I’m close to taking a funeral for a very good friend within the next few days, and I’m currently growing (?) a moustache. Whats the connection ?
Quite simply that my friend (and Alison agrees) doesn’t like it, and I’m not even sure that I suit it either, but I’ve always wondered what I would look like with a full blown ‘ache. Alison always says whenever I’ve tried that “its like kissing a loo brush !” I have no idea how she knows !
Its almost certain that I’ll be clean shaven soon for I value friendship and more so I value Alisons opinion, alongside the family who many years ago christened any fur on my top lip as ‘Clarence the hairy caterpillar’. However it raises the question of what do I wear or what do I look like.
Many years ago, in my teens, I grew my hair long in order to hide my hearing aid and fit in; I grew to like my hair down to my shoulders but fashions change and so it was shortened again but just enough to still hide the aids (now up to two). I feel so much more conscious of them and it accentuates my sense of deafness.
Several years ago I discovered the beauty and comfort of crocs ; since then I’ve been both criticised and cheered by a variety of people who either love them or hate them. Whilst I admit they aren’t elegant they are extremely comfy and surely that counts for something. Lately I’ve taken to wearing moccasin style crocs and find its commented upon by both haters and lovers !
Similarly I have a tendency to wear brightly coloured waistcoats, few of any which fasten, and now I find comments being made if I don’t wear them or if I’m not wearing the brightly coloured clothes I enjoy wearing. Often the comments range from the statements of “thats not suitable for a Minister” to “you’re a trendy Vicar (!)” or “its good that you dress so badly (??)”
This is no ones fault but it is a result of expectations fuelled by the media and the way that most of us have been raised: just look at old black and white photos of church activities, men in suits, ladies in bonnets and in the background. I think these expectations have seeped into societies sub-conscience and many of us fall for its trick.
The waistcoat Im most proud to have worn
When I first came out of college I dressed very soberly; nearly always clerical shirt and suit, grey or black shirt. I wasn’t unhappy about it but gradually came to realise that God had called me to be who I am. In other words to ‘be me’. However I’m still assailed by peoples opinions of what a Minister should or shouldn’t look like. Interestingly I find that its usually some of the folk in Church who are liable to have a more negative opinion and the ones outside of Church who are positive and even complimentary.
Do we judge each other too much by our clothes and appearance more than by who we are, by our character, or morals, our graciousness etc ? One of my favourite theologians wrestled with this, his doubts and fears during his time in prison, where he was held and eventually executed for opposing Hitler; he in powerful book “Letters from prison” he spoke of how he must appear to others as if their views should matter to him. Ultimately he wrote the following poem entitled “Who am I ?”
Who Am I? by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
Who am I? They often tell me how
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!
I love the certainty of that last line for it speaks so much truth. No matter what others think of me, of my poor dress sense, or my raggedy hair, of my, sermons or services, of my lack of organisation, I KNOW that I belong to God and right here at the start of Lent I KNOW that he came to earth as Jesus to die for this world, and that includes ME.