Well, sort of a nothingburger so far on the collar experiment. After last week's chat with the busdriver, I can't say it's made much of a difference -- or maybe it's made people keep their distance even more.
I will say this: it's easier getting dressed in the morning. Now I understand a little bit about the ease of the coat-and-tie routine that businessfolk have. AND I feel a definite shift to "off-duty" when I come home and put on my "play clothes" to be with my kids.
When I interned on the East Coast, clerical collars were so de rigeur that people found all kinds of ways of tweaking the image. Many of the inner city pastors I knew wore them with blue jeans all the time. That feels oddly put-on to me, but give me a few more weeks. I may get there.
I have other lenten disciplines going, but am trying to follow a Matthew 6 "go-to-your-closet" approach with the others. I'll report back on them when the season's over, perhaps.
So I'm in the bookstore at the airport a couple weeks ago, my flight having been delayed an hour. I buy Ian McEwan's latest novel, Saturday, and start looking at The Intellectual's Devotional, that best-seller that gives you a page a day of cultural knowledge (kind of fun, but no substitute for actual education). But the cashier wants to sell me the other book on the counter, called The Secret, which as far as I can tell is a cross between Oprah and The DaVinci Code. He testifies that he's sent it to a buddy in Iraq and he can't wait to hear how he responds. I don't buy it, and I'm irritated. Why is it that everyone wants to convince us that there's a "secret" to life, which we can purchase for $19.95? Why are so many people willing to read and digest this crap? Here's the blurb from the book (which I'm pasting from Amazon, not because I bought the thing):
"Fragments of a Great Secret have been found in the oral traditions, in literature, in religions and philosophies throughout the centuries. For the first time, all the pieces of The Secret come together in an incredible revelation that will be life-transforming for all who experience it."
Oh, please. Fragments of a Great Consumerism have been spotted throughout the 20th and 21st century, but now, not for the first time, someone thinks they can sell the Secret of Life, and actually thinks people will believe they have discovered something new. And, judging by sales, people actually are buying it. Unbelievable.
OK, two days wearing my collar, and one interesting conversation about it. OK, a couple more than that, but most of them were with colleagues who saw the collar and assumed I either had a funeral or was going to court (again -- but that's another story!)
Yesterday the bus driver struck up a conversation about Ash Wednesday. He was raised Lutheran, his wife is Catholic. He seemed a little uncomfortable talking about his own Lutheran roots, and from what I could gather he hasn't gone to church much, except when his wife makes him come with her. But I could have had this conversation anyway, since I was wearing ashes on my forehead at this point. I have no idea if the collar made a difference.
Occasionally today I forgot I had it on, and then would catch a glimpse in a window and remember. I'm not fond of the look overall, and have yet to find a clerical shirt that doesn't seem like men's clothing made smaller. But vanity will have to take a backseat for awhile. Was it just my imagination that the staff at the medical clinic all did a double take?
One of the uncomfortable elements of the collar is its history as a sign of being upper class. I don't think most people associate it with money or status these days, but you simply can't look casual in a collar, and "casual" is one of the hallmarks of my congregation. More on that later.
In any case, it was a powerful Ash Wednesday here. My co-pastor is back from burying his father, another colleague preached for the first time since brain surgery, our organist and her spouse who lost their son recently played for worship, and the church was filled with people who have known grief all too well in the last few months. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Even without the ashes, WE are the visible reminders to one another in these days of our mortality.
Ash Wednesday has arrived with its usual harbingers at our house: the Girl Scout cookies are in a filling our freezer (it's a bad week to give up chocolate), and last year's Visa summary statement has arrived. Who is this person who ordered all these cookies and spent so much money last year? Yikes!
I ran the "collar for Lent" experiment idea past some of our staff yesterday, and they rightly pointed out that such an experiment might prevent as much conversation as it invites. . . hard to say. I usually wear my collar on Ash Wednesday anyway, so tomorrow will be the real decision day. Our office manager said, "it would be like wearing ashes all through lent. . ." Maybe.
I'd also like to ride the bus more this season. My commute is short enough that it doesn't save me any money to do this, but it does give me a window on France Avenue that I don't normally otherwise encounter.
If you're not sufficiently aware of mortality this season, check out Bill McKibben's latest piece on global warming in the Christian Century. It's not online yet, but I assume it will be up soon.
