PeaceBang and Rev. Blue Jeans Continue (Part III)

[The conversation continues thusly… I formatted slightly for your ease in reading. Rev. BlueJeans speaks:)

As I was hoping! A Great Coversation!
And yes, of course you can post, sans identifying information.
I think you misunderstand the thrust of my argument. Or perhaps I don’t understand the thrust of yours.

I guess the question is this: what is the baseline of human attire? You point to my dressing-down as hypocrisy. This would indeed be true, if it represents a “disingenuous and inauthentic” departure from what I would otherwise be wearing–a “masquerade,” as you say.

If I would naturally be inclined to dress in suits and ties, but instead wear jeans and sandals, all in an effort to “get with the peeps,” then yes, that would definitely qualify as hypocrisy. But that’s not what’s happening. I would submit that no human, being in a state of nature (a la Locke or Hobbes), would of his or her own free will choose to wear a suit and tie, or a skirt for that matter. And don’t even get me started on high heels. These items of clothing, far from being the thing most of us would choose to wear, are dreaded, uncomfortable, and expensive encumbrances. At best, we wear them because we’re expected to wear them, and because we assume they’ll gain us the approval of others.
So when I wear jeans or shorts, it’s hardly as if I’m stooping my otherwise lofty perch to “get with the peeps.” I’m being as I would like to be in the world–comfortable, and not broke from dropping $400 on a suit.

I ask you this: would it not be less disingenuous (more ingenuous? more genuine? how does that work?) for me to wriggle into a suit and tie on Sundays, simply to satisfy the expectations of the upper-middle-class folks that pay my bills? I can wear what I’d otherwise wear, or I can move into an entirely foreign class of clothing (ties: nooses for men!) based solely on the proposition that it will set others at ease. How is that not disingenuous!?

I don’t propose that we all dress as coal miners or auto mechanics, in an attempt to imitate the dress of the working poor. I simply propose that we don’t all wear, minimally, $100 worth of clothing to church. Why should people who have a desire to come to church be forced to climb over an obstacle like that? Why couldn’t they wear whatever they want? What could clothing POSSIBLY have to do with God, church, and community?

Clothing functions as a social marker…it sets us apart from each other, illuminates differences in class and status, and reminds people of their sitz im leben. I don’t see it as all necessary in the practice of religion. In fact, I see it as fairly inimical to the practice of Christianity.If I could wave a magic wand, I’d institute mandatory casual dress at every church in the country. Luckily for the church ladies, I can’t.

It’s interesting that you bring up family history as it informs our fashion concepts. I do in fact have a great deal of familiarity with poverty; I am the child of Appalachian farmers many generations back, and my mother didn’t have indoor plumbing until she went to college. As a kid, we didn’t have two nickels to rub together, so perhaps my ethics of clothing has been influenced as much experience as by the Marxist-liberation critique I encase it in.

I await the next volley….”

So Then I Said (Part IV In A Series)

[This is how I last responded to Rev. Bluejeans:]

“Oh man, I should really be cleaning my office, but this is so great!
I wondered if you were a southern guy with roots in Appalachia, and it’s nice to know that I was right. Not that it matters, but I think it makes it easier for us to talk.

I totally hear you on the whole first part of your post. You’re not dressing down to “get with the peeps” but because it’s more comfortable and you think neckties are nooses for men. Okay, but that wasn’t your first argument to me.Your first argument wasn’t based on that kind of Thoreauvian, “beware any enterprise that requires new clothes” philosophy at all, but was a rather clear statement that you dress casually as a visible sign of your commitment to liberationist theology.

To which I responded, basically, “Oh come on, middle class guy! Your wearing jeans does not make you closer to the poor! If you want to be in real solidarity with those who suffer poverty, take vows of poverty and walk the walk.” I mean, we both know that Christian life certainly provides an easy opportunity for either of us to take up the Cross in that particular way.

But now the conversation has changed course. You say that it isn’t so much dressing up for church or ministry that’s the problem (because of your desire to remain approachable to less privileged folks), it’s clothes themselves that are the problem. You don’t like them, you see them as tools of oppression. You don’t want to have to wiggle into a suit and tie.I get that.

