Thursday, August 17, 2006

My Response To My Friendly Nemesis (Part II In A Series)

Here is my full response to the reader who wrote to tell me that he is absolutely opposed to my efforts to de-frumpify and dress up my colleagues in ministry. I am so grateful to him for encouraging me to get down on paper the ideas contained within :

"Dear XXX,

This is a great exchange.

I am, of course, dismayed by your own efforts just as you are at mine.

We do have some middle ground, of course! Just not much!

Here's what I would say to you, my friendly nemesis:
I find it disingenuous and inauthentic to intentionally dress down just to "get with the peeps." I don't see Martin Luther King leading his people in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals.
And I think it a most unfortunate choice to intentionally dress more shabbily to show solidarity with the poor, when in my opinion, it is both more authentic and more respectful to bust into a situation dressed to the nines on behalf of a woman or man who is tattered and unclean. It's my way of saying, "I've got a modicum of power here, and I'm going to use it on your behalf." I think that subverts the world order way more than if I showed up in jeans and a t-shirt, intentionally divesting myself of visible membership in the middle class just for the sake of visual solidarity with people I'm really NOT LIKE.

I don't like dishonesty and pretentiousness. I am not poor. I am, by virtue of my hard-working , dirt-poor, immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents, a highly educated, privileged woman who has some access to power. I deeply believe that to try to distance myself from that truth does dishonor to my immediate ancestors' suffering and sacrifices. Perhaps you have no such immediate experience with actual poverty in your family line. I think that if you did, you would worry less about wearing a suit and tie to the office (heavens, do minsiters really do that? Even PeaceBang doesn't think that's necessary!) and more about living fully into the power of your office. If we use our power the way Jesus bade us, we have no reason to be ashamed of it, to shy from it, or to masquerade as a powerless person.

I don't want to get to Heaven and have my Sophie and Max and A.J. and Minette and Charlie and Anna say to me, "We worked our fingers to the bone in this country so that you could become a somebody! We pushed a fruit cart, we lived in tenements, we worked in the coal mines. We went without so that you could go to school and get degrees and fight for our values and for the freedoms we believed in. We suffered and counted pennies so that you could worship God in freedom -- even to become a Christian! For this you schlepped around in dungarees and pretended you were poor? Oy gevalt!"

I'm glad to hear that you wear a tie on occasion, because I deeply believe that it actually hurts the little old ladies in your church when you dress like a slob. It insults them. That's what they're telling you by offering to buy you clothes. For that generation, your sandals and shorts are a sign of disrespect and hostility. I hope you can understand that. For them, you may as well get up in the pulpit and fart as attend important functions in jeans. It's a girl thing.
Would it kill you to put on a suit and tie for them now and then? They're paying your bills, aren't they? Don't they need to be reflected in your eyes as much as the poor man does? Aren't they poor and suffering in their own way? Of course they are. And yet you're intentionally distancing yourself from them, because it's more spiritually glamorous to focus on the itinerant laborers who come in "from time to time." What, your girls who are there ALL the time don't rate? See what I'm saying?

But this is the hardest thing I have yet to say, my friend:

In my opinion, the only clergy or religious leaders I can respect who dress like the poor ARE the poor. If you are willing to go to your governing board and request to be supported at poverty subsistence level because of your deep distrust of clergy privilege and your unwillingness to publicly identify as a person of means, then you've totally earned the right to walk around in jeans and a t-shirt.
But to collect a reasonable salary and to dress like the poor strikes me as ... well, let me just quote my ancestors on that one: OY gevalt.

Much love and thanks so much for writing,

Stay tuned, readers!! He writes back with more interesting clarifications and good arguments, and then I write back AGAIN!
Is this not HOT?


Anonymous Lisa said...


I have a question regarding your first response to Rev. Blue Jeans. What if you are a minister with great financial means, like a Joel Osteen or a T.D. Jakes. T.D. Jakes in particular comes to mind as I heard him in an interview defend his lavish dress and lifestyle. Creflo Dollar is another preacher who believes that God blesses the good with material wealth and there is nothing wrong with living within the means that God provides.

Don't you think a rich preacher living a lavish lifestyle can be at least "suspect" and at worst create a huge divide between her/himself and a congregation of regular folks?

If we go by your reasoning anyone who works hard and earns money should have no problem with wearing whatever clothing and accessories their wallet can comfortably handle. After all, the congregation is paying their salary so they expect their pastor to look good. What if the pastor is also making a mint from book sales and other speaking engagements? Should he/she dress only within the means of the congregation or do they get to include money from other things?

I don't think I'm in total agreement with Rev. Blue, but I do think you could be on a slippery slope.

5:09 PM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Dear Lisa,
"Lavish" and "Jesus" do not fit together. No way no how.

You're absolutely right to bring this up. I comfortable and regularly condemn the super-rich pastors among us for their hypocrisy and their ostentatious wealth. I believe they're so obviously living against Jesus' commandments as to be a shame and a fraud.

What I am advocating is not to pursue wealth so we can outfit ourselves extravagantly (or for any other reason except to earn a decent living and to finance good works), but to outfit ourselves with as much dignity and beauty as we can in order to visibly communicate how relevant, with-it, and essential the Church of today still is in all our lives.

Thanks for bringing this up.

6:14 PM  
Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

At some of the prosperity churches out there, the pastors have to look sharp or else the congregants will be unconvinced!

1:40 AM  

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