What To Wear To The Protest

It’s hot.
You need to walk, or to be outdoors, for hours.
You need also to be dignified and not look like a wacky hippie no one needs to take seriously.

WE LIVE IN A VISUAL AGE. Remember that.
No matter how stirring your rhetoric or how burning your passion for justice, this is about image.
As you well know, one image of a child weeping for his mother has been more powerful than a thousand editorials decrying the Trump regime’s cruel policies.

You are part of that story as it is being told and reported.
We will be out a lot this summer, I suspect.
Get an elegant sunhat.
Groom your hair, your skin, your clothing, your visible legs (if they are visible), your feet.
Being out of doors does not automatically grant any of us permission to look like we’re on a camping trip just because we’re exposed to the elements.

No whining.
Dr. King marched in a suit. No one is asking you to wear a suit.
No one is telling you to march in heels and cocktail dresses, although it has been done and you won’t die.
No one is asking that you wear petticoats and corsets, although that too has been done.

Do not throw together a bunch of floppy, patterned garments, put a stole over those and consider yourself ready to represent moral authority. Your stole does not miraculously bestow dignity upon the wearer: trim your beard, wash your hair, put it back or cover it neatly. Cotton pants are better than shorts for protecting your legs from the sun: consider white linen or cotton pants.
Bras need to fit. Yes, no one likes foundation garments in the summer but they’re mandatory for those who want to look professional.

It is true that fannypacks are back in fashion, sort of, so make that work for you. However, check that the belt around your waist isn’t hiking up your skirt or making a mess of your shirt or blouse. Stick to neutral colors.

Please consider the tone and gravitas of your selfies: are you there as a social event, to self-promote, or to keep the focus on the victims of injustice? I’m not saying you can’t have fun or be joyful, but it is jarring to compare the suffering of the vulnerable with the “WOOT WOOT LOOKIT ME/US” images splashed across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Virtue-signaling is a real thing and it’s not a good look on anyone. I personally don’t need to see the tonsils or up the nose of any self-congratulatory white liberals “WOOTING” into their cameras on social media today. Call me cranky. I want us to have an impact.

Stay hydrated.
Participate however you can – marching is just one way.

Whatever you do, don’t stop with today. We must continue to engage and to equip and mobilize ourselves and others for action.

And yes, I meant what I said about fannypacks (hat tip to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg for confirming the terrible truth about the Return Of The Fannypack).

The Fine Line Between Warm Granny Librarian and Crazy Cat Lady

This collar makes me look like Ruth Bader Ginsberg (not a bad thing!) and the flowery readers PLUS the flowery sweater equals Crazy Lady:

I shall swap them out for a plain pair today:

Still purple so still a bit much, but I think it’ll do.

My center pair and pulled-back hair is VERY archetypal granny, which I do not want to convey, so there’s a bit of a kick-flip of hair in the back and I hope the silver hoops will also add a mitigating touch. Pearls would bring this look into “HI GRANNY CAN I HAVE SOME CANDY” territory. There’s nothing wrong with a granny-librarian ensemble but it should be a wink to the archetype, not a costume.

Traveling To A Candidating Weekend

Congratulations for getting an invitation from the Search Committee to meet with them and talk about the possibility of ministry with their congregation!

If they are picking you up from the airport, your first impression begins the moment you get off the plane. Make sure your luggage is as clean and presentable as you are. Filthy duffel bags, ratty taped together suitcases (if you’re that poverty stricken, borrow one from someone), Hello Kitty rolling bags — all will be duly noted, if not consciously. Do you travel like a professional adult or do you travel like a kid coming home from college?

I bought a set of light blue Nine West luggage over 20 years ago at TJ Maxx or Marshalls and those bags have been all over the continents of North America and Europe with me. They have gone on tourist jaunts and consulting gigs, conferences and interviews. I was very poor when I bought them so they seemed ike a big expense even at something like $89 on sale, but they have been sponged off with warm soapy water and cleaned with Mr. Clean Magic Erasers dozens of times and never needed repairing. Find a set that works for you and you won’t regret it. I have found that I had no use for a fancy, heavy garment bag and prefer to transport vestments in a fairly simple, lightweight one. I refuse to hand it over to anyone for hanging (and it NEVER gets checked) unless I see exactly how and where it’s being positioned. I’m nice about it, of course, but a friendly and firm, “Those are religious vestments and I won’t have time to steam them out before the wedding, do you mind putting them with the other business suits?” has always been effective. Do not consent to have your vestments squished in an overhead compartment. Stand still and take up space and be exceedingly patient and polite, and don’t be an entitled heel and try to have this conversation in the chaos of boarding. Get to the gate early enough to talk to a gate agent about the special accomomdation for your vestments.

If, like me, you don’t feel at your best after hurtling through the sky at 30,000 miles in a crammed and germy environment, tell the Search Committee you’ll taking a Lyft to the hotel. It sets a good boundary and gives you some time to transition from frantic traveler to calm, collected candidate. No one should have to set foot on terra firma only to endure an awkward hour in another tiny, enclosed space with someone who is similarly awkward and trying to concentrate both on driving and on sizing up the candidate. The Search Commmittee should have set aside adequate funds for your transportation. If they insist on fetching you themselves, don’t fight it – just red flag it.

