*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)
“Are you wearing tennis shoes with your robe?”
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…
“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 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…
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