Hit Your Hallelujah, Holy Week Is Upon Us

“Uptown Funk” is going to be my jam for the next while. I can’t get it out of repeat play in my brain. I LOVE the “Girls, hit your hallelujah (woo!)” refrain.

Kids, hit your hallelujah.

How are you walking into Holy Week? Tomororow or Saturday is the time to grab some quiet time for yourself to go over the logistics. Calm down, breathe, and focus. Run to your calendar and block out time for daily time with God. That comes first. It should always come first but we all know that other times of the year, priorities intervene. We have obligations. But please, dearly darlings, do try to knock out some hours for you to get to that soul place you need to be in order to tell the story and embody the love that this week brings us ’round to once more.

We just cannot show up for Jesus or for the Passover careening around third base and sliding into home plate. That’s exciting in baseball but not in ministry. In ministry it leads to shallowness, to a slap-dash kind of approach that is actually a kind of pastoral cheating. Some years, I understand, we white knuckle it or fake it. Who am I to judge that? I am not judging, but encouraging you to do everything in your power to make a deep and real encounter with the living Christ your highest priority before you open your eyes on Easter morning. A few stolen moments with the gospel isn’t enough, no matter how many times you have pronounced “Christ is risen indeed!”
Your brain may know what you plan to preach, but the rest of you needs to be involved, too.

On a practical note, please go to your closet and cupboard and make sure you have what you need to feed and clothe yourself for the various events and services coming. Do you have shampoo and are your nails clean and trimmed (or manicured, if that’s your style)? Did you purchase the brisket for the Seder and/or assign someone to bake or get the Communion bread, and what are you wearing for Maundy Thursday’s service? It’s kind of a unique one, so don’t leave that ’til last minute. Do you have a three-hour Saturday Vigil to lead or attend? Check the pockets of your robe this weekend for a fresh hankie. Don’t run out of matches. Check that your pantyhose aren’t all full of runs and spare yourself the horrible cussing moment you rush to get dressed and realize you have a big tear in your stocking, and in your spare pairs. Get your suit to the cleaners tomorrow. Choose your shirts and ties. Shine your shoes. Make sure you have real socks and don’t run out the door wearing white gym socks with a sports coat at some point.

Leave yourself transition time before and after all your special events. Enlist the help of spouses, friends or in-laws. Make sure someone is going to feed you after Good Friday service (unless you’re fasting). Change the sheets on the bed this weekend. Put out fresh towels.

Fill the fridge with healthy options that are easy and fast to put together: lean proteins, veggies already prepared (who has time to chop veg on Holy Week? Don’t kid yourself!), some favorite snacks. Arrange for the dog sitter now so you don’t have to worry about it midweek.

Remind your church secretary that you’re allergic to lilies.
Don’t bring them in the house if you have cats.

Remember that on top of everything else you have on your schedule, emergencies and interruptions are unavoidable. Try not to invite them by stirring up administrative hornets nests or planning big projects — those can wait. You are not just leading your congregation or community when you preside at worship, you are modeling how a faithful Christian/Jew/Unitarian Universalist/spiritual person engages with tradition and upholds it in a contemporary era.

Be beautiful and hit your hallelujah. Check in here and let us support one another as we approach Jerusalem.

Unconstructed Jackets

Hey, hombres,

I notice that a lot of you have trouble finding a professional look that’s comfortably located between formally dressed in a suit and dressed in a polo and jeans. You need to step up your non-suit professional game. Yes, you can go around trying to bring about the Kingdom of God in a fleece, but sometimes showing up for love, justice, resurrection and community needs more oomph and more visual effort. I personally don’t understand why leaders attend gatherings that aim to change the world in clothes that broadcast their identity as Comfy Pal. “I will go right from these halls of transformational change directly to the tables of Panera where I will settle in with a Hibiscus iced tea and continue to not threaten the status quo at all!”

“Don’t be scared of me and the power I represent! We’re not going to make any real demands, just suggest that folks be nice and share.”

