Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I write from the airport, on my way to another wedding.  This is the last one of the year, in a fact until next summer.  This summer, I seemed to be off to a wedding every other weekend. These were mostly commitments I had made before being assigned to come to Portland.  I have loved attending each wedding, but feel it has been unfair to Fr. Ron, the Associate Pastor.  So I am grateful for the upcoming hiatus.

 As I headed toward the departure gate, I saw a very large display ad with people wearing various types of clothing and the question:   "What clothes show your power?" What a strange question!  I could not make a choice from the display, as they were all women's clothing, but I also could not answer the question in terms of my own wardrobe.  I dress for the occasion, not for power.

 As a priest, of course, I sometimes wear garments that no one else is wearing, but that is about function, not power. I don't have any power.  I have certain responsibilities and authority, but not power.  I learned a long time ago that I am ultimately powerless over just about everything.  That is, I cannot think of many things over which I have total and absolute control, with no room for doubt or error.

 People certainly could attribute power to someone based on how they are dressed.  Think of uniformed police, or a judge.  Or even a priest in vestments or Roman collar.  But that doesn't mean they have power.  If power is defined as the absolute ability to control, with no possibility of doubt or error, does any human have real power?  I do not think so.  So why pretend? There must be some payoff for those who pretend:  their egos are enhanced; they have the delusion of control; certain inadequacies are made invisible, at least to themselves.

Royalty, in most places, does not dress any differently than other citizens. Some workers wear uniforms for purposes of identity. I can think of only a few professions which dress to power: police; military; clergy. It is interesting to note that people in each of these professions are sometimes seen as being abusive.  I cannot speak about police or military, but I certainly admit there are priests and seminarians whose insistence on dressing in a religious habit or cassock appears to be based on a desire to not be mistaken for a mere mortal!

There are many reasons for dressing in a uniform or religious garb that have nothing to do with a pretense of power, of course, but using what one wears as a way to pretend to be superior to others can be a subtle form of bullying, I fear.  The hierarchical vestments in religion and the awe-provoking fanciness of a general's uniform do instill a sense of silliness, at times. The emperor's clothes help tremendously in the quest for power. Why is this my reflection for the week?  That display in the airport really pushed some button within me, and I feel compelled to speak some truth to power.

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