A recent social interaction reminded me that we need to talk about glad-handing. Pull up a chair and let’s dish.

All clergy need to know how to work the room. It’s a basic and necessary skill unless you’re working in a silent monastic order, in which case you can occasionally glance at people and smile and you’re all set for your social obligations.
No introvert whining, either, it’s hard for all of us!

Do you have a story about being so drained of energy after a worship service or funeral that you stood around the reception or coffee hour unsmiling — and instantly that very day got a reputation as being “low energy” or “cold?” It happens just that fast, kids. I wish the world was a kinder place and that we wouldn’t be judged and projected upon (eg, “I don’t think he likes me” about the pastor who missed the social cue and failed to greet someone warmly), but that is la vie en rev.

(I know of a preacher who, when done with her sermon, was known to sit on the chancel with a dead expression on her face. I know it cost her a lot of support in the congregation. It may be that she was just tired but her parishioners felt that she checked out after “her” part of the worship service was concluded. I so wish I could have consulted with this very fine minister. She may have had health issues and been in physical pain after preaching. Who knows? But someone could have coached her, is my point. It’s not a game but we do have to have game faces.)

As far as social spaces and clergy go, there is networking/greeting and there is glad-handing. Don’t be a glad-hander!!!!
The difference between the two is how you center yourself (or not) in the interaction. Greeting is gracious. It doesn’t interrupt, but joins in. It feels warm and welcoming. The person or persons being greeted feel seen.
Glad-handing is invasive, smarmy, barges in on conversations with great self-importance, and makes everyone feel that they have been checked off a list. It makes me stabby.

Here’s a strategy in case you’re suffering an attack of confidence and you want to know, PeaceBang, how can I network well and not be a glad-handing smarm factory?
Approach the person or persons you want to greet strategically as you would a game of street jump rope. Stand to the side and listen to the conversation for a second or two, and beat it if it seems you have come upon an intimate or intense exchange. Scram. Put an egg in your shoe and beat it. However, if the conversation seems to be of general interest, HOLD YOUR DAMNED HORSES until there is a natural place in the flow of conversation for you to jump in and say, “I don’t want to interrupt, but I just wanted to say hi/give you my card/ask you for a donation/tell you about my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Don’t do the conversational equivalent of running straight into the rope while someone else is jumping and sending the whole game crashing to the pavement. Someone did that to me in the middle of a precious conversation the other day and it was count-to-ten time for me. It was what amorous parents must feel when they finally get some sexy time alone and a five year old busts through the door going, “MOMMY! I MADE A DOODY!”

Oh, and by the time you utter the obligatory “I don’t want to interrupt,” you have interrupted. Try not to interrupt and if you do, sincerely apologize. I am a strong extrovert who tries very hard to follow my own advice but I’m pretty sure I accidentally interrupt all the time. I never was any good at street jump rope (but I was awesome at Chinese jump rope).

Another pro tip for these potentially awkward encounters: never assume that anyone remembers you. Do not buttonhole someone you feel certain knows who you are and to what you are referring and launch into a pitch. “We exchanged e-mails seven weeks ago” or even “I left you a voice mail at the office” doesn’t require anyone to identify you… and no one listens to voice mails any more, I’ve got news for you. Re-introduce yourself and exchange some pleasantries before referencing the thing that you really hope that person will do for you.

Them: “Hi, I sent you that packet about the thing about the event so can you give a bucket of money/write a chapter by noon next Wednesday that falls on a full moon?

Me: What packet? What thing? Who are you?

Them: “Hi Victoria, how have you been? I’m Smathers Smith, we met six years ago at the Bloody Noses Clergy Support Group. I don’t know if you remember receiving a packet from me about a week ago about my organization Global Bloody Noses, but I was wondering if you did, and if you have a few minutes I’d love to talk to you about doing a presentation for our New England Bloody Nose Conference.

Me: Oh, hi, Slathers! It’s great to see you!
I haven’t seen the packet, do you have a website? Thank you for the invitation, I’d like to be able to do it if I can. Would you like a bucket of money?

So hey, keep it unsmarmy and let’s all make it our goals to work our various rooms without engendering homicidal feelings among those with whom we’d like to connect. Good luck out there. Lots of nerves on edge. Give people space.

Power Grab: Handshakes And Hugs

Ohhh, is PeaceBang having fun analyzing these videos of (Not My) President Donald Trump making Alpha Male power moves on other world leaders.

Check this out, and come back here when you’re done so we can talk.

Let’s talk about dominance, children, and how you need to be savvy about how it works in ministry.

You may be loved. You may be admired as a holy person. You may be respected as someone who represents God in the world. Regardless of all that, you are going to get into power plays with people who either consciously or unconsciously want to show you that though they may respect you as their pastor, they’re going to p’own you on the field of wordly power and influence, say, the mission budget or the new building initiative.

Be ye wise as serpents and gentle as Jackie Chan. You may not be able to muster a power handgrip, but you need to be able to exude strength through direct and steady gaze, taking control of how people touch you, and where you are positioned in a room.

Every minister should know how to enter a room and greet people as a leader. If you don’t know how to properly shake a hand, give a seance and invite my Dad, who actually tutored all of his children on how to do this, and HE MADE US PRACTICE with him. I am so glad he did even though at the time it felt totally Captain Von Trappish of him to drill us this way.
The gist of it is that you put your whole hand in the other person’s — don’t just offer up the ends of limp fingers — and you firmly enclose their hand in yours so that you’re really clasping hands for a good long moment. You shake a few times with confidence, but not too hard, then open your hand while pulling back your arm to your side. Never crush the hand, and err on the side of gentleness without being faint.

If there is some reason to not shake hands (wet hands, cookie batter on your fingers, sickness), I like to make a light comment about that and mime shaking while smiling.