And to that, I would say Yes, yes, yes. Sure. I don’t love heels, either. However, I don’t see clothes as the problem — I see the attitudes that we take on with our choice of clothing and grooming as the bigger problem.

I see a lot of clergy people claiming that dressing like a slob makes them more approachable when actually, it makes them more ‘approachable’ only to those it’s more spiritually glamorous to respond to. That’s what I find disingenuous, lazy, inauthentic and pretentious — and it’s not good or loving ministry. I’m glad you’re not succumbing to that particular sin. I think it’s sheer B.S., and again, I point to the example of the Black Civil Rights activists as my example of how to dress for a revolution.

(Yes, I believe I did just coin that expression, ‘spiritually glamorous’)

I guess my final point, though, is to say that throughout all of human history, human beings have adorned themselves in their finest garb to meet the sacred moments of their lives, and I dig that. No matter how limited their means, humans in all cultures have contrived to come before their God in as beautiful condition as possible, saving sackcloth and ashes for times of penitence and grief.

To me, dressing well (at whatever cost, whether $30 or $300) says, ‘This is the day the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ In other words, by dressing beautifully (especially on the Sabbath), we are arraying ourselves not just in finery, but in hope, in gratitude, in dignity, and in respect. When I put care and intention into my dressing in the morning, it is a way of thanking God for this life and for this vehicle that I will adorn with care before going out to do God’s work in the world.

I think that you get dressed in the morning with a very different attitude. I am guessing that you get dressed in the morning thinking, ‘How can I dress today so as to seem brother and kin to every human being that walks this Earth, no matter how humble his or her means?’I think that’s a beautiful Christian sentiment, I just don’t think it works as a public message about ministry. Certainly it doesn’t work for some of the elder ladies in your congregation.

I suggest that just as clergy should be bi or tri-lingual verbally, so should we be sartorially flexible. Obviously, I wouldn’t go work at a shelter in a suit and heels, but I might go in a sweater and nice jeans. On the other hand, I wouldn’t go on a hospital visit in shorts and a t-shirt, because that would communicate something I don’t want to communicate to a respected elder. And I wouldn’t preach barefoot ‘just to make a point,’ because I think the only ‘point’ one can make by preaching barefoot is ‘I know how to take off my shoes.’

If Adam and Eve had had Prada and Armani to wear in that first moment they realized that they were conscious, that they had consciences, that they were responsible for their choices, and they lived in God’s world, I think they would have decked themselves out in it. That fig leaf was their way of saying, ‘Whoa, we get it. We have just been made aware of who we are and Whose we are. We’d better get dressed up.’

Cheers again!PB”

And Then He Wrote Back… (Part V Of A Series)

[In the next exchange with young Rev. Bluejeans, he sez to me:]

“OK, I lied. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else until I responded for real, so I got myself a diet coke, and here we go:Again our views of human nature diverge.

It’s fascinating to frame this debate in the mythology of Eden; the fig leaf as the first fashion move is brilliant. You and I should co-author a book on this, seriously. We could title it “Spiritually Glamorous.” Anyway, you point to A&E’s first fig-leaf-accessorizing as the moment when humans had been “made aware of who we are and Whose we are,” and that this caused them to decide,” “we’d better get dressed up.”

This is, I would think, a very optimistic picture of the Garden, and one that I am not at all inclined to imagine. Perhaps it’s the weight of 30 centuries of Judeo-Christian interpretation, but I’m much more inclined to see the fig leaf as an implicit rejection of body and self in favor of a facade, a veneer, which takes the reality of human existence and hides it behind prettiness. I wholeheartedly agree that the fig leaf is a seminal moment in human fashion history. I just don’t think it was a good thing. And that’s why we should co-author a book.

You’re moving into more familiar ground with your “this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” motivation for dressing up. Here in the South, this is the express argument for dressing nicely 98% of the time. We once had a dress-down day at the church, because we were having a picnic outside right after the service. A man in the church wore a tie, and was getting a fair amount of teasing about it (not from me). He said, with a great deal of dignity, “it’s a sad day when you can’t wear a tie in the house of the Lord.” His point, and yours I think, is that church is a place which is worthy of our respect, and that respect is effectively shown through proper dress and decorum.