Also: don’t overpack. It makes an equally bad impression for you to arrive with an opera diva’s collection of luggage (will you be bringing your valet wtih you, too? A sherpa?) as it does for you to show up with a gym bag slung over your shoulder with your weekend’s attire in it.

You do not have to wear a completely new outfit every day.

If something comes up on the agenda about which you were not informed and therefore could not possibly have prepared, simply say something like, “I’m looking forward to visiting the working farm — do you think I’ll be able to keep up in these shoes?” Let the Search Committee problem solve. If they shrug off your tactful expression of concern, red flag that. Ostensibly, the Committee wants to show you at your best; you are, after all, their candidate. Partner with them in working out snags that may arise, eg, “Oh my gosh, I seem to have gotten cow manure all over my shoes/back of my coat — is there somewhere I can go to take care of this? I don’t know if I’ll be able to get these adequately cleaned up at the hotel.” Do not assume you have to handle snafus all by yourself. Ministry is not a solo form of work and these may become your people — let them support you early on in doing your very best. If they do not know how to do that or seem to be unwilling, say it with me:

A few more tips:

Stay hydrated. Talking is dehydrating!

Acknowledge your limitations. If you feel ready to hit the brick wall of exhaustion, let folks know. They may be feeling the same way. Neither lay nor ordained leaders can do good work when overscheduled and wiped out.

Thank them! Search Committee members have dedicated their entire lives, just about, to poring over ministerial records and making important decisions for their church for up to a year before they have even met you. Never lose sight of their service to the congregation and their sacrifices. They could be doing way more fun things with their weekend than shuttling around a member of the clergy and listening to us talk about our skills, visions, experience and ability. These people are freaking HEROES. Don’t fawn, but remember to be genuinely appreciative. They aint’ getting paid. You, eventually, may be.

Listen deeply and don’t engage in fantasizing. Listen to what the committee really says about their church, not what you wish they were saying about their church.

Ask questions about the actual job. It’s very easy on these outings for everyone to focus on the future, so don’t forget to ask about the present. Do your forensic work, and if you don’t know how to do that (what Unitarian Universalist minister Peter Raible called “How To Case a Church”), ask your mentors to help you do so. They will examine the congregational record and the church’s public records (usually available on websites) to help you compile a list of important questions to which the Search Committee may or may not know the answers, such as “How happy is the staff? Are there fiefdoms or real collaboration? What is the history of clergy compensation at this congregation? Can you give me the last five years statistics on worship attendance? Who manages professional expense reimbursements for the minister? Can you tell me how long the past four or five board presidents have been members of the congregation before they became president? Has there been any disciplinary action taken against any member of the staff in the past 5-10 years that you know of? Who would know this? If I asked you to put together an approximate weekly schedule of how your minister spends her time, what would that look like? Do you see that ratio changing drastically with the new minister? Do you have any idea who your last minister’s closest relationships among the community leadership might have been (this is a really fun question and very revealing!)? Have there been any big unpleasant surprises about the building or grounds that you all had to deal with in the past five years?
Do your neighbors on the street love you, or how’s that relationship?

Remember that you are not just looking for a job.
You are looking for a really good fit with a religious community that will invite you to use your God-given gifts in partnership with theirs for the good of the Church and all whose souls God shall inclyne to join with you.

Good luck! Break a leg!

Ministry Out And About Check-In

Let’s do a Mickey Mouse Club Roll Call and see what where we have all been showing up lately. Where did you show up and how did you feel about your image when you did?

I have had a few funerals and commitals lately. The only thing I would note out of the ordinary is that I did a commital on a windy, cold afternoon on a hill by the water and decided to wear a warm hat and pure sunglasses. I’ve just been sick too often this winter not to go hatless, and the sunglasses choice was to keep my eyes from tearing up from the wind. I didn’t feel great about it but it didn’t distract me.

I have found that the combination of tailored striped shirt, black pants and blazer, a big silver pendant necklace, a big siver amethyst ring, silver earrings and boots are a favorite outfit for church meetings lately. A friend who has been staying with me a lot lately calls this my “pirate look” and says she loves it. It feels almost like a uniform and I feel very grounded in it.

I know I am not the only one doing a lot of advocacy work. I will be attending meetings about criminal justice reform with my state representatives, attending a community organizing meeting with our local police chief, and meeting with other clergy about sanctuary and immigrant advocacy in coming weeks. I find myself grateful to own several unstructured but tailored blazers in various colors: fuschia, black, blue and white. They pair very easily with clericals, shells or blouses and all look nice with any one of my several pairs of black pants or a pencil skirt. I like the clean lines, solid colors and nice tailoring of these garments. I usually attend the meetings with a cerulean briefcase-style purse and dressy boots. I prefer to take notes in a little Moleskin notebook and try not to leave the house before checking that I have reading glasses and a nice pen on me.

I have found that it helps re-center myself if I sit down for a few minutes, drink a big glass of water and spritz my face with chilled rose water (I keep it in the fridge) before heading out of the house for these meetings. I try not to drink caffeinated coffee or tea after 2PM even if I feel tired. It’s not worth the insomnia or heartburn later!

Where are you showing up? What’s working for you?

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.