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Square Pegs insertion- Part I: in which clothes don't make the disciple, it would seem.... - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Square Pegs insertion- Part I: in which clothes don't make the disciple, it would seem....
The reference is to a long-canceled, much-beloved tv show of the early 80s created by an SNL alum, which tried to depict the difficulties faced by geeky people in a geek-averse world:

(It's ironic, dontcha think?, that the geekiest of the geeks in this series was played by Sarah Jessica Parker, who went on to star in Sex in the City, perhaps the ungeekiest series of all time, less than 20 years later.)

I felt the pain of trying to fit into the round societal hole today, totally unexpectedly. Late this morning, a call came in from our minister. He had two things to ask me, he said. One, I expected: could I assist him at Sunday's service?  This is a no-brainer, in many senses of the word; I've penciled in First Sunday for this gig for going on three years, but I usually don't get a confirming call or email until sometime on the preceding Saturday. Last month, I didn't get one at all, and I got bumped on account of it being St. David's Day (observed) and another regular liturgist wanted to do it on account of his being of Welsh heritage.

No matter, though; I'd expected the call for this coming Sunday and was ready to assist.  But then the other spit-and-polished shoe dropped.  Could I make more of an effort to dress the part? Because there were "rumblings" from some members of the congregation that I wasn't coming in every month in sufficient suit-and-tie splendor to satisfy some of the high-church (and, I'm guessing, high-donating) members. So could I basically treat Sunday like a workday and dress accordingly?

All I could say, in my mouth-dropping moment of shock-

- was, I'll think about it. But I really think these people have better things to do with their time than complain about stuff like this.

I then left for a spell, mainly to tilt at a previously-identified windmill (more on that later) and to attend a presentation on perhaps the dullest topic in existence under the Bankruptcy Code (no small feat, that), but when I got back, I was loaded for bear. Here's what I said.

I've been sitting here since you called, mostly thinking of little else, and with a potent combination of three feelings: anger, shame and frustration.  Let's take each in turn.

Anger at people- allegedly my brothers and (I suspect more likely) sisters in Christ who think nothing about demeaning and diminishing those around them for not meeting their expectations or norms.  You don't need to name names; we all know who they are. They're the ones who like things on Sunday "just so," and "the way we've always done it." Who think that the "dated decor" is more important than the church's mission. Who whisper, and even not-so-whisper, at crying babies and unruly children in the pews and wish they could be seen and not heard like they were back when they were children.  They are almost certainly among those who have driven Eleanor from comfort and spirituality within the walls of this body, because of the way those same members treat her outside the walls of the church in her job- demanding, belittling, and expecting to be treated better than the high level of "best" everyone gets because "you know me from church."  I'm a better person than that, and so I will get over the anger, but consider how many former members, visitors and would-be guests will not be as forgiving.

Shame for attracting such comments. Yes- it's not lost on me. Despite making fun of my own fashion sense and daring to be different if either choice or necessity calls for it, never think I'm unaware of it. During the week, I must dress within the bounds of the "profession" at almost all times.  One of the key breakdowns within my first professional partnership, 20 years ago, was over just such an issue. * Ironically, that's the process that led us out of Rochester and, eventually, here. So you don't need to say anything for my benefit. I assure you I'm already saying it to myself.

Finally, frustration- over how quickly we can send a message when it's something this petty, compared to things that really matter.  I waited to send this until my weekly Messenger email showed up- just to see if it would, finally, contain some mention of this church's adoption of a no-brainer of a welcoming policy that has now out-gestated a normal human pregnancy.  In the time since I first brought it to the Council in July- 2013, for those keeping score- it's been discussed, revised, voted on, put out for comment, had reports on and reviews of comments, voted on again in a revised form, and is still being hidden under a bushel with nobody but you, me and about 20 voting people knowing about it.  I had hoped we could be a trailblazing force within our denomination- the first in our District to say the simple, Christ-centered words of love that Reconciling Ministries are all about- and the only sadder thing than our delay is that, still?, we CAN be the first, because no other UMC west of the Genesee River has yet had the intestinal fortitude to do it, either.  Maybe we can add something about LGBT people being really nicely dressed on Sundays. All those fashion designers, yaknow.

