So I’ve been robe shopping lately…yeah, robe shopping.
It started when I was in high school and I had a chance to put on my first choir robe. There’s a sweet pic of me with a tight fade (yes, the haircut), my new Nikes, and my church choir robe that I used to wear for worship.
Fast forward to a few years back, as I was asked to participate in leading worship for church in Chicago. The only problem, I needed a robe. So I sent out an email plea to the faculty of seminary, and lo and behold, Dr. Ayres comes to the rescue with a sweet alb (a type of robe) that made me look like I was in the ‘Matrix’. One day I didn’t wear the robe to church (I forget the reason), and to my astonishment, the congregation commented on ‘how nice I looked’ in my shirt and jacket. The alb, it seemed, did not ‘fit my personality,’ and many preferred something brighter for me.
When I came to Florida I was pretty sure I didn’t want to wear a robe. For one thing I was already sweating 24 hours a day, so the idea of wearing a robe seemed ridiculous. My other thought was that robes were so old-school, and I wanted to represent something new-school as a newly ordained pastor. The congregations has gone along with it even to this day, although I still get the compliments when I wear a robe here and there for different occasions.
Then I went to Taizé, and I saw these monks wearing these beautiful white robes for prayer. My not so secret yearning to be a monk once again surfaced, and upon my return to the states, I immediately searched the church supply shops for the same exact robe that the brothers wore. But I could never find the ‘right’ robe for me. Here I am, not a traditionalist, not a monk–just a young pastor who’s looking for some comfortable ‘skin’ to fit in.
The more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I like the idea of wearing a robe, as long as it can fit who I am as a person. I like the idea of not worrying what to wear on Sundays, because it would be hiding everything anyways. And the more time I spend pastoring a traditional congregation, I realize that wearing the robe is more important for them, who identify the pastor by some of these traditional marks. After all, ministry is about serving others, and not always about your wants and preferences.
I wore a robe today. Again, I received the compliments. And again, I was asked, ‘why don’t you wear a robe more often? You look good!’ ‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘but I guess I haven’t found the robe that fits who I am yet.’
I’ve been thinking about my response today, and as I walked amongst the prayer garden today, I thought about issues of pastoral identity, and identity in general. For all intensive purposes, this quest to find the ‘perfect robe’ is symbolic of many of the issues I’m dealing with when trying to simply figure out who I am these days as a pastor. Yes, I want to be seen as ‘pastoral’ and all of that churchy stuff, but I also just want to be radically serving God, wherever it takes me. As the hymn goes, I want to ‘dance, dance, wherever you may be…’ Yes, I want to be that experienced and wise pastor, but (pardon the cheesiness about to be typed out) I want to just be a young, idealistic, naive guy who’s in love with Jesus as well.
And at the risk of exposing the pastoral messiah complex here, I wonder if Jesus went through this as well. Were there times where he just wanted to love God and hang out with the people? Or were there times where he commanded authority amongst the masses? I wonder about all of this, and I think of his conversations with his students and friends as he asked, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ Maybe he just wanted to hear it from others. Maybe he wasn’t sure at times. Maybe he was still looking for that robe that would fit his persona. In the end we can only make guesses based on the texts that we are presented with, and what God speaks into our hearts.
As for me, I’m still robe shopping. The obvious answer to my musings is…YES. Some days I will need to wear the robe. Some days I will need to be wearing my t-shirt and shorts. And every day I am called to serve God as a young man, as a pastor, and as a child of God–just like all of us are called to serve God. And one day I’m sure I’ll find the right robe for me… at least for that day:).