Oh, Christ. I mean Jesus Christ. As in, the actual Jesus Christ.
Jesus, could you please join me on stage here for a moment while we talk about the problem with this “I’m discovering my clergy identity and am so happy I can wear cool sweaters and not suits” article at The Christian Century?
Jesus and I are going to stand up here and just look at at our audience of ministers for awhile. Jesus is looking at his watch, because he has way more important things to do than to hang around a conversation about clergy image but I asked him to be here for moral support.
Jesus, I am really, really tired of people invoking You when they talk about how they make their decisions about how to dress themselves OVER TWO THOUSAND YEARS AFTER you walked among us in bodily form. Could you please hold my hand? You don’t have to say anything.
Jesus, you’re wearing a tunic and beat up sandals. You have never taken a shower in your life. You have never owned deodorant or had a professional haircut. You do not shave. You have never owned a tissue. Can you please explain to your people that they should STOP looking to you for guidance on attire? Like, can you PLEASE tell them that all your spiritual teachings are SPIRITUAL and that they should stop pretending we live in anything even remotely resembling the world you lived in?
You’re not going to say anything? You’re just going to stand there patiently in your tunic and let me say it?
Fine, then, I will. Yes, go get some coffee. It’s over there against the wall. No, I don’t want any, thank you. Don’t trip on the mic wires.
Katherine Willis Pershey starts her essay by describing her first years in ministry, when she wore an ugly, unflattering black suit and frumpy clothing that didn’t feel like her.
Yes, many of us can relate.
I can certainly relate!
It takes time to grow into our clergy identities and to develop a look that works for the multi-faceted work that we do.
However, my frustration with this article — and the many almost exactly like it — is that it stops at “Wow, I’m not someone who looks good in traditional suits” and concludes with what is actually a lazy analysis of how we should dress : namely, to express ourselves.
Jesus, can you please hit that buzzer? WRONG!
Dressing professionally for clergy isn’t merely a matter of individual comfort and preference and what makes us “feel like a million bucks.” Our responsibility as those who represent the Church and the ministry is dual: to our work first and to ourselves a very close second.
This means that we have to try harder and go deeper. First, where are we spending our time on any given day, and what do we need to communicate non-verbally while we’re there?
“I feel great” is not enough. “I am creative and interesting and fun” is fine to communicate if FIRST you have met your obligation to represent the church and the ministry appropriately.
Priorities, people. We have a fascist on the verge of becoming president of the United States. We have a man in the running for the highest office in the land who brags about committing sexual assault and getting away with it because of his celebrity. We have a potential Groper In Chief ascending to power — even if he is not elected, this cat is out of the bag — who is a proudly white supremacist, xenophobic aspirational dictator. He calls women pigs and commits wage theft against workers and brags about evading taxes and is generally contemptible, and PEOPLE LOVE HIM.
Some of them are in your congregations.
So seriously, you’re going to get dressed in the morning with no higher goal than to look like a cool, creative person?
No. Not acceptable. Find a suit that suits you. How dare any of us put our comfort before the necessity of looking like people whose perspective and moral authority matter in this nation?
Oh, and by the way? The guy who owns Anthropologie is a fundamentalist Christian who gives lots of money to causes that restrict our freedoms as women. Yea, their clothes are really cool, but he’s using our desire to look like a beautiful Bohemian soul to fund rightwing initiatives and policies that hurt people. You could say that most companies exploit humans in some way, but Anthropologie is so heavily marketed to liberal chicks, I like to inform them where their hard-earned money is going when they purchase those gorgeous peasant blouses and tough-sexy cowgirl prairie skirts.
Not owning a suit is nothing to brag about. What is says is that one willfully rejects the idea that she will be called upon to make a serious statement in the halls of power or anywhere where important people gather and do their business. It is irresponsible and self-marginalizing.
And we wonder why people smile indulgently at members of the clergy, shake our hands, use our titles with more respect for our former, rather than current, status in society, and promptly ignore our recommendations or admonitions.
Jesus, I’ve changed my mind. I’d like a cup of coffee after all. But could you turn it into wine?
Actually, could you turn it into bourbon?