Words Fail Me

I am sitting here on this night when all the Hell of this despicable, corrupt, understaffed administration has broken loose — or looser? — and I am aware that my mind is a fuzz of nervous energy and questions.

I am on sabbatical and therefore do not have to say anything on Sunday about Iran, Australia, Puerto Rico or any local issue, pastoral situation or anything else.

All I can say from this vantage point of two months away from the pulpit is that you are all f***ing heroes for getting into that pulpit or up on that bimah or sitting with your sangha or gathering your circle and having to have something to say about which you have prayed, thought, considered, discussed with colleagues, and wrung your hands over.

My body, mind and soul are slowly decompressing over this period of blessed rest (I mean, I’m busy, I’m reading, I’m learning, I’m traveling, I’m working on a book, but I’m doing it at a gentle pace and relieved of all pastoral and preaching duties). I am realizing how much psychic strain we carry in the responsibility of preaching: the sermonic mind ALWAYS whirring, the obligation of forever delving into sacred and secular texts seeking a Word to give to our people… the creative pressure of crafting a powerful liturgy. The showing up.

So tonight, no tips on how to show up, no admonition to shine your shoes and give yourself a facial or please get that floppy, huge suit jacket tailored for God’s sake. Just my solidarity and gratitude and amazement for you, for my colleagues, for those who have humbly consented to respond to the call to be the ones who have Something To Say about all of this. And it’s not just “something;” it is something in conversation with ancient tradition, it is learned analysis of eternal truths and contemporary complexities, it is something said in love and it is something said from the heart and not just the head.

Bless you. Take care of yourselves. May Holy Wisdom be with you in ways you can easily sense and rely upon.

Showing Up For Reproductive Rights: Halo Of Praise

Good God, these are important times to show up looking sharp, polished and ready to speak truth to power. Here is the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh speaking at a #StopTheBans rally in San Diego last Saturday, sponsored by people connected to the Women’s March. Rev. Sarah was one of about twelve speakers and she was one of two faith leaders.

Please click to enlarge the photos and we’ll see what works here.

My first impression is one of strength. Sarah’s architectural glasses make a strong statement: they are mature and stylish. Every one of us who wears specs should have a no-nonsense pair that we can bring out for occasions like this when our fun-wacky-I’m-a-colorful-personality cat eyes and sparkly purple don’t lend enough gravitas. With specs available now for less than $100 I am going to stick to my gubs* on this. It is too easy to be dismissed as a Crazy Cat Lady by our ideological enemies (and even plenty of friends who have immediate associations of cat eye glasses with archetypes of eccentric ladies). Don’t give anyone easy ways to discount your presence and message.

Sarah has smoothed her very curly hair back from her face (THANK YOU) and her passionate facial expressions, strong stance and emphatic gesticulation all undergird her spoken word.
USE YOUR WHOLE SELF in delivering your message!!! From your podium, from your wheelchair, from your seat behind a table or standing at a pulpit, never ever ever think that your work of preparation is complete when you print out the paper or upload your doc to your iPad. Imagine yourself delivering your statement. REHEARSE it. Bring your body into it. You are not just a talking head!

Sarah has naturally bold brows but many of us don’t, and I want you to notice how much they do to frame her face and convey her expressions. Fill in your brows! They’re so helpful in communicating your emotions to the back of the house.

Hands: Sarah is using hers, and she has a clean manicure. It matters. Make sure you get rid of the chipped polish or the Hello Kitty or Wonder Woman Band-Aid.

Now: attire. This is the simple, tailored, really great black suit I have urged all of you to make sure you have in . your closet ready to go for occasions like this. This is why: when legislators succeed in stripping women of their reproductive rights and we know exactly what kind of horrible consequences that will have, and we know that some of those consequences involve death, WE ARE AT A FUNERAL. We must communicate with our attire that we understand where these right wing machinations are leading (and have already led). This is not an occasion for floral skirts or cute dresses or (shudder) slogan Tshirts. This is a time of utmost formality and severity. Sarah has dark hair and so I love her choice of the royal blue clericals. Black would have gotten lost, and the rich blue looks beautiful andworks with her coloring. I often see clergy wearing colorful clerics that seem to be chosen strictly because that person likes that shade of Crayola, and their face is entirely washed out or upstaged by the hue. The color of your clericals should be strategic and work for the occasion, for your clerical status (don’t wear purple clericals in an ecumenical setting if you’re not a bishop), and with your hair and complexion.

Although I go back and forth about her wearing all of those buttons and badges, one thing I did like a lot was the way Sarah has arranged them in a manner that echoes military decorations, which I am sure wasn’t intentional but was immediately effective. I thought, “Oooh, she’s addressing the troops for battle!” I was ready to fight.

Now: image management. If someone takes a bunch of photos of you at a rally and you have the opportunity to choose one or two to share publicly or use on the website or whatnot, choose the strong images. This is the only one of the terrific batch Sarah’s husband took where she looks pulled back and tentative:

You manage your own public image. Scrutinize what goes out whenever possible and only approve the best!

I do not comment on content but I thought some of you might wonder what Sarah said. Here is the full text. We may all be called upon to craft statements like this in coming days. Be prepared.

