CONVERSE*

 

*is the brand name for a pair of casual shoes developed and produced by Converse, which has been a subsidiary of Nike Inc. since 2003.  The design of the Chuck Taylor All-Star has remained largely unchanged since its introduction. The shoes consist of a stitched upper portion, a toe cap usually made of white rubber, and a sole that is usually made of brown rubber.(1)

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“Are you wearing tennis shoes with your robe?”

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The ministry program year is about to start up again. Schedules are being finalized. Invitations are being sent out. Volunteers are being trained. And…I bought a new pair of Converse for the year.

It is becoming my annual ritual, at about this time of year when all of the church stuff is starting to crank up again, to buy a pair of Converse. The reason for the yearly shopping pilgrimage to a retail store that carries Converse has its genesis back when I was on Internship (and maybe even way before that).

When I was in seminary and ready for internship, the Candidacy Committee (the type of committee that nearly all pastors ordained within the past 5-10 years seem to have some level of horror story about) required me to go on internship to an uber liturgical/traditional congregation in order for me to experience something more ‘Lutheran’ than I had been comfortable with. You see, I had spent years serving in a large lutheran church in Las Vegas, NV. At the time they worshipped roughly 1600 people on a weekend and had six (yes…count them 6) worship services.(2) The ‘styles’ ranged from LBW (green book liturgical/traditional) to Blended, to Contemporary Praise and Worship, to Country Western (yes…Country Western led by the Honkey Tonk Angels Band…not kidding). The opinion of the Candidacy Committee was that I had not been influenced by ‘mainstream’ Lutheranism in America and that I needed that experience.(3)

So…I went on internship and for the first time was in a worship setting where the only experience was one where the pastor was to chant the liturgy, move and stand in the ‘appropriate’ places, arrange my arms in the appropriate liturgical positions, stick to all four lectionary readings  (Old Testament, Epistle, Psalm and Gospel), and of course, wear a robe. Keep in mind at my church experience in Las Vegas we also had a very liturgical/traditional service where robes were worn. This was by no means ‘new’ to me. The difference was that the liturgical/traditional option was the only worship option! Where I was before, there were five other options where the music, the setting, the clothing, the order of worship all were different. It was at this point in my ministry journey that I decided that I’d give a ‘tip of the hat’ to people who came to church out of duty to either church or family (spouses or parents). That ‘tip of the hat’ was to show a glimpse of another way to do and experience worship by showing more casual shoes peering out from beneath my robe. The more casual dress at that time for me happened to be a pair of gray Converse with the white rubber toe slightly scuffed. I also wore jeans and…

…people noticed.

“Are you wearing tennis shoes with your robe?” and “Wearing jeans are you? Didn’t want to dress up for God?”

Yeah…people noticed…and they still do. I intentionally wear jeans and Converse every Sunday, both under a robe (liturgical/traditional) as well as in plain sight (contemporary). I, admittedly, willingly challenged the unwritten dress code of Sunday morning church. Which begs the question…

Should there be a dress code?

Seriously…should there be? Are there ‘shoulds’ or ‘shouldn’ts’ when it comes worship of any style? Why do we wear robes and stoles in worship anyway? Did Jesus? Did the early church? If so, why?

Before I go any further and make anyone overly angry (making people angry is not my intent by the way), I want to remind you of my generation. Though no category defines any of us, there are many stereotypical attributes to Generation X that fit me quite well, not the least of which is the stuck in the middle(4),  anti-authority(5), and defiant(6) world view that has seemed to define us since the beginning. It is this world view that caused a shift in the church. It is Generation X that was a part of (if not a large part of) the Emerging Church(7) movement that though was really a shift of theological perspective, it seemed to originally present itself through worship style. It is this skepticism of authority and of institutions that has always driven me to question the practices of authority and institutions.

So I ask again, why do we wear robes and stoles in worship? Why can’t I wear jeans? Why can’t I wear Converse? Why…

Beware of [those] who like to walk around in long robes.”(8)

Do you know who said that?

