Part of my formation as a pastor has to do with looking the part. Unfortunately (fortunately?), in my Lutheran faith tradition, that doesn’t mean weathered skinny jeans and a Buffalo plaid button-down shirt with those nerdy-but-hip wire-framed glasses...
It means an ole fashioned clerical collar.
When I was a kid, I enjoyed dressing up. Anyone who knew me as a child knows that I spent most of my time away from school in a costume of some sort.
As I’ve shared before, the first costume that my mom crafted for me was for the role of (drum roll, please)… An exorcist. The movie was a big deal when I was 6 or 7 years old and as terrified as I was of that little possessed girl, I SO wanted to fight demons for a living. My mom got a black dickie turtle neck thingy and stitched a white tab on the front as a makeshift clerical collar. I had the creepy glasses (sans lenses). She even gave me a medallion from the Catholic Church that was apparently USED IN ACTUAL EXORCISMS. Here’s photographic evidence…
I was so stoked. I went around exercising everyone who came over.
So I feel like now, as a 42-year-old man, I’m finally living my dream (though I’ve yet to meet anyone with a spinning head that I can employ exorcism techniques on).
But that clerical shirt also carries deep cultural symbology - both good and bad. Everyone sees something different when they see that thing and until I talk to them for a while, I have no idea just how it strikes them.
The thing that makes me nervous is how the clerical collar has become THE symbol of someone who is holier-than-thou. It seems to communicate that we clerics have this faith thing nailed down with zero flaws, doubts, friction, or questions. That we’ve achieved some level of holiness that allows us to wear this shirt, UNLIKE YOU, WRETCHED SINNER.
I hope that, if you’ve followed my work for any length of time, you know that this isn’t AT ALL how I carry this ministry. Quite the opposite, in fact.
I wear this collar - as my Lutheran tradition holds it - as a faithful servant to you.
I have not ascended to a life that’s free of sin while standing atop the mountain of piety, hands on my hips, looking down at you and telling you to climb faster. No… As long as I’m alive, I’ll be just as bogged down by sin as you or anyone else. As Luther said, all humans are 100% sinner and 100% saint 100% of the time - and this includes pastors.
I’m in just as much need of grace, mercy, and forgiveness as you are. What this collar symbolizes is that I’ve committed my life to translating how our Triune God meets and restores us in the messiness of our lives.
Now, though on a human level, I am no different than anyone else, I do see this role of minister as a vocation. It takes ample research and study. It takes knowing some Greek and Hebrew. It takes meeting with the incarcerated, sick, and dying. It requires taking time away to listen to God in the silence of prayer. It takes writing, editing, sharing, preaching, teaching, and holding sacred space. It takes getting to know those we serve so that we can understand where their pains and joys lie.
Basically, it’s a full-time job that I believe is worth the hard-earned money of any group of people to support someone as they do this work.
But I don’t have this stuff figured out and I never will. After all, if it was figure-outable, it wouldn’t be called ‘faith’. And so, I’ve become strangely comfortable in the ambiguity of this role.
“You teach best what you most need to learn.”
- Richard Bach
We’re drawn to the subjects we struggle with because we see them as being WORTH struggling with. The stakes are so high, we’re compelled to try to help others gain clarity on them.
Maybe for you, that subject is politics, social justice, art, creativity, physical fitness, or cooking.
Well, for me, faith and spirituality are the subjects that I wrestle with the most. But as I said, I wrestle with them out of deep love. I want to wrestle faith closer to me, and hopefully, knowing that I am not God and cannot MAKE you have faith, I can bring faith even an inch or two closer to you.
This is the spirit in which I wear this collar.
In Comfort & Joy,
P.S. A dear friend of mine, Heather Choate Davis, is an incredibly insightful woman who also happens to be an amazing musician. She’s been creating more and more work on her YouTube channel, so I highly recommend checking it out. You can find her latest song here and her channel here.