*I knew if I said “stick to my guns,” some tiresome scold would tell me they were offended that I used militaristic imagery so I did an end run around you, Tiresome Scold! Are football references okay or would you like to further strip language of interesting metaphors?”

Good morning. I’m Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh and I’m here as a minister, a woman, a mother, a feminist, and an advocate for justice.

Why am I up here? Because I represent a religious denomination that is unequivocally pro-woman, pro-transgender people, pro-sexuality education, pro-contraception and pro-choice. I am a Unitarian Universalist minister, and we have been advocating for safe, legal abortion since long before Roe vs. Wade.

Here’s something that may surprise you: most people of faith in this country are pro-choice. I’ll say that again. Most people of faith in this country are pro-choice. And you know something? We are pro-choice because our morality compels us so.

Mine starts here: Life is sacred. Your life is sacred. Adrian’s life is sacred. The lives of the children and families waiting to cross that border [point south] are sacred. The lives of the people in Iran and Venezuela, Israel/Palestine, and Yemen are sacred.

The lives of the person, or the couple, facing a difficult reproductive decision: their lives are sacred. And because their lives are sacred, we are called to do all we can to protect their life and their well-being. The lives of the born. The lives of the living. They matter profoundly! The lives of people who have a conscience, who are struggling with their conscience to figure out what to do with a pregnancy. They are sacred! We owe it to them to offer honest, scientifically-accurate information about the choices they can make. We owe it to them to offer excellent pre-natal care, paid family leave, and affordable child care should they choose to carry a pregnancy, and we owe it to them to offer safe, legal abortion services should they choose not to carry a pregnancy. We owe it to them to uphold their rights, their dignity, and their own responsibility to guide their lives.

Abortion is a moral choice because, as clergy of many faiths said together in a 2005 open letter, we best uphold the sanctity of human life by assuring that life is not created carelessly. “It is precisely because life and parenthood are so precious that no woman [person with a uterus] should be coerced to carry a pregnancy….”

And it’s about so much more than abortion. It’s ultimately about justice.

The reproductive justice I support “envisions the liberation of people of all genders, sexual orientations, abilities, gender identities, ages, classes, and cultural and racial identities.” Reproductive justice is rooted in the experience of women of color, who recognize that “liberation requires not only accurate information about sexuality and reproduction and control of personal reproductive decisions, but also living wages, safe and supported housing, high quality and comprehensive medical and reproductive health care, access to voting and the political process, affordable legal representation, fair immigration policies, paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and the absence of individual and institutional violence.” (Unitarian Universalist Association Statement of Conscience, 2015) That’s morality!

I want to lead you in a chant. I say, “What’s Really Moral?” You say, “Reproductive JUSTICE!”

What’s really moral?
Reproductive JUSTICE!
What’s really moral?
Reproductive JUSTICE!
What’s really moral?
Reproductive JUSTICE!

Rooted in my religious commitment to love my neighbor, work for justice, and care for those in need, I, and the many, many faith leaders who are with us, commit to fighting these harmful bans. May love and justice win!

A Halo of Praise and a deep thanks to my dear colleague, the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspraugh for her work, her witness and her fabulosity.

Halo Of Praise: Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney Giving The Schooler Lecture

As you create and learn to own your image, think beyond the merely serviceable (suit, skirt and blazer with One Obligatory Accessory) to curating a closet of garments that you love and with which you actually feel a connection.
It will change something ineffable about your presence, and all for the good.

Click to enlarge image

Here is the Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, Professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School and author of Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction To The Woman Of The Torah and Of The Throne (Westminster) (among others), who does a lot of preaching, teaching and speaking gigs. I love following Wil’s looks because she loves and cares about clothes and invests in wonderful pieces through which I get a vicarious thrill.

Here is Dr. Wil giving the Schooler Lecture at Ohio at “Methesco” (Methodist Theological School in Ohio). I love the green against the natural wood– it all feels so organic and warm. Wil scored the green duster at a haute couture consignment shop and styled it as a wrap dress. It’s a substantial jersey fabric which gives it a rich, luxe feel and look. She paired it with a silk paisley scarf — and being paisely obsessed myself, I was thrilled to learn (from Wil) that paisley is an ancient representation of paradise in Muslim art. Now, we haven’t researched this so if you know more, please do tell.

Bold red lip in either Kat Von D or Sephora brand long-lasting lipcolor, and Wil also recommends Fenty lipstick for a nice red. And I’m sorry that you and I will never have hair this awesome but that’s life and God does not bestow hair blessings equally upon us all.

Peep the green onyx ring, too:


Beautiful Stoles by Jeff Wunrow

Hey everyone,

I found liturgical artist Jeff Wunrow on Etsy.com and fell in love with his work. Click on images to enlarge.

I ordered a stole last week and asked if it was possible to get it shipped out pronto for this weekend and the person who received my request was super accomodating. She hemmed and shipped my stole right away and tracked the package, which didn’t go out for some reason (I suspect it was storm-related). Even though I assured her that it was fine and not to worry, she insisted on preparing another stole and shipping it overnight.

That’s a really impressive commitment to customer service and I really appreciate it.

Have any of you ever worn a protest stole with a graphic like that? I think it’s powerful. I would like to discuss the appropriateness of a white person wearing that image, though. Is it a sign of solidarity or is it appropriation? I would particularly hearing from clergy of color on this.

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.