Format Aside

I was never someone who was really concerned about style growing up.  I had some hand me down outfits from cousins, I wore a lot of t-shirts and jeans.  I remember a pair or two of stirrup pants in there.  Fashion wasn’t my thing.

As an adult, however, I’m starting to lean into fashion.

I think part of it has to do with being in a semi-professional type of position, standing in front of folks who are dressed for church on a regular basis, and wanting to be taken seriously in my work… in spite of my age and gender.

I never quite knew what to wear to my first church.  It was the county seat of a rural community and people came to church in everything from sweatpants to suits. How do you dress in that situation to help everyone feel comfortable?  How do you dress so you aren’t ever “above” or “below” someone?  I got very comfortable in nice jeans and a jacket… or a dress with more casual shoes.  And to be honest, I have kind of stayed in that place.  Casual chic? Dressed down dresses?  oh, and lots of accessories….

My first day at my new church, in my position as the lead pastor, I walked in wearing this sleek black dress, black heels, and I straightened my hair.  I wanted to make an impression.  I wanted to let the world know that I was serious business. And I felt so completely overdressed all day long.

I have mostly drifted back to my casual, but “fashionable” wardrobe. I have discovered I love dresses and skirts because they really can be dressed up or down to suit the occasion. I’m trying to simplify my basics and expand the accessories.

But can I tell you… there is nothing better on Sunday morning at church than being able to put a robe over whatever I’m wearing that day.  It takes off all the pressure.  It takes away all the comments.  It allows me to simply preach and do my job without anyone, including myself, worrying about what it is that I’m wearing.

Treasures in the closet

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When my grandmother passed away, my aunts and I spent hours going through her closets. Grandma Doni was a stylish lady. She was put together. But she was also my grandma, and we didn’t necessarily have the same fashion sense.

While there were a number of nice suits and jackets and outfits, there were few that really tripped my trigger. As a 20 year old college student, the clothes just didn’t fit with my life. Shoulder pads were out. The fits were off. But I reluctantly took a few pieces, stuck them in a closet at my parents and left them.

A couple of months ago, I was peeking in that same closet looking for my sewing machine. It was passed down from my grandma, too.  It is this heavy, old, seafoam green monster and I love it. But there in the closet, I also saw a few of those jackets and suits and found my eyes drawn to this pink camel hair pencil skirt. Of course, it had a matching jacket that still seemed a bit hideous, but that skirt caught my attention. So, I took it back home.

It hung in my closet for a bit until I finally decided to bust it out this past Sunday. I paired it with some white tights and a white wrap-around/button-up shirt.

One of my favorite things about the skirt is how well it is made. The lining is crisp. The side zipper actually hides inside the pocket. It fits in all the right places and moves well.

But most importantly, putting on that skirt, I think I stood taller. I thought about the woman she was and the woman she would have wanted me to be. And I would like to think that she would be pleased to see me up there, at the front of the church, in her pink camel hair skirt :)

traveling light?

My family just got back a few days ago from a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks.  It was a Christmas/Anniversary/Birthday gift to our parents from all the kids.  We rented a huge house on the water and had four glorious days to spend with one another.

Packing for such an adventure was a different story.  Sure there was a full kitchen with appliances – but would they have salt and pepper?  Tupperware to store leftovers? Parchment paper for under the oven fries? The absolute best price on steak we had seen for months?

We all threw in what we thought was good and necessary… including the whole watermelon I had left over from a youth event the Wednesday before. And that car was PACKED to the BRIM with our stuff.

Of course, then comes my brothers and sister-in-law.  A backpack with some clothes and some sneaks =)

I am procrastinating right now, because what I should be doing is finishing my packing for Annual Conference.

I’ve got the prerequisite clothes, but I must admit I packed an extra outfit or two… it is supposed to be in the 90’s two of our days and we are going to be sitting in a60 degree cool airconditioned hall – it makes it hard to predict what to wear.
I cut down on weight by putting all of my annual conference materials on my kindle… but then I found room to pack some notecards and thank you materials.  And a journal for taking notes/putting ammendments.

I need to bring two different knitting projects for the long hours spent sitting.

And walking shoes for walking… and flip flops for hanging out in the sun on breaks.
My laptop for the room.
My camera to document the artwork installation and to add pictures to the online conversation.
Try as I might, I never can seem to pack light for Annual Conference.

a strange beauty… #reverb10

A few days ago, I happened to catch an interview with Simone Dinnerstein on NPR.  She has come out with an album that is an interpretation of Bach masterpieces for piano called “A Strange Beauty.” The pieces themselves are wondrous and in the interview she talked about how she almost invisions them as jazz compositions.  The voices shift, there are notes that speak to her that are not a part of the melody, the little discrepencies that truly make these pieces different.

In the album notes, she quotes the scientist Sir Francis Bacon: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” The most beautiful things are not those that are symmetrical and perfect, but that draw our attention, make us slightly uncomfortable until we settle within it, creates a holy and beautiful disturbance in our souls.

