My last couple of weekends have been kind of frenetic. This Saturday, I had a funeral, a swanky fundraising dinner for a center for Muslim-Christian relations, and the Halloween show of a band that I try to see as often as possible. This involved a rapid clothing change in the bathroom after the dinner, followed by my attempt to slip out the door without being seen by the visiting dignitaries in my sparkling red fringed flapper dress. Then I got to my car...and realized that I had forgotten one part of the costume. As I didn't really want to sneak through the lobby again, I decided to make the addition in the car. Note to self: do not attempt to put on fishnet stockings in a confined space.
I cannot overestimate the value of a single pair of shoes that can go with three outfits in one day, especially when one of the outfits is a flapper costume. My go-to shoes are black double-strap Mary Janes with a sturdy, but not clunky, heel. Not exciting, but cute enough, comfortable, and above all, versatile. I've become very good at dressing for a variety of occasions, and bringing along a couple of extra pieces that I can change so that I can go from board meeting to food pantry to hospital to youth group, but really, it's all about the shoes - shoes that can start with a funeral and, thirteen hours later, still be going strong.
Four of those hours were spent dancing and jumping around at the concert, and after that I found myself standing on the sidewalk outside, catching up with one of the guys in the band. I vaguely remember seeing them for the first time, not knowing any of them, and certainly not being known by them. At the second show, I accidentally got acquainted with the bassist. The story of how I really got to know the rest of the band will have to wait for another post. But I digress.
I was telling the aforementioned member of the band about my day, when he observed that I have a very strange life - one where I have to turn it on and off as quickly as I can make a costume change. It's true; I shift not only clothing but personae several times a day. I'm always me (probably more so than some people would like), but Funeral Me, Professional Networking Me, and Party Me are distinctly different. I know this is true for almost everyone, that no one has a single face that applies to every situation, that we all vary ourselves according to the occasion and the people involved. But it seems to me that ministers do it even more frequently than most, especially those of us who have parts of our lives that are completely unrelated to church.
Authenticity is one of my core values, and I would never advocate "faking it." But...sometimes you just have to pull out the piece of yourself that fits the needs of the situation, whether you feel it in that moment or not. The longer I'm in ministry, the more I realize that in order to serve others, I have to be able to access various parts of myself on cue. I carry extra clothing and accessories as a sort of professional tool kit, but they're only the outer accompaniment to the inner tools that make the real shifts.
When I was newly ordained, I probably would have thought that this kind of approach was horribly fake and fragmented. I spent a long time rejecting any way of doing ministry that seemed less than purely authentic. Of course, that got me in trouble at times, as Cranky Me had (has) a tendency to come out when Compassionate Me was needed. Seven years in, I realize that being able to put on different aspects of myself is a crucial skill in this vocation. And the funny thing is, the more I put on the pieces of myself that are needed, the more they become integrated into who I am as a whole. The more I wear the good parts of myself, the more they begin to function across all of the events and situations in my life - the more they feel authentically me.
A year ago, I bought those shoes for a particular outfit, for a particular night. Now they go almost everywhere. It is my hope that the best parts of me come to be worn as often.