During the last week of September, these odd fliers peppered the walls of Duke Divinity School. By the end of the week, people were talking about naked Quakers and asking if there would be streaking. As the event coordinator, I made no promises.
We welcomed musician Jon Watts to campus with a call he makes in one of his own songs: "Let's Get Naked!" But this wasn't just for shock value. Jon's latest musical release, Clothe Yourself in Righteousness, is a unique project that was born out of a collaboration with Maggie Harrison. Maggie had written an academic paper on the 17th-century Quaker practice of going naked as a sign.
For the September 30 performance, co-sponsored by New Creation Arts Group and the Duke Divinity Women's Center, we were excited to have Maggie with us in addition to Jon. Maggie shared the highlights of her paper with us, hitting on the several layers of significance of going naked: recalling that Adam and Eve were created good—and naked—only putting on clothes after the fall; pointing out that Isaiah preached naked in Isaiah 20; and insisting that the call to put on the new self, to put on Christ, to clothe yourself in righteousness, requires that we first take off the false clothing we have put on to hide our shame and our vulnerability. At the end of the concert, the group had a discussion with Jon and Maggie around all this and more, rounding out the event as unique not only in content but in the way it encouraged conversation and vulnerability among those present.
I haven't even mentioned Jon's music yet. As a spoken word artist (performing here with a guitar and violin), the sound is an experience all its own. Jon is a gifted songwriter, his lyrics simple but profound at the same time, unafraid of hard truths while still inviting the listener into his questions and challenges. Lyrical gems include, "Forgiveness is the difference between heaven and hell. That's not some afterlife shit; I'm talking now"; and this one that resonated with many of us present: "You don't need a degree from seminary to know God loves you." Jon's music encourages the listeners to be honest with themselves and with each other, even in their brokenness. That vulnerability is what getting naked is all about for Jon.
Pick up Jon's album, but prepared to be surprised and challenged by it. The ideas that Jon and Maggie are pushing have the potential to call the church (and not just Quakers!) back to its identity as a loving, genuine, transformative community that can effect real change in relationships and in the world.