One option that I recommend you investigate is the unconstructed blazer – also known as a deconstructed jacket and other similar terms. These are great garments that look sharp but move a lot more easily on the body than the usual padded business suit jacket, because they’re not padded or fully lined. ‘Cause I’m not saying that you need to barrel around everywhere in a suit. I’m saying bring it up from Comfy Pal.

Let’s take a look, fellas! Some of these I found on eBay, even! There’s no need to pay $228 from J. Crew.

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The way these jackets are styled look pretty dressed up, right? That’s fine. You don’t have to wear them that way. You can wear them open over with good jeans and a shirt and tie. You can wear them with a nice Tshirt underneath and a pair of nice cotton chinos (Note adjectives good and nice here — which means clean, crisp, not worn-out, not wrinkly, no stains, and good fabric).

You know how I can identify the clergy in the room? They’re the ones dressed in dowdy or sloppy clothes looking like deep down, they don’t expect that anything will ever change. You know who looks sharp as hell? The people who have a plan and some ambition to get it done. Let’s be those people. Do you look like someone God is working through, or do you look like someone who has given up and is hoping God will rescue them?

Edmund Pettus Bridge Commemoration

Unitarian Universalists are going back to Selma for the fiftieth anniversary of the march that eventually brought about the Voting Rights Act. Many Unitarian Universalists remember and cling to the moment as the apotheosis of social justice commitments, especially because one of our lay members, Viola Liuzzo, and one of our ministers, the Rev. James Reeb, were murdered in the days surrounding the march. They had both come in to participate following the call by Rev. Dr. King.

This is much more than an exercise in nostalgia and solidarity. It is a memorial, a funeral, a call to renewed efforts toward anti-racism and anti-oppression work in #BlackLivesMatter America.

Many clergy have been asking what to pack and what to wear, and as anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, these are not trivial questions.

Some Unitarian Universalist ministers want to wear these.
Or they think they should wear stoles over street clothes to signal to the world that they are religious leaders.

Neither of these choices is appropriate, and I have said elsewhere that I find the first option offensive.

I like, support and appreciate the Standing On The Side Of Love slogan and campaign. It is a banner I am happy to have flying in our church sanctuary at times, and a Tshirt that I own and wear when I am joining UUs at big events like gay pride or climate marches. I love the happy feeling I get when I walk toward a park or gathering place and see a big swarm of those bumble bee shirts. Those are my people! I think to myself, and I head toward them with gratitude.

But the fiftieth anniversary of the march from Selma is no time for anyone to identify themselves with a denominational brand. To do so communicates immaturity and competitiveness to others, no matter what Unitarian Universalists say about wanting to communicate enthusiasm and pride. An ecumenical leader just sent me a Facebook message saying, “I wonder if the glaring UU branding in the clerics is an expression not of ecumenical/ interfaith solidarity, but an expression of anxiety and competition. I know of no other denomination where the clerical uniform has been particularized with a color… ”

Of course it is! And the terminal uniqueness to which UUs are still unfortunately prone, even as time marches on and proves us to be marching in tandem with mainline Protestants in many of the issues we were once cutting edge.

Colleagues, be respectful and respectable. Wear structured clothing. Wear a suit. Wear clericals if you want to identify as clergy. Leave off the stoles flapping in the wind, as you are not officiating at a wedding or performing a pastoral function. Stoles are not public symbols of ordained ministry and often look goofy over street clothes. They are highly individualistic (“This is my denominational stole! This is my rainbow unicorn quilted stole! This is my home congregation design stole! This is my I Love Nature And Horses stole!”) and can ruin a photograph by being askew. They are liturgical vestments and do not really belong in the streets, but if you feel strongly about wearing one, please do not make it a denominational slogan. Please do not time-stamp an historic moment by wearing a transient symbol. I know that the Standing On The Side Of Love campaign is not denominational and purely Unitarian Universalist. That isn’t the point. The point is that this moment is not about team pride of any kind. It is about human history, legacy, remembrance, martyrdom and justice. None of those things should be cheapened by flagrant displays of specialness or separateness.

