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“Do you always dress like that?” the young girl at Panera Bread, maybe in her twenties, leaned over and asked. She was referring to my clerical collar.
“Yes,” I said not necessarily surprised. I get these kinds of questions a lot. “It’s the uniform for the office,” I said and took a sip of my coffee.
“But don’t you want to blend in a little more with rest of us?” she continued. “You know, to put yourself where everyone else is?”
“The absolute last thing I want to do is to blend in,” I answered. “And besides, my clerical collar has never really gotten in the way of putting myself into the situations of life where everyone else is.”
A look of astonishment emerging from her face, beginning first at the eyebrows and trickling down to a half smile, she offered, “But my pastor wears a tie. In fact, he wears some pretty crazy looking ones. He even has one that has Homer Simpson on it.”
“Great,” I said. “If that’s what he wants to do. I think it’s a bad idea. But hey, that’s just me.”
“Why’s it a bad idea?”
“Well, in a basic sort of way, uniforms help us know who to go to in certain situations. Say you suddenly found yourself in a sticky situation and in need of a police officer, would you hope to spot one by what he was wearing, or would you run around asking everyone if they happened to be one?”
“I’d probably just call 9-1-1,” she said trying to remain in her position.
“You could do that,” I affirmed. “Still, when help arrives, I’d be willing to bet that they’ll be wearing uniforms. You’ll know who can help you right away and you can go to them.” I could see that what I was saying was gaining some traction. “It can be the same for a pastor.” I called up another very practical example.
“Not all that far from my church is a very dangerous intersection. More than a few tragedies have occurred there, and of course if I’m ever travelling past an accident, no matter where it is, I always stop to ask if there’s anything I can do. A couple of years back, a man was in pretty gruesome accident at that intersection, and as I drove by, I stopped and got out and went to one of the officers to ask if I could help. He saw me in my collar, and said, ‘He’s probably not gonna make it, Father. He needs you right now.’ And then he let me pass straight to the scene. He knew why I was there just by looking at me. What I came to discover later was that his own Methodist pastor arrived right after me. Dressed in his business casual attire, in the swirling details of the event, he couldn’t get anyone’s attention through the police lines, and he didn’t have a form of clergy identification on him. No one asked me for ID. I was wearing it. Just because of the way I was dressed, I was able to be with that man in his last moments. I was able to hold his hand, to feel it clutching mine as he acknowledged his sin, and then I was able to tell him the good news of forgiveness in Christ. I was able to be there when he died. I was able to do all of this precisely because I didn’t blend in.”
“I never thought of it like that,” she said.
“Unfortunately,” I added, “fewer and fewer clergymen do either. They seem a little more interested in trying to be, do, and say what they think is culturally relevant, when in the end, like I sort of said already, what we do as pastors has never really run into the problem of being culturally irrelevant. In so many ways and for so many people, the pastors end up doing that to themselves. I mean, they make themselves irrelevant to what people actually need.”
She was still pondering, when I added a quick conclusion to opening point.
“I guess that in a way, the uniform of the pastoral office does more than make us stand out in a crowd. I think it sometimes puts a real person’s face to ‘hope’ in the middle of the daily chaos.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Maybe.”
“But like I said,” I kept on, “this is just my opinion. I’m sure there are others out there who would argue everything I just said.”
“I think my own pastor would be offended by what you just said.”
“I’d hope not. I’m not offended by his ridiculous Simpson tie. I just wouldn’t ever wear one while serving in my role as pastor.”
The conversation continued for only a few more short moments, sharing back and forth what we love about our individual churches. We spoke to a few important doctrinal differences before she finally let me get back to my chicken salad sandwich that had gotten somewhat warm. In all, it was a pleasant conversation. I think it went well. And when it comes to post-modern millennials, these types of conversation can get ugly pretty quickly.
I should probably tell you something that I did not share in that conversation. I remember that day by the side of the road, not only as one where I was privileged to be part of something reaching well into eternity, but as a day I went home and popped open a bottle of whisky that had been sitting on my shelf unopened for some time—The Dalmore King Alexander III. Besides a prayer of humble thanks, that was the only other way to memorialize the moment. Now, the Kavalan Limited Edition Peaty Cask is not necessarily in the same arena as The Dalmore, but it is top-shelf enough for marking a day when a theological conversation in public had the potential for going south in a hurry but didn’t.
This is good stuff, a well-dressed Christmas gift to me from a fellow pastor who spends time in Taiwan where he acquired it.
The nose of this splendid undersized bottling is that of sour citrus—bitter oranges with barely smoky, cindering peels. The palate turns more toward lemons, but with a drop of water it becomes charred sugar and dried pine. In its conclusion, takes a rather drastic turn and washes out in a medium finish as corn peppers, wood char, and salt.
There’s a lot in this dram, and I would suggest a careful savoring of each sip before swallowing. You’ll remember it well. You’ll remember the day. And I dare say that if you manage to get your hands on your very own bottle, you’ll know toward which bottle you should steer when it is time to celebrate and remember.