I don’t buy it.

The entire thrust of the life and teachings of Jesus–the entire thrust–is away from religiosity and toward an interior life of faith. That is, Jesus shunned external displays of piety: praying out loud, being obvious with your gifts to the temple, bragging about your lawkeeping. He embraced a certain humility. I don’t know how accurate the movies are about his clothing, but I do know he wore sandals (it’s in the bible, of course), and whatever he wore was low-key enough that fit in just fine with lepers, prostitutes, and a ragtag bunch of fishermen from the Galilee. And then there’s that whole “life is more than food, the body more than clothes…consider the lilies of the field” thing.

So I don’t see a tie as a sign of respect for God. But I also don’t see God as the sort of God who goes around needing signs of our respect, either. At the end of John, Jesus doesn’t say “if you love me, wear Armani.” It’s all about feeding the sheep.

Alas…I’m out of time.”

***

Here’s PeaceBang again, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me respond with a few more words to him and to you.

First of all, it’s so funny that I was going to use the overly-pious thing with HIM but then I didn’t, and he went ahead and used it on ME! Because to me, dressing all humble when you have the means to afford perfectly swell clothes is an expression of false piety — but my correspondent there is saying that dressing UP is an expression of false piety.

There you have it: perfect evidence of how two smart ministers interpret the same exact teachings of our Master.

The other thing I want to say is that my faithful correspondent and I have two absolutely differing ideas about veneers and prettiness. To him, hiding behind the fig leaf was an original act of falsifying reality (i.e., laying a pretty exterior over a sinful, disobedient, suffering interior).

But to me, that fig leaf says, “Well, damn, we got thrown out of Paradise but honey, we can still look FABULOUS. I mean, we lost Paradise but we got the planet! Let’s work it!” In other words, it’s not so much a rejection of body and self to me (although my correspondent gets the traditional Christian interpretation points there, certainly) as it is a brave little move to adorn the self out of recognition of blessing within the midst of existential loss. That is so Matthew Fox of me, now that I think about it.

I thank my correspondent again for this really terrific exchange — he and I probably should co-author a book — a sort of North-meets-South exchange on religion and fashion — just because I like him so much, he gets to be the Rev. JeansBang!

As for the rest of you, you big smartypants heads, you’ve gone ahead and contributed more provocative and important insights to this conversation, proving once again that Beauty Tips For Ministers just seems to be mere fluff, when we all know that we can get all brilliant and deep at the drop of a fig leaf.

Which is why I love ya’ll.

It’s Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude!

We have welcomed a new brother, Chris Tessone, to the ministry today, and we wish him all good blessings and joy in his priesthood.

John Plummer alerted me to photos of the occasion on Flickr, and I hope he meant it when he said that all comments were welcome, because this is just too adorable not to share with all of you:

liturgy dude

I’m not sure what’s going on with the chasuble on the far left: is that a SHEEP applique on the front?
But look to the far right. It’s Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude! We’ve got the jeans and the sweat shirt, we’ve got the do’-rag and the long hair, we’ve got the sandals and the kind of tilted, super casual/endearingly goofy stance, we’ve got the STOLE to formalize it all. If Gender Ambiguous Liturgical Dude was an action figure (John, that’s not you, is it?), I would so want one for Christmas.

PeaceBang does not necessarily disapprove. She understands that Gender Ambiguous Liturgy Dude is the future of the church, and if anything, just wishes that s/he had worn a darker denim and been given a stole that was more in scale to his/her size. As it is, it looks more like a pair of suspenders than a liturgical vestment.

Did this service take place on the Feast Day of the Great Pumpkin? That is some FABULOUS orange!!

Now here’s something I’ve never seen,

home pageant
and forgive my ignorance, but when I saw it I immediately thought, “Hello, I’m Father Stuart … and my home pageant is held in Dayton, Ohio!”