Tag Archives: Spiritual Practice

faith on a plane, part 2.

26 Jan

As I passed through security, something unique happened. An older man looked at me, smiled, and asked what denomination I was with. For a year now, I’ve made a practice of wearing my clerical collar when I fly. I haven’t worn it every time – but probably about 90% of the time I do. I would guess I’ve been on around 50 airplanes in that time, so we are talking about a substantial number of flights. My uniform is pretty standard: collared shirt, sweater, jeans, and, of course, the pins that I wear every day (Black Lives Matter, rainbow flag, world religious symbols and a safety pin). After all this travel, this man was the first to comment on my collar and ask my affiliation.

Instead of asking me about it, I’ve found that most of the people who catch the collar quickly look away as if they don’t want to be caught staring. Whether it is staring at a clergy member in general, or at a female clergy member in particular, I don’t know. Interestingly enough, I’ve also found that seatmates talk to me less when I am wearing a collar than they do when I am in regular clothing. I don’t know if they don’t know what to make of me, or are intimidated – but my collar provides a strange boundary that allows me more personal space since for decades I seem to have had a neon sign above my head that says “Tell Me Your Problems!”

I began wearing the collar when I fly after reading story after story about unruly, rude, oppressive behavior on planes. I was hoping that people would be on their best behavior around a clergy person. Or that I would be a calming presence. I’m not sure my presence has stymied any potential fights, but I do know that the woman who I was seated next to on one flight, who was very angry with the couple in front of us, felt she had to tone her vitriol down since she was seated next to me. So maybe that is something.

Here is what I think is going on: people still don’t know what to do with a female cleric. It makes them confused from the get-go. And if they happen to look at me long enough to see the pins, they get knocked off-balance. I should make it explicit: I don’t get any negative comments about the pins. Maybe I would if it were just a rainbow flag pin, or just a Black Lives Matter pin. But the combination of the pins makes is quite clear that I am in support of those who are oppressed and marginalized in our society. Unfortunately, this is often in direct opposition to the image the clerical collar presents. Generally, I think the intersectionality of a woman in a collar wearing these pins makes most people especially confused. When I have a chance to interact with someone for more than a couple of seconds, if that person is a person of color, they almost always comment on how awesome my pins are. The only white person who ever said anything presented as gender non-conforming.

Meanwhile, I don’t believe I’ve gotten any special treatment while wearing my collar. Due to my obliviousness of things that happen behind my back, I have no idea what sort of snickers or other comments might follow in my wake. I suspect it changes my own behavior more than anything else – I find I smile much more at people, and am unerringly polite – this behavior doesn’t feel like a burden, though. Instead, it feels more like a way to gently bless the world with my care and consideration.

It seems a small thing, this little piece of plastic tucked into my shirt, but it makes me a walking, breathing testament to what should be impossible in many people’s minds, and it makes me move in the world with just a tad more grace. I’ll continue to wear my uniform when I fly.

If you are a clergy member who wears their collar when you fly, what are your observations?

faith on a plane.

25 May

Talking with a colleague recently, he asked about the increased travel I am doing as a Congregational Life Consultant for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I told him I enjoyed it, and that I had worked out most of the details – what processes work for me, what hotel chains I like, when to fly. At that last point, we talked about how difficult it can be to fly as clergy – as soon as our seatmates ask what we do for a living, it opens all sorts of doors for conversations we may, or may not, want to have.

When I told him that, for the past 9 months, I have been wearing my clerical collar whenever I fly, his face took on a shocked expression. “Why on earth would you do that?” he asked me.

I shared with him that I was bothered by the increasing violence that is occurring on planes, and that I wanted to be prepared to be a force for good if something happened in my presence. I know that people respond differently to me when I wear a collar. If I were to witness something violent on a plane, in a collar I could stand up and be a witness in ways that are more powerful than I could as a mid-40 year old woman. Especially if I then started singing or praying.

I also want people to know that I am a safe person – that I am willing and able to try to de-escalate a situation, or be a good ally if that is needed. So in addition to my collar, I also wear my Black Lives Matter/Pride Flag/World Religions safety-pin (which I wear every day).