December 8 – Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful. (Author: Karen Walrond)

So what is that about me?  What makes me a strange beauty?  What are the qualities that stick out like a sore thumb, and yet are the reason people draw close?

It is a hard question to think about. I often want to leave these qualities for someone else to name, but this whole process is about self-reflection, about seeing ourselves the way others see us.  So here is a list of what I have come up with:

My eagerness – foolish, naive, excited, passionate, unafraid.  I’m willing to dive in, raise my hand, say yes before I have a chance to think about it.  Part of this is my youth, but I think my congregation loves it in me because I inspire them to take chances as well.

My shoes – I have always loved shoes.  I remember these platform mary janes I had in high school.  Now, it is the red flats, the pointy toed, high heeled boots, the slip on suede privos… they share my personality for the day and are a conversation piece.

My inquisitive side – I always have questions. I always want to know more.  Maybe this makes me strangely annoying rather than strangely beautiful.

My ability to see gray areas – I find myself straddling the line between positions.  I see the pros and cons, but more than that, the passion and emotions with which people make their arguments.  I am a peacemaker, a negotiator, and because of this, I almost never have “the answer.”  It is not for a lack of confidence in my position, rather my love and passion for the process that has led others to their own.

My voice that developed very late – I was never a good singer growing up.  My mom told me once that I was off key as we sang aloud in the car on a trip.  I’m not sure I quite got over the sting of that until I was much older… I loved to sing out loud, whether I was good at it or not.  In high school I took voice lessons, sang at competition, and never did well.  My upper range had not developed and I was a very sad second alto because my very lower range wasn’t the best either.  Sometime in college/seminary, I found my voice.  This past year, I have sung solos twice in church.  I have found a confidence and a passion in my voice I never knew I had.  And I think the confidence is what makes my voice beautiful. I’m not afraid for people to hear me sing anymore.

robed authority

I was blessed to officiate the wedding of my friends recently.  And up until five minutes before the wedding, I couldn’t decide if I would wear my robe or not.

You see, I had packed the robe.  And I was most assuredly wearing the stole.  But the robe was an additional layer of formality, of tradition, of authority… that I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to assume at the time.

There is this great debate it seems among pastors about whether we should robe or not.  As a woman, I have often argued that wearing a robe keeps people from being distracted by what we are wearing.  It adds some authority simply by the fact that you are wearing something different from what everyone else is wearing.
But that in itself is also a reason to discard the robe when you are trying to be in ministry with people. It is a barrier between you and everyone else. It makes you distinct. Which in certain circumstances actually helps to conveys your authority and then I’m back to wearing the robe.

This was the inner dialogue I was having about ten minutes before the wedding – which ended when a family member said he was having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that I was one of the college friends and yet also had authority to do the wedding… I put on the robe.  The authority and not the college student was the only image left to put out there… which of course also meant that when the ceremony was finished and the robe got put away, I felt more than comfortable dancing to “Love Shack” with everyone else.

You know how lawyers in England still wear fancy wigs when they are doing their official business in the courtroom?  It’s a trapping of tradition and old sentimentality… and yet it also marks what they are doing as important.  It sets that part of their life aside as distinct from the rest of their work and play.

I know that I allow myself to become something more… something different when that stole is draped over my shoulders. I read scripture in a different way.  I preach and the words become more than what they were an hour before as I was practicing them at home.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Colossians 3:12-14

Putting on the stole and the robe are ways of taking on God’s authority, of literally wearing a symbol of compassion and gentleness.  It is a uniform, as much as a police officer’s uniform is… it conveys my role and my task in that place.

Does a police officer stop being a police officer when the uniform is gone?  Or a surgeon when she takes off the scrubs?  Or a lawyer when the suit is hanging up in the closet?  Yes and no… sometimes we simply put on other hats and become wives and dads and little league coaches instead.  But I think that deep down, once we put on a vocation – a persona – we can’t really take it off.

Once I have put on this authority that Christ gave me, once I have put on kindness and patience and forgiveness – they aren’t really things that I can take off again.  Once I have put on love… it is there to stay.  Perhaps it is just easier for others to see with the robe on.

being hit on

**note: this post feels really disjointed.  I’ve been thinking about writing this for days now and it is just as scattered as my thoughts on this are. So bear with me.**

Three times in the past week I have been “hit on” in our little town. Never mind the rings on my finger indicating my married status.  Never mind the fact that I’m a minister and did 18 funerals last year in this little town. Never mind the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m half the age of some of these dudes. 

It always happens at the strangest times and in the strangest places.  Paying for my breakfast at the cafe.  In the soup aisle at the grocery store. Someone walks up and makes a little comment and I feel embarrased and frustrated and I try to be polite and brush it off but what I really want to do is scream, “INAPPROPRIATE!”

Maybe it’s because I’m showing off more leg with my knee length skirts now that it is summer.  Maybe it’s because my husband isn’t attached to my hip 24/7 and we kind of do our own thing when we aren’t home. Maybe it’s because I… why am I assuming it has something to do with me?