Jesus…

Jesus said that in response to a bunch of other questions regarding the law, questions of money and taxes and marriage and resurrection. He says it in condemnation of those who wear robes, who wear clothing different from the rest of the people in order to set themselves a part or maybe even because they already feel they are set apart. In either case, Jesus clearly has a problem with those who set themselves apart from others regardless of the reason.

And that is the point right? The point that robes and stoles were not at all a part of early Christianity no matter what diverse form and theology the early church may have had. The very point of the Gospel is that ALL were equal in the eyes of God. There were no barriers of any kind, not even barriers or differences of gender, social strata, or ethnicity(9)…and especially not barriers of clothing.

The Catholic Encyclopedia Online says that in the time before Constantine, the first 350 years or so of the church, that “the priestly dress did not yet differ from the secular costume in form and ornament.”(10) It was the annexation of Christianity by the Roman world that led to a need to differentiate clergy from everyone else. “The Christian vestments did not originate in the priestly dress of the Old Testament; they have, rather, developed from the secular dress of the Graeco-Roman world.”(11) What does this mean? It means that our robes and stoles (and much more) have more to do with mimicking rituals of the Roman Empire and ancient secular practices(12) than they have to do with Jesus’ message of love, grace, equality, social justice, and the like. In fact, as that specific garb became standard practice, it was identical to the Roman magistrates of the time(13) intentionally setting them apart from common people. The garb changed and morphed over time, taking on the attributes of other cultures as the Roman Empire grew and spread, but from that time forward the clothing was all about setting clergy a part from common people.(14)

So is my wearing jeans and Converse out of disrespect, distrust, or dislike of tradition? Of course not…well…maybe a bit…

Admittedly I have a hard time with the idea of anyone in a community, in a congregation who is set apart from anyone else. I understand that some of us are charged with planning a worship service and making it happen, but to wear completely different clothes than everyone in today’s culture? To be set apart in such a dramatic way? Aren’t we already ‘set apart’ by the sheer fact that we are the ones preaching or leading Communion?

Wearing jeans and Converse comes from a theological desire to recalibrate our reasons for being in a church community in the first place. I want us to ask the question. I want us to ask ‘why’. Why do robes hold such importance for us? Why do cleric collars? Why can’t the pastor wear jeans? Why can’t the pastor wear Converse? Seriously…why not?

Now, when I’m asked, “Are you wearing tennis shoes with your robe?” My response is…

Why not?

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1 – “Converse”. Wikipedia. Accessed September 2006. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Taylor_All-Stars

2 – I will write more about this experience sometime, but it is safe for me to say that my experience at Community Lutheran Church is foundational and extremely formational to who I am as a Pastor. If it weren’t for Pastor Ray Christensen and his successor Pastor Mark Wickstrom (the whole “CLC” experience really) I likely would not be a pastor today.

3 – More on this when I write about ‘worship wars’ concerning worship style and music.

4 – “Generation X: America’s Neglected ‘Middle Child'”. By Paul Taylor and George Gau. Pew Research Center. June 5, 2013. Accessed September 10th, 2016. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/06/05/generation-x-americas-neglected-middle-child/

5 – “Generation X and the Millennials: What You Need To Know About Mentoring the New Generations”. By Dianne Thielfoldt and Devon Scheef, November 2005. Accessed September 10th, 2016. http://apps.americanbar.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mgt08044.html

6 –  Gordinier, Jeff, “X Saves The World: How Generation X Got The Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking”, Penguin Group: New York, 2008

7 – “Emerging Church”. Wikipedia. Accessed September 10th, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerging_church

8 –  Luke 20:46 NRSV

9 – Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11

10 – “Vestments” Catholic Encyclopedia. Accessed September 10th, 2016. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15388a.htm

11 – Ibid.