Some UUs may object: “I’m clergy but I’m not Christian and do not wish to wear clericals because that has no integrity.”
Then don’t wear clericals. Exchanging clericals for an unrecognizable, distracting symbol at a moment of high national importance is about your need to be identified in photos as a particular flavor of religious leader, not about making a visual, emotional, psychological statement for the ages.
It’s not about you or our tiny denomination, and if Unitarian Universalist cheerleading and preferred Rainbow Brite colors palette was going to win converts to our movement, I am certain that would have happened by now.

Part of the power of this image taken fifty years ago is that you cannot tell the participants apart by creed or denomination, church-goer, atheist, layman or clergy. They are elegant, they are dignified, they are one people.

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Look Sharp

So I was talking with a friend who is being installed as the Senior Minister of a large and well-endowed congregation. Like many women in ministry, she began her parish ministry life as the Associate to a male senior pastor. She is now moving into a position of more authority and power, and she wants to make sure that her public image matches her role.

We were talking about her outfit for the Installation, for which she has chosen a tailored and pretty skirt and jacket combo. I recommended that she switch out the nice gold necklace she had chosen for something more bold, and that she consider a pointier toe on her shoe. That got us thinking, and me in particular, about how angular shapes and sharp edges in our attire can communicate power and authority. Take a look at the classic male business suit:

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Note all the sharp edges? The triangular edge of the collar, the pointed edges of the lapel (you won’t find business people in round lapels). The clipped hair, the slightly squared toe of the shoes (not round). This all communicates “sharp” in a very literal way, and we need to be aware of that dynamic. This man is sharp, buttoned up, clean lines, discipline, elegance and speed. Even in his insouciant posture with a cigarette in hand, he radiates power, authority and professionalism. There isn’t one “off-duty” aspect to this outfit. He is literally ready for business.

Power, authority and business are not bad values for a religious leader to have. We must stop thinking that they are, and identifying ourselves as having no connection to those qualities. Spiritual work involves power — if we don’t think we’re working on behalf of a powerful God, what are we doing in this work? Isn’t healing a powerful thing? Bet your bippy it is. Do you not wish to be a powerful preacher, a sharp leader, a person who can use authority well and wisely on behalf of the better world we imagine and work toward? If not, why the hell not? You see what I’m saying? “Can I get an AMEN up in here?” as RuPaul would say?

How many clergy people do I see who are all soft edges, puffy haloes of frizzy hair, sloppy, dragging pants hems, elastic-band floppy skirts. Not one sharp element of their appearance. Women favor quilted florals like this:

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And round little slippers like this:

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And it’s all very benign and squishy soft.

Look at what clean lines do:

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Bam. Structure. Elegance. Heft. No one is carrying important work in a quilted floral bag. Not that knitting isn’t important work, but you know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the budget meeting where you want to make a case for a life-saving and life-giving community initiative and you have opponents who are going to be showing up in suits with a very different agenda.

Compare these flats to the previous pair. Doesn’t that bit of a point communicate a subtle something? They’re actually SHARPER.

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Add a bit of edge to your outfit. See how it makes you feel.

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This does not mean dressing like Don Draper. It means paying attention to all the soft, round, flowery, untucked, elastic-waisted, comfy-round toed, sweet little items in your closet that communicate how unthreatening you are, how smooshy and comfy you experience the world to be. Meanwhile, the people who are claiming their power are wearing structured, buttoned up, angled, sharp outfits and running the world.

If God dressed and sent an archangel to advocate for poor and voiceless people at the community development meeting, what would her handbag look like? Would it be a beat-up backpack? A soft quilted floral number? That’s up to you and your imagination. But remember: Until the angels get directly deployed, God sent you.

Dress Rehearsal For a Big Event

Oh, it’s all such a fuss and bother! Except that churches are historical entities that care about the past and the future, and modern day folk in an age of Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and other ephemeral forms of connection sometimes forget that.