You need to take a strong and aware position going into a handshake so that you are never coerced into holding someone’s hand for an inappropriately long length of time (let’s call this The Trump Maneuver), so that you can offer a consoling pat on the hand with your other hand when necessary, so that you can quickly body block a hug, or so that you can help steady a fragile person who may need that physical support as much as your greeting. You need to be observant of body language and dynamics so you can lean in closer or bend down at the waist to those who need that and resist intrusion by those who are trying to belittle or dominate you. A very effective way of avoiding being crushed in a hug by someone whose size is dominating (which has nothing to do with their intentions or personality — it’s just a function of physicality) is to reach out your arm and slip under them for a kind of side squeeze. If shaking hands, take your left hand and give them a friendly pat or touch on the shoulder. It will put some space between you and you won’t get lipstick all over their tie.

I have more than once taken a step back, raised my arm at the elbow and used the flat of my palm to push someone’s hand away from touching my hair or clothing. Sometimes people have done this without thinking, and I just smile and gently press their hand away with mine, while smiling so they don’t feel attacked. To reassert my personal boundaries, I hold that person’s hand for a bit both to impart warmth and to make sure they don’t feel slapped away. I smile at them as if we share a funny secret which we actually do. That secret is, “Ooops, you forgot that I wasn’t your daughter and thought you could touch my face and that was a little awkward!” Or the secret might be, “You thought it was okay to put your arm around me while we’re giving this important talk, and I gracefully evaded your embrace, and now I have demonstrated that I can both think on my feet and protect myself from your sexist maneuvers and we both know it. Don’t try it again, honcho.”

Most of the time, folks are not conscious with their bodies and gestures. You be, though. And don’t ever break eye contact.

Incarnation Is God’s Love Language

Hello, darlings,

I feel like I am coming out of a fog of shock and rage, a fog of soul dismay.

Don’t get me wrong, I still feel a constant sense of foreboding. I still feel a steady sense of horror and disgust. Any thinking American who is paying attention hears this drumbeat, so I know I am not alone.

But I am finding my footing, recalibrating. And it is Advent, thank God, so I am also connected to the mystery of incarnation.

Which means that I am remembering that my own body is made of God’s love and that someone precious to God lives in it.

In these weeks following the election, my skin care regime went from wash, exfoliate, protect, moisturize, dab on eye cream to “quick wipe with a cleansing cloth.” My dental hygiene went from floss and brush and wear nightguard to “wait, did I brush my teeth this morning?” My diet was “What time is it and oh yea, there’s some danish over there at the meeting I will stuff some in my face because I’m not sure I’ve even eaten at all today.” My refrigerator was a collection of abandoned leftovers and take-out cartons. I hardly looked a green vegetable in the eye.

How about you?
A dear friend said she had “taken up smoking” again, and I admitted that I too had smoked my first cigarette in 15? – 19? years recently myself.
I’m not going to start smoking. But it’s shocking that I even had one cigarette.

Put the oxygen mask over your own face first.
You may feel like a wild-eyed prophet in the desert, but please do not look like one. Get to a barber.
Get your blazers and suits to the dry cleaner.
Buy some dry shampoo so you can touch up flat roots.
Bravely apply your lipstick so you do not reveal to the enemies of the poor that you are as defeated and bloodless as you sometimes feel.
This is going to be a great endeavor, and we must not allow our bodies to break down or appear to be breaking down in the struggle.

Put on your armor of beauty, polish, poise and decorum.
We are entering a long season of witness to God’s grandeur and the dignity of ALL people.
Let those of us who affirm the dignity of all people ourselves be dignified.

This struggle will be played out in front of cameras, my dear colleagues.
You take care of you so you can rise to the occasion. Shall we?

What Not To Wear To The Vigil

I sort of interrupted myself here, but what I meant to say was, “I don’t want to be overly formal (or die of heatstroke) in a suit, and I want to communicate clergy but respectful, and I don’t want to be cutesy.”
A sleeveless floral sundress not only looks ridiculous with clericals (a totally bizarre clash of formality and professionalism and extreme informality), but it is never, ever acceptable to attend a remembrance of the dead with bare arms.

It doesn’t matter if you think it’s fine, or it’s so hot, bla bla excuses. As always, this isn’t about you and your sense of what is okay. It’s about tradition and decorum and how you represent the office of minister among those who turn to the Church for solace, solidarity and meaning in all life’s travails.

It is also extremely problematic for a white woman to show up at a Black church dressed so improperly. Good intentions are not enough. Check your privilege.

Also: close-toed shoes for funerals and vigils. Always. Always, always.

Thus spaketh PeaceBang. She will stand firm with this one, or sit firmly, gently swatting at herself with a funeral parlor fan and tranquilly sweating through her cotton bike shorts and layers of cornstarch powder.

I wore all black to the vigil. This less austere outfit was for yesterday’s Implicit Bias workshop with our local police department.

Awesomely Luvvie On George Bush’s Total Decorum Fail

Dearest dearlings, I really hope you know all about Awesomely Luvvie and follow her every hilarious word and observation because she is one of the best writers out there today. Witty as hell and ON POINT, with a much-needed Black woman’s perspective. She will TELL IT LIKE IT IS and you will need to wear Depends while reading her tell it.

Like this post on the ridiculousness of extreme kitten heels, with which I cannot argue.

And this roll-around-holding-your-sides guffawing and wiping tears out of your eyes but also gasping “Oh no, oh my god, no he did not do that at a funeral” spot-on indictment of former President George W. Bush’s bizarre failure of decorum at the Dallas Memorial Service.

This woman can turn a phrase like nobody else and I stand in awe of her. “Couth-deficient and simple as a broken rope.”

I have nothing further to add. WHAT IS THIS BEHAVIOR.
Honest question: was he drunk?