Thursday, August 17, 2006

So Then I Said (Part IV In A Series)

[This is how I last responded to Rev. Bluejeans:]

"Oh man, I should really be cleaning my office, but this is so great!
I wondered if you were a southern guy with roots in Appalachia, and it's nice to know that I was right. Not that it matters, but I think it makes it easier for us to talk.

I totally hear you on the whole first part of your post. You're not dressing down to "get with the peeps" but because it's more comfortable and you think neckties are nooses for men. Okay, but that wasn't your first argument to me.Your first argument wasn't based on that kind of Thoreauvian, "beware any enterprise that requires new clothes" philosophy at all, but was a rather clear statement that you dress casually as a visible sign of your commitment to liberationist theology.

To which I responded, basically, "Oh come on, middle class guy! Your wearing jeans does not make you closer to the poor! If you want to be in real solidarity with those who suffer poverty, take vows of poverty and walk the walk." I mean, we both know that Christian life certainly provides an easy opportunity for either of us to take up the Cross in that particular way.

But now the conversation has changed course. You say that it isn't so much dressing up for church or ministry that's the problem (because of your desire to remain approachable to less privileged folks), it's clothes themselves that are the problem. You don't like them, you see them as tools of oppression. You don't want to have to wiggle into a suit and tie.I get that.

And to that, I would say Yes, yes, yes. Sure. I don't love heels, either. However, I don't see clothes as the problem -- I see the attitudes that we take on with our choice of clothing and grooming as the bigger problem.

I see a lot of clergy people claiming that dressing like a slob makes them more approachable when actually, it makes them more 'approachable' only to those it's more spiritually glamorous to respond to. That's what I find disingenuous, lazy, inauthentic and pretentious -- and it's not good or loving ministry. I'm glad you're not succumbing to that particular sin. I think it's sheer B.S., and again, I point to the example of the Black Civil Rights activists as my example of how to dress for a revolution.

(Yes, I believe I did just coin that expression, 'spiritually glamorous')

I guess my final point, though, is to say that throughout all of human history, human beings have adorned themselves in their finest garb to meet the sacred moments of their lives, and I dig that. No matter how limited their means, humans in all cultures have contrived to come before their God in as beautiful condition as possible, saving sackcloth and ashes for times of penitence and grief.

To me, dressing well (at whatever cost, whether $30 or $300) says, 'This is the day the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.' In other words, by dressing beautifully (especially on the Sabbath), we are arraying ourselves not just in finery, but in hope, in gratitude, in dignity, and in respect. When I put care and intention into my dressing in the morning, it is a way of thanking God for this life and for this vehicle that I will adorn with care before going out to do God's work in the world.

I think that you get dressed in the morning with a very different attitude. I am guessing that you get dressed in the morning thinking, 'How can I dress today so as to seem brother and kin to every human being that walks this Earth, no matter how humble his or her means?'I think that's a beautiful Christian sentiment, I just don't think it works as a public message about ministry. Certainly it doesn't work for some of the elder ladies in your congregation.

I suggest that just as clergy should be bi or tri-lingual verbally, so should we be sartorially flexible. Obviously, I wouldn't go work at a shelter in a suit and heels, but I might go in a sweater and nice jeans. On the other hand, I wouldn't go on a hospital visit in shorts and a t-shirt, because that would communicate something I don't want to communicate to a respected elder. And I wouldn't preach barefoot 'just to make a point,' because I think the only 'point' one can make by preaching barefoot is 'I know how to take off my shoes.'

If Adam and Eve had had Prada and Armani to wear in that first moment they realized that they were conscious, that they had consciences, that they were responsible for their choices, and they lived in God's world, I think they would have decked themselves out in it. That fig leaf was their way of saying, 'Whoa, we get it. We have just been made aware of who we are and Whose we are. We'd better get dressed up.'

Cheers again!PB"


Anonymous Sarah said...

PB my dear, one of the reasons that the Civil Rights movement was successful was because there was room for people dressed in all kinds of ways. See
for a picture of Bob Moses, who marched alongside MLK Jr. As I understand it, Moses always wore overalls out of solidarity with the poor southern black farmer.

Just like the Civil Rights Movement involved people who effectively dressed in a variety of ways, I think the ministry can too. Intentionality is key.

(BTW Bob Moses just got an honorary degree from Harvard.)

1:18 AM  
Blogger Chelle said...

While I understand what you are saying about members of the movement and their clothes, the movement was successful because they felt they had a true calling and they never forgot it.

I know that what I just said has nothing to do with clothes and fashion, but that was on my heart.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...


I totally agree with you!

A true calling shines through all kinds of clothes. It radiates from a person. I think there are some clothes that can get in the way of that shine, and some that can facilitate its radiance well. But that's really secondary (even tertiary) to the most fundamental important stuff that makes one effective in the world. It's what's inside that counts most.

2:58 PM  

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