I completely understand why some of my clergy colleagues prefer to travel anonymously. But for me, this public witness is a part of my spiritual practice when I travel. It is a away to claim my religious authority and put my faith in action and declare that I am on the side of the marginalized. As a white minister, I have so much privilege. This feels like a good way to use it. I hope I am never needed in such a way when I travel, but if something does happen, I am ready.

a new and different spiritual practice.

4 Mar

Tomorrow, I have a memorial service for a dear man who, upon leaving the sanctuary each Sunday, would put his hand on my shoulder and tell me how amazing I am and how he was my biggest fan. On Sunday, I get to teach a course on Witnessing Whiteness, do a sermon on Forgiveness, and then lead a Worship Associates Training workshop. So I have a lot to do right now. But with the news about last night’s Republican debates, the fear I have that our next president will be a hate-filled celebrity probably more interested in winning this popularity contest than in actually being president, and the prevailing disgust/pity/confusion for the portion of the population who finds this man suitable to be president, I thought I would write about something else. Something fun. And maybe even uplifting for some: Romance Novels.

For many years, the vast majority of the books I read were dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels. I loved them. In fact, I’ve loved them since I was a kid. The earliest novel I remember purchasing after I read it was Alas, Babylon. I think I was maybe 9. I still have my dog-eared copy. I am drawn to this genre because I have always felt, I think, that human civilization is a fragile, beautiful thing that needs nurturing in order to flourish. Maybe this is also why I am a Unitarian Universalist minister. Dystopian novels show the multitude of ways things can go wrong – they are the ultimate cautionary tale.

Then this autumn hit. And it was a doozy. One of my children was hospitalized and I feared for her future. Some plans that were important to me fell through. I experienced one loss after another, to the point that I felt myself flirting with depression in a way that I haven’t for a decade.

Reading has always been my drug of choice, my escape. But I couldn’t read dystopian novels. I couldn’t read science fiction, either. Young adult lit didn’t appeal. And there was no possibility of me focusing and getting more than a paragraph into something nonfiction or work-related.

So I picked up a book in a genre I had never read before. A genre that, frankly, I had felt I was above: Romance.

And I loved it. So I picked up another. And another, and another. And suddenly, my main escape was once again available to me. I was devouring romance novels.

A few weeks ago, my spiritual director asked about my spiritual practice. I wasn’t coloring, meditating or doing much else, I observed, feeling guilty because I know that this is exactly the time when a spiritual practice is so important. She then asked me how I was taking care of myself. I told her I was making sure I got enough sleep, trying to exercise regularly. And, after hemming and hawing, I told her I was really getting into these romance novels.

As a good spiritual director will do, she asked me to reflect on that with her. What was it about romance novels? And was it all romance novels?

So I reflected. At one level, romance novels offer the promise of a happy ending. This is the main difference between a romance novel and a love story: the romance novel resolves at the end with a happily-ever-after. This is in stark contrast to dystopian novels, where there is no guarantee that the heroes (of any gender) will be able to survive, much less rescue the world. I needed a guaranteed happy ending.

And it definitely wasn’t all sub-genres. In fact, I pretty quickly found one subset of the genre that I return to again and again: romantic thrillers. I am drawn to novels where the world threatened to turn into a dystopia, but where the heroes (of all genders) rescue not just the world, but in the process rescue one another. In the end, love wins. Every time. Guaranteed.

Now, I know love doesn’t usually win on its own in real life. I know that only when many of us put our hands onto the moral arc of the universe will it eventually bend toward justice. But in my grief, I needed to be reminded of how things might look, how love can save us – collectively and individually. And romance novels provided just that.

I was shocked when my spiritual director, after reflecting on this with me, observed that reading romance novels fed my spirit, and that therefore it was my spiritual practice. I was embarrassed for a moment, but quickly realized that was kinda ridiculous. Shouldn’t we celebrate all the non-harmful ways someone copes with grief? The truth is, these books have kept my spirit afloat through a very difficult time.

I am feeling better now, slowing getting back to what feels like my usual self. I picked up a non-romance novel that a friend promises is funny with a happy ending, just for something different. I laugh at how I used to feel myself above romance novels, and at how embarrassed I was when I started reading them. And I don’t see giving them up any time soon (if ever), especially in this political season. We all find hope wherever we can – I happen to find it in real, and fictional, heroes who save each other, and the world, with love.

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