judges hate more than a design that looks like somebody else’s design. Or (heaven help us) an outfit that could be purchased off the rack at a department store. In a world of auto tune music, cookie cutter houses, monotonous political rhetoric and even copycat crimes, a fresh perspective is life-giving.

 8.       Trust the process. The great design, the meaningful relationship, the improved health, the career transition, the sermon notes…good things are rarely delived on our own time frame. Nor do they come easy. Sometimes you have to step back, let go, and breathe. Good stuff comes to life all on its own sometimes.

9.       Beauty is not frivilous.  We are so often lost in chaos and noise; our own, and that which comes from elsewhere.  Whether a painted landscape or a real one; a well-designed room or a stunning bit of architecture; a well-presented meal or—why not?—a great outfit; art is the redeeming work of creation. Why should that not be true just because someone else is wearing it?

 10.   And finally, PR reminds us of The Power of Place.  Prior to each season finale, Tim Gunn travels the globe to visit the finalists, to preview their line for Fashion Week, and–more importantly—to meet their families. He shows us a glimpse of the designers in their home towns, in their work space, in the places they love with the people who made them. Not only is he a gracious guest—he draws these lovely connections between the designers’ style, and their varied stories.

 We are not just what we make. We are not just what we achieve, or fail to achieve. We are not just our drama and our meltdowns, nor do we get to be just our rock star moments. We are not just the finished product. We are NEVER the finished product. Like the artists that bring us fabulous fashion and maybe a little too much drama, we are whole people. We are clothed in grace. And we are the bearers and wearers of a great and colorful story.

Own it. And maybe match it up with great boots.





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  • Ann B. Shepherd

    YOU ARE AWESOME!!!! And I really, really hop PR hears your plea and adds a Female Clergy-Wear Challenge to an upcoming season! Thank you for your blog and your insight!