Under The Collar Experiment

Monday, June 30, 2014

Lie to Me

Would you lie to someone in a ministerial collar? 

For some reason, I have been lied to more so far this year than I have ever been lied to in my life (that I'm aware of, anyway). There have been big lies and little lies, lies from children and lies from adults. Why am I being lied to? Is it because of my collar?

I expect to be lied to as a minister in the normal ways people choose to play the social game.  According to a recent study, 60 percent of people lie, on average, three times every 10 minutes. Phrases like: “Does this collar make my head look big?” throw most people into a social constraint that creates a lie. I actually don’t consider those kinds of comments lies. 

According to truth and credibility expert Paul Ekman, the liar must deliberately try to mislead the target.   So, if you have their permission, it’s not a lie.  In Poker, the players are not lying to one another because they have agreed to a set of rules ahead of time.  If we have an understanding that when I ask such fashion-related questions that I want the truth, then you would be lying to say it looks fine when it does not.  And if you tell me it looks fine when it does not and we don’t have that understanding of the rules of the game, then you would be lying.  The rules in our cultural religious game are: we don’t lie to a minister.  The default in my personal rule book is that I don’t ever want to be lied to, even when it hurts.

I have enough experience in a collar to know that being a minister provokes confession. I guess for some reason I believed that my collar created another layer of truth seeking, a safety net of sorts.  The collar also serves as a social lubricant that moves a conversation to things that matter most in people’s lives.  My role becomes an excuse to go deeper.    My presence evokes difficult conversations about mistakes and guilt. This is one of many things I love about the ministry.  I have always been terrible at small talk and I am a terrible liar.  The role of minister sometimes brings with it a blind trust that really ought to be earned. Lying to me when I am in my collar, however, feels like it takes more hutzpah than when lying to me in my street clothes. 

Manipulating people is wrong.  Trying to manipulate me when I am in my collar seems maniacal and something one should consider looking at more deeply, possibly with the help of a trusted minister.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

Teenagers can be a tough crowd.  I love the challenge of working with this age.  They bore easily, so you need to be engaging.  They are curious, but you have to make information relevant to their lives. Their hypersensitivity to hypocrisy holds up a mirror that everyone should look in from time to time.

I was asked to be a speaker at a diversity camp for Oklahoma high schoolers called Camp Anytown. They requested an hour long introduction to my free faith.   What is it? What do we believe? Who are our heroes and heroines? What are our core values?  

I accepted. On my way to the camp, I exit the highway to Vian, Oklahoma, where all the street names are rural route numbers and landmarks unfamiliar to the unfamiliar eye blend into the landscape.  After 30 minutes of driving in what felt like a circle—seeing the exact same sign three times, and with no help from the GPS, I finally swallowed my pride and flagged down the next automobile coming toward me.

It was a pick-up truck.  A young man in his 20s pulled over. As I asked him where the church camp was, I was keenly aware of my gender, my collar, and my red convertible (with the new REVSOUL license plate).  He pointed up the road I had just circled around on. He could see my frustration.  “Why don’t you just follow me there?” he says.  “I can take you.” So, I follow him down the winding roads, past the numerous churches, and into the woods. 

I thought that I was just 4-5 miles away from my destination. After 15 minutes of following this kind stranger deeper into wooded Eastern Oklahoma, I caught myself wondering if this was safe.  Somewhere in my DNA a Grimm fairytale is echoing.  Could he be leading me somewhere else?  Am I being foolish?  I snapped myself out of this by remembering that I had flagged him down.  I was the stranger.  

As we passed another fairly hidden Camp sign, proving he was taking me in the right direction, I scolded my mistrust.  After 20 minutes, I wondered if I would I have done this for someone else?  I marveled at his pace of life— that he had enough room in his day to lead a stranger this far out of his way.   As he drove me into the Camp grounds, I pulled up next to him.  We had traveled 30 minutes and 20 miles.   I rolled down my window and said, “You are my hero.  I had no idea it was this far. Bless you.”  He grinned and called me ma’am and said something I don’t remember. 

I wondered if this event was made possible by my clerical collar.  I don’t think so.
I think it was made possible by the kindness of rural Oklahoma. It is an example of the values lived out in this state—values I was immersed in as a child:
Be kind to everyone, even the stranger.
Take care of one another.
Go beyond the call of duty.

