Thursday, December 2, 2010

But Don't You Think People Will Look at You Funny?

A person was waiting to see me and in the stack of mail on my coffee table in my office was a copy of a church supply catalog.  Never having seen one, the person poured over the pages will I finished a phone call.  When I came it this person had made it to the section showing birettas, zuchettos, mozettas, and capa nigras  (clergy headgear, short and long capes, for you vestment challenged folks).  By the time I had gotten to them, this person was positively giddy about the biretta (see picture above) and could hardly contain his laughter.

"Pastor, you'd look good in this!"  Ha ha ha ha....  "I have one," I replied (gift from a friend over 34 yeas ago).  The laughter stopped.  "What???  You don't wear it, ah, do you?"  "Yes, I do," I replied, "at funerals in the cemetery and the like.."    "Bbbbbbbut, aren't you afraid people will look at you funny?" came the question.

Now we are at the heart of it all.  What will people think?  Well, if I was radically concerned about what people thought of me as a Lutheran Pastor in the Bible Belt, the South, the bastion of South Baptists, Church of Christ, Nazarene, etc... I would not wear a clerical collar.  I would go for an office casual look.

When I visit my wife at work in the hospital, the other RNs all say "Ooooh, dontcha just love a man in uniform."  But the truth is that they have had "Pastors" (read that loosely) show up to visit parisioners (again, read that loosely) in overalls, cargo shorts, painted work tee-shirts, even a wife beater or two.  They were hesitant to let the guy in but the fella had a hospital ID (community clergy, a requirement at the local hospital if you are visiting there regularly as clergy).

Once when heading into K-Mart, I was stopped by a young man in his late teens or early twentys.  "Are you feeling better?" he asked me.  Having been laid up that week a couple of days but now knowing who he was, I was surprised that word of my frailty and affliction had passed so far into the community.  "Why, yes I am..." I replied.  "Is your neck and back better?" He continued.  Aghast that he was so intimately acquainted with so much of my medical history, I asked him how he knew?  "Why, your neck brace," he answered.  (Read that clerical collar).  I smiled.  "That is not a neck brace," I went on to tell.  "That is a clerical collar to identity me as a Pastor of the Church."  "But isn't it uncomfortable?" he asked.  "Well, yes it is.... but it is the kind of uncomfortable which is a good thing for me to remember..." I said as we parted our ways...

Christians living in the world risk being thought foolish or weak.  They have people looking at them funny all the time.  It is uncomfortable being in but not of the world.  It is uncomfortable to our sinful human nature to stick out by walking to the beat of Christ instead of the drumline chorus of the world and its values.  It does not matter the headgear or manner of dress, God does not want us to be so comfortable here and with the values and goals of the world, that we forget who we are and whose we are.  So, if you don't want to stick out, skip the faith entirely.  It will be entirely unsatisfactory to live with the guilt that you should look different when you don't.  And the world will pick up on it quickly.  Hypocrite (means actor in Greek).

I do not worry so much about people thinking I look funny.  I worry more about my weakness in the face of temptation and my tendency to be quiet when I should speak and to be silent when I insist upon speaking -- and in both cases betray my sinful human nature more than I proclaim the wondrous grace and mercy of the God who came to be one with us that we might be one with Him.

Now what we show to the world is not our righteousness or moral behavior.  We are not stars seeking the limelight to showcase our accomplishments.  What we want the world to see is Jesus -- the Son of God placed in the womb of Mary, born to live as one of us under the Law, living in perfect obedience for us, dying to pay the price of our sin, rising to end death's tyranny, and coming again to seal the deal with us for all eternity...  It is not the respect of the world I seek but their ears... sometimes looking funny or out of step with the world and its values is the very beginning of a fruitful conversation about the steps of the One in whose way we walk... think about it...

BTW the picture is not of me... though I can see some of myself in this man's years... it is the only real photo I could come up with on short notice...


John said...

Oh, come on. You certainly have a camera phone or a digital camera handy.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

So your wife is an RN too? I knew there was something I liked about you. RN wives give their pastor husbands much wisdom, I tend to think.

Of course, the fact that my wife and my mother are both RNs makes be biased.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that in the New
\Testament Christ and his disciples
wore ordinary garments in their
ministry. No need for clerical
collars, capes, or headgear. The
Old Testament uniforms of the priests
were not needed anymore for the
ministry of the New Covenant. In the
2lst century there is no need for the
clergy to hide behind clerical collar
instead they will relate better during the week in sport coat and tie.

Anonymous said...

I have nothing against the pastor
wearing an alb and stole as he
presides over the Sunday Worship.
However, it is good to remember that
Christ did not wear a chasuble when
He instituted the Lord's Supper, there was a humble setting in the
upper room filled with awe and

Michael Paul 白霈德牧師 said...

Thank you for taking the time and effort to post this. Well said.

Unknown said...

As a former police officer, I think it is a bit strange that people criticize pastors who "hide" behind their collar.

Do police officers hide behind their uniform or badge of office (which is what it is). No, the uniform shows an authority beyond the man or woman wearing it. The authority does not come from the uniform itself or from the officer, but it helps both the public and the officer know that such authority is present and expected to be exercised with professionalism and care.

Would you take a cop seriously who drove up behind you in a 30 year beat-up old car with a flashlight with a red lens taped to the hood? Would you question the legitimacy of the officer's authority and would the officer be as confident using the authority or feel the responsibility of it if he or she came to work in cutoffs and a t-shirt. Of course, he or she could exercise authority in such conditions when needed in an emergency, but would you expect it as a regular practice?

