Thursday, August 17, 2006

PeaceBang's Friendly Nemesis (Part I In a Series)

This is wonderful.

This is just what I had hoped for.

I have just received a thoughtful, very considerate letter from a minister who believes exactly the opposite that I do, and who is working at absolute cross-purposes with me. This gives us an opportunity to delve back into some of the deeper issues around ministerial power, and for that I am immensely grateful to the author of this missive. He can wear jeans to my church any time.

He wrote me off-line with these words,

"I have to admit that I read your blog with much dismay. You see, you and I are fighting on different sides of the same war. While you advocate for a more finely honed fashion sense among the clergy, I advocate for quite the opposite.

In my 4 years of ministry so far, I have made it my mission to dress as casually as possible at all times. This means jeans and chaco sandals in the summers (haven't been able to get away with shorts, yet), and jeans and my beloved Birkenstock clogs in the winter. On Sundays, and for hospital visits, I break out the khakis and dressy shoes. When I preach I wear a tie (but no coat). I fully intend to someday preach a sermon barefoot, just to make a point.

I have spent 4 years being accosted by a small army of old church ladies who have asked me whether I own a suit and tie, whether I would like Santa to bring me one, and whether they might take up a collection to buy me some clothes. My reply is always the same: I have a closet full of ties. I have suits and coats. I have nicer, dressy shoes. The problem is not that of poverty or apathy.
My dear PeaceBang, I am on a crusade which is at cross purposes with yours: I seek the dressing-down of the clergy.

This attitude is rooted in a deep Protestant priesthood-of-all-believers ethic, a deep Stone-Campbell movement distrust of clerical privilege, and a deep liberation theology affection for the poor and oppressed. Simply put, I think that clothes are our culture's primary marker of wealth and status, and the tradition of dressing up for church is the most insidious development since Judas went to the authorities.

When we dress nicely, we alienate everybody who is not in our club. Just yesterday, I encountered 4 men who came to our church from off the street. One is an unemployed bipolar man who comes for counseling from time to time. The other three were itinerant laborers who were grimy, dressed in work clothes, smelled bad, and needed a meal. I, in my jeans and nice shirt, was obviously more wealthy than any of them. But in my jeans and shirt, I was approachable. In a suit and tie (standard ministerial issue), would the doors of our church or my office have been as open?

I don't mean to make this so melodramatic. But it is something I feel quite strongly about. I can also tell that you feel as strongly about your position, so my aim is not to convince so much as to exchange ideas. So there you have it. You have met your opposite."

And he closes with very nice words of appreciation for this blog.

Before I lay my entire response on you, let me point out a few things:
He wears a tie to preach in. Bravo.
He hasn't reverted to shorts yet. Thank the gods.
He has a closet full of ties and he owns a few suits and good shoes. Good. I hope he'll decide to wear them more often.
And finally, he has given a lot of thought to his sartorial choices and has put a solid theological foundation beneath them. That's much more than I can say for some of our sloppy colleagues, whose justification for looking like a mess goes something like this:
"But I'm not comfortable in a button-down shirt and closed-toe shoes!"

Stay tuned for my full response to our jeans-clad friend.

6 Comments:

Blogger Pastor Laura said...

I wanted to make this very important comment about geography and clergy attire. I have found that attire differs depending on location of the church you are at. For example, when I was in Boston at seminary, I would never would have been caught dead at my internship church in anything other than a skirt and blouse (on Sunday's), or trousers and a sweater (on weekdays). When I was an associate pastor in Eugene, Oregon, I was a children's pastor mainly, and yes, I did wear jeans and a t-shirts for VBS and for trips to the local put-put. But I always dressed for the occasion: if I was working with kids or youth I wore jeans and t-shirts, if I was working with adults or on Sunday's it was skirts and trousers. And, I find myself doing the same thing now. I live in rural Idaho, where my congregation members expect, if I come visit their farm during the growing/harvest season, to come and tromp around in their fields with them. I wonder, what would PeaceBang have to say about my grubby mud-shoes, jeans (albeit dark, fashionable, and sliming), and t-shirts (nice, clean, and not stained) when I go to visit them? (I do wear skirts & trousers too). Surely PeaceBang does not expect me to tromp around in my favorite 3 inch hot pink mary-janes and a skirt? So, perhaps your nemesis lives in a different geographic region than you?

