Clergy Protests In Sackcloth And Ashes

Hi dolls,
We have arrived at Advent, thank God. Advent is about every BODY, and we can dig deep into the damaging separation of the spiritual and the incarnate and dismantle that nonsense. Do it, Church!!
Jesus had a post-menopausal pregnant auntie. His mom wasn’t sexually active. That’s plain language I used in the pulpit yesterday.

Side note: I also used the word “messy” to describe humanity, breaking my own rule not to employ irritating trendy terms. God, I am so tired of that word. Also: “broken.” “Broken” is so trendy it should be a drinking game. Take a shot every time the minister says “broken!” There are different Types of DUI Charges in Florida that one can look into in case there is a problem.

Today I want to take a look at effective sackcloth-wearing among protesting clergy, but before we do that, let’s talk about some images we’ve seen in the news lately of clergy who did not use sackcloth effectively and looked silly while trying to do important work.

For a symbol to be effective, it has to be employed artistically, with aesthetic consideration.
Slapping a wrinkly length of canvass around one’s neck, on top of a wrinkly chaplain’s stole over a dingy outfit just looks like maybe there’s something wrong with that person — like maybe they were burlap-wrapping a small azalea in their garden for the winter and wandered into a protest by accident.

I can’t find the image that prompted this reaction and it’s probably a good thing that I can’t, as I hate insulting well-meaning religious leaders. But really — it does not help anyone’s cause for justice and equity when advocaates appear on their behalf looking confused and possibly deranged.

The fact that the Trump Regime is making all of us feel deranged is not a persuasive argument for ambling around in public looking silly while trying to save lives. YOUR APPEARANCE AT A PROTEST IS A PHOTO OP, AND EVERY PHOTO OP IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO WIN OR LOSE AN ARGUMENT IN SECONDS WITH EVERY PERSON WHO SEES THAT PHOTO.

I’ll stop yelling now, but remember that the general public was not at the protest to hear the stirring pronouncements that the clergy spokespersons carefully prepared. They JUST SAW THE IMAGE.
They saw the image before they read the article with the stirring quotes, and in a split second they unconsciously decided whether or not the people in that photo had any real authority or moral credibility. That is how images work: bam, right to the viscera.

The clergy who appeared recently in Washington with big sheets of burlap around their shoulders did not put enough thought or effort into how to convey the sackcloth symbol. They should have partnered with artists to strategize how to make the burlap fall the right way, and how to move and coordinate their affect to make a powerful impact. What I saw instead was a few calm, resolved faces and a lot of sheepish self-consciousness.

Clergy are people of the Word. We need help in designing effective non-verbal communications.

Click on the images to enlarge and let’s have a look at some sackcloth protest moments that did work:

Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner speaks during a demonstration by Christian leaders opposing President Trump’s proposed budget at the U.S. Capitol on March 29, 2017.  RNS photo by Lauren Markoe
Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner speaks during a demonstration by Christian leaders opposing President Trump’s proposed budget at the U.S. Capitol on March 29, 2017. RNS photo by Lauren Markoe
Photo by Lauren Markoe

Here is the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner at the Capitol on March 29, 2017 with other religious leaders protesting Trump’s proposed budget cuts.

We all know what is happening right now with the tax bill, which I have described as a legislative pogrom. It is definitely a time for sackcloth, and these clergy are employing the symbol in a way that highlights, rather than undermines, their leadership charism. They made an artistic decision to cut the sackcloth in proportion to their attire, which makes clear that they are using the sackcloth AS a symbol, not pretending to actually don sackcloth in the ancient lamentation ritual. They are not confused about what they are doing and saying, and so it is much easier to trust them.

This next image, taken at the same event, conveys authority within a context of anger, moral disgust, and lamentation. These religious leaders have not traded away their own dignity in order to make a point and to create a visual and moral resonance between the time of the prophets and our own time. Well done.

Christian leaders protest the federal budget cuts President Trump has proposed during a demonstration outside the U.S. Capitol on March 29, 2017.  Photo courtesy of Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World
Christian leaders protest the federal budget cuts President Trump has proposed during a demonstration outside the U.S. Capitol on March 29, 2017. Photo courtesy of Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World

Photo by Joseph Molieri

If anyone has a photo of the use of sackcloth in public protests, I’d love to see them. Bang me back through the Contact form.

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