12 – Mayo, Janet, “A History of Ecclesiastical Dress”, New York: Holmes & Meier, 1984. pg 11-12 Mayo writes, “A consideration of ecclesiastical vestments will reveal that they had their origins in secular Roman dress.”

13 – Hatch, Edwin. “Organization of Early Christian Churches”, Oxford University, 1981, pg 164

14 – Barna, George “Pagan Christianity”, Tyndale 2012 pg 151

Hollywood!!!

…it is produced by Hollywood for entertainment and not necessarily the Christian message.

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The first critique of ‘what I do’ is aimed at my admittedly heavy use of movie clips in my preaching material. For those of you who have not heard me preach on a regular basis, let me explain.(1) The standard format for most Sundays is really quite predictable: First the reading from scripture, then a movie clip of some sort (the week I wrote this BLOG I used a clip from the movie Rudy), after that I start speaking usually acknowledging the movie and then I ignore the movie clip altogether while setting up my point using translations, perspectives, and ideas all based on the reading. Finally I return to the clip and show how it is a metaphor for my point…I nearly always end with a question for the congregation to chew on throughout the week. Within that very monotonous outline, the trick becomes to keep those in attendance engaged and interested long enough to get to the point while at the same time giving them a metaphor to remember and grapple with beyond the few minutes we share together.

What is interesting is the range of feedback I get concerning this style or method of preaching. Some love it and find it deeply engaging and memorable, others use words such as ‘relevant’ (always a significant compliment no matter how overused the word is these days), and others appreciate the difference from other styles (different at least in Lutheran type circles). But, people are different, created in all sorts of diversity with an array of likes and dislikes. Therefore, not all feedback is the same. It is not all positive, of course (and it never will be). The bulk of people who don’t ‘click’ with how I do it simply move on and find another church. Others don’t say a word and simply deal with it because, even though they may not be a fan of my style, they have a theological perspective that informs and guides them to a view of ‘church’ that isn’t all about the sermon. But there is one other group…the group that feels called to tell me directly that they do not appreciate what I do or how I do it. It is from this group of people where statements such as this come from,

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“We are movie buffs, but we also realize that even though there may be a message in the film segment, it is produced by Hollywood for entertainment and not necessarily for a Christian message.”

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This of course is a valid point. One that causes me to once again think about why I do what I do…

My knee jerk reaction is to talk about culture and our use of screens. We use them. We use them for 90% of all media consumption.(2) Not only do we get most of our information through the medium of screens, but we spend most of our day looking at those screens. A recent report has the average American looking at a screen over 10 hours per day…per day!(3) In order to consume all of that media, the average American home has an average 5.7 internet connected gadgets constantly grabbing information from the omnipresent cloud in order to fill all of that screen time.(4) This is up sharply from previous years but one of the newest trends for all of us media consuming junkies isn’t the consumption itself, but the sharing of all of that media. We don’t simply use more screens over more hours on more devices as if we are passively watching and consuming more and more stuff. We are turning around and sharing it with others.(5) Screens and what goes on them is a part of who we are. It is a part of this culture. It clearly works as a means of getting information across to nearly everyone who lives in this culture. So…why use screens with both static (words and images) and dynamic (video) content? Simply put, ‘screens’ are how people get their information in today’s world, so the church might as well use them to the fullest…

Ok so that is part of an answer or reason, but why specifically to movie clips? Why Hollywood?? In my mind, Hollywood isn’t about the medium (screens filled with light and sound) as much as it is about storytelling. And I would way that, if nothing else, Hollywood is excellent at telling stories. Uri Hanson gives an interesting TED Talk that our brains, in community, “align” when we hear the same idea or story.(6) Maybe that is the power of great storytelling, that with a great story we are all as a community brought together, on the same page experiencing the same thing, and taking in the same information. How much more is that true when we find material such as popular movies and mix it with a concept being discussed on a Sunday morning in worship? Uri also gives a TED Talk about how great stories are also a memory storage device. If this is true, then maybe a more familiar, movie clip created by Hollywood to speak directly and specifically to this culture with help the congregation remember the point of the sermon. Maybe specifically that type of storytelling is a good memory storage device. Maybe?