4:31 PM  
Blogger PeaceBang said...

Pastor Laura, although it makes me giggle to imagine you in hot pink Mary Janes in ANY form of ministry (do you really have some?? Can I borrow them?), I must say that the better part of fashion is intelligence and paying attention.

If you're going to tromp around the farm, for heaven's sake, wear the boots. Just clean off the caked mud *before* you go and get 'em muddy while you're there. Under those circumstances, that's the sign of respect we're looking for.

Geography *is* hugely important in this conversation between me and Rev. JeansBang. I live near Boston and he's in North Carolina.

6:20 PM  
Blogger Daren said...

On my candidating weekend in a BC, Canada church I wore a jacket with a pullover shirt and no tie. I thought I was dangerously casual for what was effectively a job try-out.

After the service a member of the church sidled up to me and said "Lose the jacket." I do, sometimes, but every now and then to mess with thier heads I wear a suit and tie.

You can always tell the visitors n our services- they looko great next to us slobs.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Chelle said...

I've been thinking and rethinking my response to this original volley by Rev. Blue Jeans.

And I can't help it.....I am be-yond horrified.

Saints forgive me for being so judgemental and regimental, but if I were visiting Rev. BlueJean's church and he came out barefoot; unless his sermon was about Jesus and the anointing of his feet, I would get up and leave and never darken that church's door again. And would tell everybody I knew that there was a minister out there who didn't have enough respect, not only for himself and the God he is supposed to represent, but also not for those who might be new to the community or for those who believe that ministers are PROFESSIONALS and should look it.

Church IS different. It is not Sunday afternoon in the park with George. It is supposed to be about communing with the holy and sacred. Doesn't it merit looking your best? Or at least more than you would give to the local little league team?

As a Stone-Campbellite (I grew up Church of Christ), I would like to point out that not all of us have a distrust of clerical privilege.

If how one dresses is a signal of one's economic class (and I'm not denying that that is partially true), why is it that those who are in the lower socio-economic classes tend to dress better for church than those in higher socio-economic classes?

5:23 PM  
Blogger aBhantiarna Solas said...

I'm not sure it matters what one wears, as long as it is neat, tidy and clean. The most important thing is that one fits in with one's congregation. That one's overall appearance is put together, and not flustered. It would set Pastor Laura apart from her congregation for her minister in business suits and dress shoes, but that might be considered the dress of the day at a church in suburban Washington DC (for example).

As far as shoes making the moment holy, I seem to recall that Moses was asked to remove his sandals because the ground he was about to walk on was sacred! So it would seem that barefoot and bareheaded, denotes an attitude of humility before God. Just something to think about ...

Very nice series ...

11:36 PM  
Anonymous eric said...

Rev. Jeans here.

I appreciate what abhantiarna says...if Sunday (or Friday or Saturday or whatever) worship is really about approaching the holy, then that goes a long way toward explaining the WIDELY divergant attitudes toward it.

Some respond to the experience of the holy by wearing their finest clothing. Presentability and a certain put-togetherness are the only possible response to God.

Others respond to the experience of the holy with the barefoot/sackcloth/ashes approach, recognizing that fine clothes are unlikely to impress God, and humility is the only reasonable approach.

Still others respond to the experience of the holy by approaching God just as they are, with no pretenses toward put-togetherness or humility. I am of this group. I don't see why I should change anything about my clothing simply because I am entering into an experience of God. What, God doesn't know what I wear all the other times? And does God really care?

That 3rd attitude is the impetus for the barefoot sermon idea. Preaching barefoot is a grave transgression of tradition and protocol. It illuminates our various attitudes about "proper" church attire, and exposes as utterly ludicrous the central tenet of them all: that God could possibly care about our footwear.

A note for Chelle: I don't mean to imply that distrust of clerical privilege is part of the Stone-Campbellite creed or anything (Stone-Campbellites realize that I just made a Stone-Campbellite joke). I just wanted to say that I am a part of that particular stream of of the Stone-Campbell movement which distrusts clerical authority, which is a fairly large part of the movement. But certainly not all.

11:47 AM  

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