After my little rant about board meetings I have to quickly say that every time I go, I have at least one conversation that sticks with me. I don't know that I should have to go to Chicago to have these conversations, but it does make me less cranky afterwards.
This time is was a conversation with John Anderson, who is our ELCA bishop in Southwest Minnesota. He did an experiment recently where he wore his clerical collar more regularly (something that is quite unusual out here on the prairie), just to see if it produced more spiritual conversation as he was out and about. Of course, it did. The reaction was negative as well as positive, but interesting nonetheless. So now he's challenging pastors to try the collar on for Lent.
I currently only wear my collar for Sundays, weddings and funerals. At Spirit Garage, I never wore it. Generally speaking, I suspect that I learn more about where people are at by being in cognito. And, to be honest, I hate the negative reactions so much that I would rather avoid them. But I am intrigued by Bishop Anderson's challenge. I bet if I wore my collar and took the bus to work more often, it would produce some interesting conversation! Then again, it might be like Barbara Brown Taylor's description of her Saab: "To this day, I'm not sure if it saved my life or nearly killed me." (From Leaving Church)
I haven't committed to doing this yet. I'm curious to hear your thoughts, faithful readers! More to come! Lent is nearly here.
For two days I'm in Chicago at a board meeting. Actually it's a "unit program committee" meeting for our Lutheran churchwide offices. What does this mean, you ask?
It means twice a year I get up in the wee hours, disentangle my weeping children from my legs and head off to the airport, where I take off my shoes and coat and show them my tiny toothpaste tube in a plastic baggie and wedge myself in between businessmen on a flight to O'Hare. Once at O'Hare I get a hotel shuttle to take me to the churchwide offices which are five minutes away, in a sea of hotels, chain restaurants and glass-and-steel boxes. I go to the 11th floor of said box and sit for two days in corporate-looking board room, eat catered food on plastic plates and drink bottled water. I watch Power Point presentations and hear about strategic goals and try to give "feedback" which will be duly recorded and probably put in a file cabinet somewhere.
Why do I do this? I'm still trying to answer that question. The short answer is that I hope to be of some help to people who are in turn trying to be of help to people starting new congregations and renewing congregations in our denomination. I also really enjoy the company of the other people who have volunteered for this board, coming as they do from Montana and West Viriginia and Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, leaving their own roles as pastors and parents and music directors and police officers. But the truth is is I don't know how much good we're doing, and it's hard to justfiy the expense.
I think a big part of my dis-ease is the sterility of it all. I never feel like I've been to Chicago. I feel like I got on a plane, off a plane, into a board room, and back again. The meetings are a testament, I think, to how space shapes people, and how it's hard to think "outside the box" when you are literally in one. These are people of good faith, but so often when I'm here I think we're all trapped by the inevitable corporate-ness of it all.
Don't mess with poets. That's the way firedoglake sums up the Poets Against War movement. Laura Bush's comment that this had become a "political event instead of a literary one" reminds me of Larry Woiwode's comment on MPR when Governor Pawlenty refused to back having a Minnesota poet laureate. The governor rationalized that it was unfair to the other arts to privilege poetry. Woiwode rightly pointed out that human beings govern with language; we use words to make law, to debate policy, to discuss the common good. Lawmakers use words, not music or sculpture. When those who govern start demeaning language with jargon and half-truths, you're darn right that poets are going to respond.
There have been many deaths within our community in the last 2 months or so -- members, parents of members, and even grandchildren of members. Last night I got word that my co-pastor's father, age 80, has died. Erik was scheduled to preach tomorrow, so now I have to figure out a sermon in a few hours. I say a few hours becuase simultaneously my husband is in LA on work travel, so the moments that aren't occupied with mothering are few.
The Strib published a letter to the editor I wrote based on yesterday's blog about Katherine Kersten. I'll pick up on Joe's comment that what bugs me about Kersten is not her conservatism per se, but her unwillingness to break out of a party-line mold. Sometimes, when her focus is raising children or classical education, I find myself agreeing with her, because like many parents I know, I am not an "anything goes" liberal when it comes to the media. I know a lot of Christian progressives who disagree with parts of the Democratic party platform. But unlike the other Metro columnists, who are perfectly willing to call DFL'ers on their own stupidity sometimes, I don't think I've ever heard Kersten disagree with a GOP position or person.