All of that said, solid reasons in and of themselves, that isn’t the reason I started using movie clips nor are those the reasons I keep using them. I use them because God, God’s work, God’s love, isn’t revealed only in scripture. God isn’t limited to a collection of bound pages scribbled with ink organized into letters, words, sentences and paragraphs. God is more. God can be experienced throughout the whole of creation. At a very basic level, I believe we as ‘church people’ (aka: people who go to church on a regular basis) treat the Gospel, the Bible, the story of God and God’s people simply as a story from the past that we retell as if a story from 2000+ year ago is the only story of God in which the Good News of love, grace, mercy, restoration and redemption can be found, the only story of God that matters. I think this is a horribly limiting unintentional message the church has sent for a very long time…a message that says, God worked and was accessible only in the past. If only we can retell the same stories again and again in order to relive them will we get to know of God’s love today.

*puke (that is just wrong…sorry!)

… the Gospel, the Bible, the story of God and God’s people, is alive today. The story of God isn’t just a story from the past, but it is a story lived out today as well, in all kinds of beautiful ways. I want people to see God and think about God not only when they hear the words “A reading from the Gospel of Mark….” (or whatever), but when they see people interact on the street, at their jobs, in their homes. If we are conditioned to only think of God when a lectionary reading is being read, or a hymn sung, or we are sitting lecture style facing an altar and a cross, then what is the point? Isn’t preaching about encouraging, teaching, persuading that the Gospel is to be lived out beyond the walls of the church? Isn’t preaching supposed to help us see, experience and be the Gospel Monday through Saturday, not just one hour on Sunday?

The movie clips are simply a part of getting people used to seeing God in a venue and a medium other than the trappings of a typical Sunday morning at church. I would LOVE for people to start telling me about movies they saw not as a word-of-mouth promotion for a movie, but as a place where they unexpectedly saw God at work. What if we as a people of God, as Jesus followers, started looking for God’s love, God’s work, God’s mercy, God’s grace in places other than scripture and a sermon? What if we didn’t only talk about the dark and dangerous (sometimes evil) world we live in in light of the evening news, but started talking about the beauty of God’s creation because of the stories being told and lived every day…what if we started to live the gospel being retold in todays world as opposed to only talking about the Gospel through four books at the beginning of the New Testament ending with “The Word of the Lord”?

What if…

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1 – I would invite you to watch/listen to my sermons on our church website, except we have chosen not to put sermons online lately due to dated and deteriorating equipment. The quality is just bad. Seriously, if you would like to help us fund some new equipment to ensure sermons are recorded and put online, please click here to make a donation (go to “OTHER” and type in SERMON EQUIPMENT in the box). We need about $1500 for a new HD Camera and another $1500 for a second computer dedicated to real time production of sermons for online use. THANK YOU!!

2 – “The Average Number of Screens in a Home Has Increased”, Tech At Last, accessed August 29th, 2016, http://techatlast.com/average-number-of-screens-in-home-increased/

3 – “Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time, and growing,” CNN, accessed August 29th, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/

4 – “NPD: US homes now hold over 500m Internet-connected devices with apps, at an average of 5.7 per household,” TNW, accessed August 26th, 2016, http://thenextweb.com/insider/2013/03/18/npd-us-homes-now-hold-over-500m-internet-connected-devices-with-apps-at-an-average-of-5-7-per-household/#gref

5 – Brown, Scott L., How Are People Consuming Media?”, Three Screens – Nielsen, 2010, accessed August 29th, 2016, http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/newswire/uploads/2010/01/Nielsen-3screen-CES-2010.pdf

6 – Hasson, Uri (2016, February). Uri Hasson: This is your brain on communication [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/uri_hasson_this_is_your_brain_on_communication