I will admit that regularly wearing my clerical garb at hospitals, in the community and otherwise in public is most often for my benefit, to remind myself of the responsibilities I have as a minister of Word and Sacrament. Normally, I don't like fancy clothes and such. If I had my way, I would be in shorts, t-shirt and barefoot all summer no matter where I went; however, if I showed up like that to someone's hospital bed, to whom besides myself is my casual and relate-able attire drawing attention ? Clerical garb may make me "stick out", but it doesn't draw attention to me as sinful old Lee, but to God's presence that often sticks out in our self-indulgent world in which we live like hot pink on black.

Now, gaudy clerics and the whole "liturgical art" stuff can be overdone and end up pointing back to the fashion sense or politics of the pastor, which is why all but one of my chausables is just the seasonal color with no symbol on them at all. Also, I only wear black clergy shirts because it is not about getting them in my favorite color; they are signs of the pastoral office to which I have been entrusted - no more and certainly no less.

So, if vestments and clerical garb are crutches that I am "hiding" behind, so be it; however, I think the overwhelming benefit is that it reminds me not to hide behind myself.

Just my two cents.

tubbs said...

@ Anonymous: street clothing for clergy is something traditional and TOTALLY unrelated to liturgical vestments. The biretta evolved from the academic cap (such as Dr. Luther's cap, only a more starched version).

Anonymous said...

Lutheran Desert Rat hit upon something very important there. Clerical garb is useful only in as much as it presents the Pastor as one with authority from God to preach, teach, and administer the Sacraments. That is, one who is ordains to exercise the office of the keys, standing the the stead of Christ Himself.

This issue recently came up in the parish of a friend of mine. The pastor there only sporadically wears his clerical collar.

But a pastor who presents himself simply as himself - either as Pastor Fred in a suit and tie or as Pastor Johnny in shorts and a Hawaiin shirt - is no use to anyone.

Yes, a pastor who refuses to step boldly into his office is of no use. Sure, Fred and Johnny might be nice guys, but poor miserable sinners don't need another "nice guy" to be their friend. They need a pastor to forgive sins with sure and certain authority.

Wear your collar! Otherwise you, in the end, despise the pastoral office! You present yourself as a man who wishes he could pick and choose which duties, burdens, and joys of the pastoral office he partakes in.

There's One Office, instituted by Christ Himself. If you're in it, you're in it! Act like it!

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

O dear, looks like this old country boy just got baited into another rant. Its always fascinating to me how little it takes for the spirit of Andreas Carlstadt to get on its horse and ride again. I encouraged my vicars to wear their clericals when making hospital calls because they were for the most part unknown by the staff. I tend to do the same when travelling to another city to visit people who are hospitalized. However, most everyone knows me where I am a pastor, so there’s no hiding behind anything, clerical or not. A greater emphasis in training was on having a neat and clean appearance, rather than specifically what the student wore. It was more important to me that they didn’t appear unkempt, unwashed unshaven and generally looking like they’d just rolled out of bed, regardless of whether they had a ring around their necks.
I do find the comments ‘Jesus didn’t wear a chausible, and/or the suit coat and tie being the latter day equivalent of what Jesus wore’ to be less than satisfactory for reason for what one wears and why.
Today, vestments are designed to be worn over street clothes and serve a number of practical purposes: they conceal the distractions of fashionable street clothing, they remove any consideration of what constitutes appropriate attire, and they remind the congregation that the ministers are not acting on their own, but performing in their official capacities.
The argument against vestments and clerical garments is that they represent an anti-Biblical, impious and vulgar remnant of a bygone era that we are all better off to eschew. In my opinion a tailor made suit and a silk tie can say more about your pride and arrogance as any alb or stole could.

Anonymous said...

A policeman represents the government
of a city or state in America. The
Kingdom of God is not of this world.
as Jesus told Pilate who was in his
governor robe. Jesus had no garb
that designated Him as a spiritual
authority, it is what He said and did
that set Him apart. A policeman has
authority given to him by man-made
govt.but a pastor has authority based
on God's Word and Sacrament as he is
called to ministry.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Annon, the analogy between an officer of the law and a pastor is fitting, though not a direct parallel. The authority of the pastor is not his own, but given to the church which calls the pastor to office.
Jesus would have typically worn two articles of clothing, a himation and a tunic or undergarment. The designs on the himation, as well as its color and quality, varied depending on the wearer’s sex, occupation, and social status. It is not unreasonable to think that his status as a Rabbi would have also been customarily evidenced in his himation. Jesus’ tunic would have been sleeveless and ankle-length it was the same kind of tunic that the high priest wore when he entered into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people.

What set Jesus apart was not only what he said and did, but who he was, true God and true man; the Christ the anointed one. Anointed into the threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King.

Janis Williams said...

Dear anon.

Which is more noticeable in the pulpit? An Armani suit, silk tie, and 'plastic' hair, or a spiky hairdo and clothes from Buckle, or a simple 'poncho' (read: chausable)?

I would much rather see a minister of Word and Sacrament dressed in a black shirt with a clerical collar weekdays. If you are in distress and need prayer or any help a minister can offer, how will you know him in WalMart?

As for funny hats and long gowns, they aren't fashion statements. They hide the minister behind the office. An Armani suit says too much about the minister.

In addition, how do you KNOW the disciples (apostles) didn't wear vestments? Does Scripture say anything one way or another?

Unknown said...

Obviously, I was not trying to equate authority of the state with the authority of God's Kingdom. The correlation I was trying to make is about how we point towards the authority of God's Kingdom and away from ourselves be it how we act or how we dress, which is a small part of how we choose to act, isn't it?

Also, I challenge your statement that Jesus didn't have any garb that pointed to his spiritual authority. He stood before Pilate, stripped naked of his personal identity and mockingly dressed as a king with thorns for a crown and his personal garments gambled away.
That was his garb that he wore to point to God's Kingdom.