Under The Collar Experiment

Thursday, July 10, 2014

So a minister walks onto a beach...

So, A minister walks onto a beach…

I'm in Maine all week leading a conference.  East Coast beach culture and the clerical collar make for an interesting dichotomy.  I have multiple short sleeve collars that are made of T-shirt material and have paired them with lightweight pants, skirts, and cargo shorts.  When my legs are bare, my two calf tattoos -- one of a peacock and another of a tree of life --  flow into my flip flops (standard retreat shoes around here). At the beach, I am in a bathing suit like everyone else.  Changing from the collar into my two piece tankini made me wonder what it might feel like for others to see their minister at the beach.  Each version that we present of ourselves for various purposes has its place. And the truth is, I am comfortable in a variety of seemingly discordant settings, but is everyone comfortable with me?

For example, I had this incredible teacher in high school, and I remember distinctly the day I first saw her in a pair of jeans at the grocery store.  It was shocking.  She wore skirts or dresses every day to work so the jeans felt out of place -- like she was formal but her clothes were not. In the jeans, she came across to me as uncomfortable, not herself.  I realized that is how I felt, and not, probably, how she actually felt.  It added another layer to my experience of her because it did not fit my preconceived notions. It helped me develop  a much more complicated view of people now than I had when I was 16.

At one point this week, I went into town to pick up a gift for my daughter.   I was buying a toy, and said something like, "Yippee! I delivered on my promise to a 4-year-old for a stuffed lobster."  As I was checking out, an older man with a thick Boston accent said, "What's with the collar?"  I said I was a Unitarian Universalist camp minister at Ferry Beach for the week... that I was from Oklahoma.  My phone case has a picture of my daughter on it and he inquired,  "Is that your niece?"  Interesting assumption, I thought.  He must think I can't be married, and, therefore, am not supposed to have children.   "No," I said. "This is my daughter."

Now I realize I, too, am making assumptions about his assumptions, but my hope is that this man has a new view of all that is possible for clergy, as I did with my teacher in jeans.  Even if I am experienced as an anomaly, it is one more example outside of his expectations. Even if he thinks I, too, look uncomfortable in my collar and flip flops.

No comments:

Post a Comment