When you get dressed for a wedding, you are becoming part of someone’s family history, and you are therefore part of their archives.
Therefore, yes, it matters that you had bed head or pooled pants hems more suited to Emmett Kelly than to a distinguished member of the clergy.

When you are being ordained, yes, it matters that your nail polish was badly chipped because that was the one little thing you forgot to do. It doesn’t seem so little now that you’ve seen the photographs of yourself accepting the Communion chalice from the bishop with mall rat nails. Gurrrl! If nothing else, at least remove the polish!

In an informal and even sloppy culture, we have lost the daily practice of putting ourselves together in a pressed and shined up fashion. It’s not second nature for many of us to get spiffed up, which is why it behooves us to prepare carefully for the occasions when we do. Yes, I did just say “behooves.”

When I have a really special event, I do a “dress rehearsal” so I can make sure I have everything ready and — this is the important part — won’t suffer any miserable surprises when it’s too late to do anything about them. Miserable surprises are the worst!! Raise your hand if you’ve ever had one, and DO tell so we can all moan and groan together!
It goes without saying that the liturgical preparation and hospitality for important church events take precedence, and I have a lot of details to attend to on those fronts for my Installation on Sunday, so I want to get my personal prep out of the way early in the week. We’ve got so much to do for the service itself, I have so much to do with family coming to town, and then there’s the fact that I’m leaving for a ten-day vacation on Tuesday. No complaints! Just trying to stay the course so everyone has a great experience.

Some of the things I had on my Pre-Big Event Personal Checklist:

1. Got my suit tailored.
2. Ordered shoes. Tried them on. Love them for the event, love them in general. [They’re so pretty! Low vamp,not a bit frumpy. – PB] Realized that even though they have rubber soles, they are still slippy. Since I want to wear them for worship in our hard wood floor sanctuary, I took them to the shoemakers to have good rubber soles put on them and the plastic heel covers replaced with rubber. The shoes cost me $35 on sale, so even with these modifications, they’ll be a very reasonable investment.

3. Tried on my new silk blouse with my suit. Discovered that I LOVE IT, but it is needs one more button so that I can avoid a Festival of Inappropriate Sharing. I will take it to the tailor tomorrow since my sewing skills do not extend to putting in a new buttonhole.

4. Did a pantyhose and waist cincher inventory review to make sure I have all the fat-squishing support I need. Check.

5. Tried on a variety of earrings and necklaces and can’t decide yet which combo I will wear, but I did determine that one set of earrings has those stabby posts that puncture you every time you put the phone up to your ear or someone hugs you. You know what I mean? I hate those! I expect to be hugged and greeting by many people that day, so they’re out of consideration.

6. Got a manicure.

7. If I have time, I’ll do a trial run of my hairdo because I’m just really bad at doing my hair and I need practice.

8. Thought through the weekend so that everyone will be sheltered, fed, transported to hotels, restaurants and airports in orderly fashion.

9. Shaved my legs, because I am breaking out the sheer hose.

10. Told everyone on my blog that I shaved my legs.

So you see, darlings, there’s a LOT to think about when we’re getting ready to become part of the history of an institution. It’s neither vain nor petty to consider the details. Attention to detail for an occasion like this is the only responsible thing to do. Your church needs you to be calm, centered, prepared and fully present on these big days. The last thing you need is to reach for that skirt or pair of pants you were counting on wearing and discover that all your winter carb loading has rendered your girth three inches too wide to allow for the zipper to be fully fastened. Try things on. Check them from every angle. Shine the shoes, polish the brooch, trim the beard, get your nails did. When you have attended to all of those little items you can focus on the
Order of Worship
the dinner after the reception
the car rental for your guest preacher
the sleeping arrangements for your 6’3″ friend
the candles and program and thank you’s and music and
coordinating the Laying On Of Hands
and the ushers instructions and
and
oh, and also praying and being quiet and glad and smiling and making sure you don’t miss one wonderful second of it.