In my presentation I spoke of living out the values we profess.  As Unitarian Jane Addams so eloquently put it, "Action...is the sole medium of expression for ethics."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Call Forwarding

My article has just hit the stands in ThislandPress with the focus of my calling not only to the church but also to develop leaders to find their values driven passion in the world.  It speaks of my coming out as a minister by wearing my collar and coming out as a gay minister in Tulsa.  I am returning this weekend to preach at the church that ordained me on Pentecost which was the first Sunday I preached to my current congregation as a called minister to a brand new combined congregation that included many people of color from Higher Dimensions.  It is an auspicious time. Pentecost has become one of my favorite holidays.

And then the wind began to blow.

(Now in biblical language, if the wind starts blowing,it means you had better wake up,because something very important is about to happen. The fire under somebody’s tush is about to be fanned)You see, in the Abrahamic faith traditions when GOD separates us humanity,the story does not end with the tower of Babel. The tower of Babel is just one of three stories closely woven together: Babel, Moses & the Commandments, and Pentecost. First, God separates the people because we were full of pride. And we learned to remain separated by joining with those who were like us and resisting those who are not. And from our separation came wars and –isms, racism, sexism, terrorism. We remained divided inter-personally as well.

With language and culture came writing and education.  Our experience of the world began to be recorded – made permanent instead of fluid.  And we began, at least in Western Culture’s history, to hierarchically judge our experience of the world, placing what could be classified and cataloged, above experiences of heart, and spirit, and intuition.

In Acts 2, something happens.  The story takes a turn…Pentecost happened actually on
The Jewish Festival Day of Shavuot (which was celebrated long before Jesus came along)Shavuot was the day commemorating God giving Moses the Ten Commandments. This was the Birthday of the church…so to speak. Now everyone hearing this story in Acts, at that time,would know this.  On that day, something very strange happens to a group of Jesus’ followers.  Something happens that most Unitarians for the most part, I would assume, have dismissed. (I’m sure Jefferson didn’t keep this part in.) Pente means 50, so 50 days after Easter - on Pentecost –God, evidently, changes her mind.

On Pentecost,We are told, that people from all over Parthians, Medes and Elamites;residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); They were gathered together (maybe trading goods) and there was a meal. Included at the event was a group of Galileans, those who had followed Jesus.  So the wind begins to blow, and the people see what appear to be tongues of fire that separate and come to rest on each of Jesus’ followers.  (I like to imagine them coming down directly to their hearts.) And they begin to speak. I’m sure, since they were practical people,the first thing they were likely to say to one another was

“You are on fire!”

I imagine, after the practical, everyone was speaking about how incredible
it is to be awake and alive. They were sharing their gratitude for their existence and
The wonders of the Holy. Now the passers by in the street are said to have heard a cacophony of gibberish. But the people in the room heard their own language coming from the Galileans. They heard a message that resonated with their experience. God must have decided that even in our differences, with some help, when our hearts are touched with the fire of the Spirit humanity could in fact understand one another. It was a miracle!  And it fulfilled in the Christian Story the beginning of the church. The birthday in fact of the church.

People with very different experiences, with different cultures, and different understandings were all under the same roof declaring the wonders of GOD in their own tongues. And everyone present, and awake, and understood.

Now there were some skeptics, mind you. Not everyone was buying into this miracle.
Someone in the room (likely a Unitarian) exclaimed, “They have had too much wine!”
 Peter corrected the skeptics: They were not drunk…it was only 9 in the morning.
The wine wasn’t even out yet.

So, God separates the people in Genesis, and then, by miracle of miracles, there is an opportunity to be together in the same room, speaking in our own tongues, about the wonder of God, the mystery of life, the wonder of our experience of being human and alive and they are understood by those closest to us.

What if our worship looked like that?! What if our worship could be a container that gracious? Our churches a meeting place for that kind of dialogue, a hearth from which many hearts can be warmed? From which we are sparked to know and manifest our gifts in the world? What if in our meeting places we could speak from a point of difference about the wonders of God and be heard?

This is the mission we are called to do.