So to end this, I offer simply one thought: I would be privileged to join you on Sunday in worship, liturgy and communion- and I also volunteer to be the one to announce, in that capacity and at both services, the action the Council has taken and the words it has adopted. If I am given the chance to do that, I will wear anything you want- suit and tie, acolyte robe- hell, after all this time, I'll do a speedo and flip-flops if you really want to give the biddies something to talk about.

If you're not ready for that, I'll probably throw on at least something with long sleeves and a collar, but you know it'll probably be work clothes (see shame, above). But I'll also really begin wondering why this simple corporate act of kindness is being delayed, if not denied, to those who could really use the affirmation as yet another state has just
legislated overt bigotry in the name of "religious freedom."

(I added that link just now, in case you were wondering which idiots we were talking about.)

I have received responses to the points raised; while I do not have permission to share them here, I can say they were thoughtful and thorough, although my offer on the point of the statement has been, at least, deferred as "premature," for reasons I am still considering.  I have also shared my thoughts with Eleanor, for whom the Official Position of the Biddies has only served to harden her heart further about ever reconciling with this ancient and toxic limb of our particular Body of Christ.  It's going to take some pretty serious cardiac surgery to keep my heart from going down the same road if I have to spend the next 20 years dealing with the likes of these.


* Yeah, this is a whole post in and of itself. I have memories of the experience that Eleanor doesn't; she has later ones of it that I don't. Between the two of us, we'll try to get it all caught up.

This entry was originally posted at http://captainsblog.dreamwidth.org/201026.html. Please comment here, or there using OpenID.
13 comments or Leave a comment
glenmarshall From: glenmarshall Date: April 5th, 2014 01:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I left my church, only to eventually land in a very different place, over a related issue.

They were urging tithes. And at the annual "pledge breakfast" some of them announced their pledges. All one had to do is add a zero at the end to know their annual income. And it was a well-to-do Episcopal parish.

Some the pledges were north of $10,000 - in 1965 dollars. My father, at the time, could have pledged $2,500. But he was already giving heavily to the Masons and chose to keep silent. I was a college student and kept silent as well. The embarrassment of several people was painfully clear.

I left the church shortly afterwards.
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: April 5th, 2014 12:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I grew up, and eventually worked, around far more Jews than Protestants of any branch, so I became something of an honorary MOT. I came to understand, and much prefer, the typical shul's system of finance. You reported your age, family size and income, you got a bill, you paid it. If there was hardship, a confidential committee would discuss it and could reduce or waive the charge. No weekly orgasm of "look at us and our offerings, G_d!"

Sadly, my home town has changed so much demographically since my day, the two temples are basically reduced to competing on price to attract the much smaller local Jewish crowd. Two falls ago, both had big signs out front advertising free membership for the first year. I figured it was only a matter of time before they started paying YOU to go and then bidding THAT up. Which would be a great deal, except for the goyim men who might suddenly find themselves in need of a bris.
digitalemur From: digitalemur Date: April 5th, 2014 03:03 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know what you _normally_ wear to church, but I hope that you get a powder blue tux and begin wearing it each Sunday, after THAT dose of judgmental crap.

Shame on your minister for his part in this. What a load of horse crap.
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: April 5th, 2014 12:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
The response I got from him was sincere and contrite. Will it stop one biddy from being one? I doubt it.
digitalemur From: digitalemur Date: April 5th, 2014 02:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well good, because I'm still kind of horrified he sent it in the first place rather than just telling the biddies how inappropriate and out of step with Jesus' teachings and Paul's teachings it was.