I guess I thought that the ring would protect me from advances.  I admit that I’m grateful to have married my high school sweetheart – because I really haven’t had to mess with the dating scene. But the truth is… are women EVER able to stay away from guys hitting on them?

Being a pastor also adds an additional layer of complication.  In seminary and in conversations with mentors I have always been taught that pastors should be friendly, but not friends with people in their congregation. And for the most part that has worked. It also helps that I have a network of friends outside of the community and I don’t feel the need to be best friends with people in the church. We have a work relationship, we have a pastor/parishoner relationship… and that’s good.

But what does that maxim mean for people outside the congregation? If I’m friendly to the guy in the coffee shop, he thinks I’m flirting with him. Or is he just being friendly back and I’m misinterpreting it? No, definately not.  His response was definately not appropriate.

In the back of my head, I’m aware that at any moment, someone in this town could pass away and anyone in this community could become my parishoner.  Someone might be getting married this summer and they will be at the wedding and they will in that sense be my parishoner.  I’m not a community chaplain, but I’m also not going to turn people from the community away when they come knocking. In everything that I do in the community, I try to wear my professional hat and be the pastor.

But then I run to the grocery store in a tank top and jogging shorts to get hamburger buns for dinner and someone hits on me.

I refuse to dress like a grandma just so people won’t notice me. I desperately want to feel like a normal person some days.  But c’mon people – it’s not okay to hit on a pastor in the soup aisle.

The trials of being a female pastor

Memo to other young women clergy out there:  don’t wear a skirt to a graveside service.
I have this amazing, comfortable, beautiful a-line skirt that I wear for many many many important and solemn events.  It works perfectly with a black sweater or jacket and has a wonderful touch of femininity and reverence.  But it has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion as I stand at the graveside to say the committal.

Last fall, it was bean harvesting season in Iowa, and I wore the skirt to a cemetary on top of a hill.  Now, I didn’t quite understand what bean harvesting season meant at the time, but I do now.  All of the commotion in the fields had stirred up the millions of japanese beetles that had been hiding there feasting all summer.  There were beetles everywhere.  Around town, you noticed them, but it wasn’t quite the same as being in this country cemetary surrounded by fields. 

I got out of the caravan vehicle and made my way to the graveside.  And instantly the bugs started attacking.  They landed on my legs, crawled up my legs, bit everywhere, and it was all I could do to keep from screaming!  While I was not alone in my trials, I seemed to be getting the worst of the attention because of my bare legs.  During the prayers (when I hoped people’s eyes were closed) I would brush and wiggle and squirm and try to get some of those bugs out from the folds of my beautiful and wonderful and now dreaded skirt. We all laughed about it afterwards, but it wasn’t a pretty sight!

Then yesterday, I had another inopportune wearing of said skirt.  It was a warm and sunshiny day out, so I donned the skirt for a graveside service at our local cemetary.  Not once in the morning did I notice the wind.  But when we stepped outside of the vehicle, the gusts immediately fell upon us and before I had a chance to think, my skirt flew up into the air like Marilyn Monroe’s.  Luckily, we were meeting the family there and not many had arrived.  Which meant that there were still a few there.  I pray no one caught a glimpse of my latest Victoria’s Secret find… but I cannot be too sure. Throughout the service, I carefully tried to hold my legs together with a fold of the skirt between them in order to prevent another one of said Monroe-like incidents during the middle of the service.

I think I may have to retire the skirt for outdoor services… or at least check the weather first!

The Progression of a Desk

I walked into my office today, after about a week and a half of chaos and disorder.

And while I don’t feel like I actually got a lot of tasks accomplished (like my candidacy continuance interview forms), at least the desk got cleared off, the old mail was gone through, and I updated the calendar with the items that need to be done in the coming days.


I find that it is nearly impossible for me to get things accomplished when there is clutter in my life. Everything needs to be put away before I can start afresh. And in the process of sorting and stacking and simplifying, I usually discover something that has been left undone.

Clutter seems to always have been a part of my life. There are some people in the world who are neat and organized, but I have always had a habit of just leaving things around. Nothing gets put where it is supposed to – at least not right away. Organization is an evolving process in my world.

I was fairly proud of myself though. We had purchased some hats and noise makers for New Year’s and typically, we wouldn’t have anywhere to put them and they would simply be added to the clutter of other things. But now that we have abundant closet spaces in our home, they got put in the seasonal closet: which is a strange assortment of vases and roaster ovens, an easter basket, coolers and sleeping bags. Each of the items in there is used only a few times a year – so it seemed like the perfect place to store them. And now I know where to look come December 31, 2009.

Now if I could only figure out to do with all of our clothes. The problem isn’t space (although we could use another dresser). The problem is the weekly task of actually doing the laundry, sorting it, folding it, and PUTTING IT AWAY. I’m thinking I just need to go through everything and make a huge pile for giveaway. half of it I don’t wear anymore… it’s amazing how many grad school clothes just aren’t appropriate for church work.