But then, I'm from a family where my parents once had to explain to their adult bible study group that yes, Rome did accept evolution and even the big bang, and no, it wasn't their job as Catholics to be creationists. Culture is hard, let's go shopping.
thediva_laments From: thediva_laments Date: April 5th, 2014 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)
I am confused. I grew up in a "high church" UMC church. Anyone who was a reader walked up to the front in what they were wearing, did their bit, and sat back down. Anyone who was a lay minister, Eucharistic minister, choir member, etc had a robe provided for them and so wore that. In the summer when it was brutally hot those of us in robes were often known to go to the bathroom before the service, change out of everything but our skivvies, and then put the robe on top.

Does the minister want you to be a lay/Eucharistic minister who preaches and assists with communion and NOT wear a robe? That seems to me to fly in the face of tradition. If they're irritated with what you're wearing why aren't they just presenting you with a robe? Shortest distance between two points. Then again, if you don't want to wear a robe that's another thing entirely. But all along I've assumed that when you've been doing your church work that's exactly what you've done, worn a robe.

See, confused.
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: April 5th, 2014 12:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
We've never done that for liturgists. (Well, I remember one lay speaker- Penny, if you're reading this, Eleanor- who did the liturgy robed, but she was so slender she really COULD fit into an acolyte robe. Plus she also served in other UMC congregations at times, and maybe they were higher-church than we were.)

Which is why this blindsided me so much. In almost 20 years there, I've never heard the "rumblings" of this being an issue. Since it now obviously is, it also explains some of why we have such a reputation for being unwelcoming to visitors.

Two falls ago, we added a seminary intern during her final year at Colgate Rochester. (She's now ordained with her own gig and is doing an amazing job.) She turned our start-of-season "Rally Day" event into something much more interesting and welcoming- everything from tables with information on programs to a blues band and balloons for the kids out on the lawn. But she couldn't change the biddies- and this year, we heard from two families who came to check it out. They were contacted about why they didn't come back (having foolishly left their names), and both reported that in the post-service "fellowship time" with all the activity going on, not a single person came up to them and said anything at all, much less anything welcoming.

Now maybe if they'd been dressed better,....
thediva_laments From: thediva_laments Date: April 7th, 2014 11:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Having read all the rest of the replies on this thread, I have to think that it is well and truly time to wage an Old Biddie war. Yellow tux and cane get my vote. Make sure there is a feather in your cap.

The Old Biddies in the UMC church where I grew up were a constant plague. There was one in particular who was so vile that when she died, I cheered.
thanatos_kalos From: thanatos_kalos Date: April 5th, 2014 01:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's very interesting-- &, from what I recall of WNY, not surprising, sadly-- as I'm seeing debates about 'appropriate clothing' in the pseudo-sacred grounds of academia as well. Often, they run along lines of power/tradition (different sides of the same coin) as they seem to be in your case as well. :( But, because of the tradition elements to it, the response is often because the person dressed differently is seen as a threat to the status quo, as you seem to be (and good on you for it :). So I'd argue that what you're seeing are the 'old biddies' running scared that they might be the ones left feeling unwelcome. No reason to feel ashamed of your clothing (though as a woman I'm constantly judged on appearance, so I feel your pain); if anything, I'd agree with digitallemur and go with the powder blue. Or, better: pink, rainbow or red velvet. :)

captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: April 5th, 2014 02:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suspect they're more worried just that they're not going to be "left" at all- that their remaining time is limited and damned (sorry, darned) if they're going to let one thing change while they hang on by their fingernails to every last bit of How Things Always Were.

And we're just down the street from Marty's Formal Wear, which stocks most of the really bad tuxedos for the World's Largest Disco. Maybe something in yellow with a wide-brimmed hat and cane to really get the point across.
digitalemur From: digitalemur Date: April 5th, 2014 02:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I concede my powder blue tux idea, these ideas are even better!

For extra credit, sing "Hello, My Baby" when you go to sit down after doing your bit.
thanatos_kalos From: thanatos_kalos Date: April 5th, 2014 02:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I second this motion. :)
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: April 5th, 2014 02:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Check, please."
13 comments or Leave a comment