by Alastair Sterne
September 16, 2014
5 min read
The seven-minute walk from the front door of my home to the front door of St. Peter’s Fireside on Sundays is never unremarkable. For those of you who are unaware, I “collar up”on Sundays. It’s the Anglican equivalent of How I Met Your Mother’s “suit up.” I wear a fair trade clergy shirt (because I live in Vancouver) and collar (it’s just a piece of plastic). The moment I turn right from Nelson Street onto Granville, my morning always gets a little more lively.
Granville Street at 9am on a Sunday mornings is nothing less than eclectic, and the collar, oh the collar, has a way of evoking a response. There’s the straight up disdain. The people who stare me down as they walk by. There’s the “What’s the thing on his neck?” look. The people who have no idea what a priest is. There’s the lapsed Catholic who stops me to confess their sins. And, without a doubt, there’s a number of our city’s homeless people who look to me for provision. They seem to carry the most reverence, calling me “Father.”
Whatever response the collar elicits, it is a visible sign that lets people know who I am, what I do, and what I believe. And for the most part, it’s a mark of distinction. As I walk down the streets of downtown Vancouver on Sundays, I carry an increased awareness that how I conduct myself is representative of Jesus. Of course this is true of every moment I breathe, but the collar has a way of forcing me to consider my heart and actions before others. Is the collar going to just be a piece of plastic around my 16.5” neck? Or is it going to be a symbol that reminds me to invite others into what Jesus is actually doing in the world?
Last Wednesday, Julia and I went to the Katy Perry Prismatic tour. Rest assured, this an atypical priestly activity. But the concert was exactly what we expected it to be: really, ridiculously entertaining. Like a good fan, I acquired a t-shirt. I’ll admit it. Like the rest of the 10 to 15 year old girls at the concert, I was giddy to wear my new shirt the next day. But on Thursday, I went on to discover just how truly difficult it is for an adult male to pull off a Kathryn Perry t-shirt.
In a collar or in a Katy Perry t-shirt — or whatever it is that you wear — our lives are meant to represent Jesus.
I spent the day at Regent College (Vancouver’s evangelical graduate school). The responses to my Katy Perry shirt were vivid. Some glared. They had the “What business does a Christian have wearing that shirt?” written across their faces. Some looked confused. “Is this guy being ironic?” A few grinned. And a friend, only partially jesting, said, “What are you wearing that idol for?”
Whether or not I should be wearing a Katy Perry shirt is up for debate (probably not). But my experience wearing a pop superstar’s face plastered on my shirt in a seminary was a lot like walking down Granville Street in my clerical collar. It certainly made me stand out. But from the “Who is this guy?” and “What’s his deal?” looks, it seemed that who I am, what I do, and what I believe became a little more muddled. But nonetheless, my responsibility to live in a way that is representative of Jesus did not diminish at all.
I’ll admit, on Sundays I’m tempted to advert my gaze so I can just get to church. I don’t want to be stopped or have to engage with people. I know that this is because, like most of you, I would rather coast through life and not be inconvenienced by the demands to serve others as Christ’s has served us. Similarly, this past Thursday, I was tempted to tell people to get over it – to stop taking life and themselves so seriously all the time. I had to consider my thoughts and feelings and decide if being defensive and argumentative is really in step with the gospel (it’s not, just in case you’re wondering).
In a collar or in a Katy Perry t-shirt —or whatever it is that you wear —our lives are meant to represent Jesus. We’re meant to be engaged. Present. Whether it’s glares, scowls, smiles, or people overburdened with need: are we ready to enter into other’s lives in a way that represents Jesus, or will we advert our eyes? Whatever it is that you wear, do you primarily “clothe yourself in Christ”? (Romans 13:14)
Does your walk with Jesus make you more approachable? If we’re clothed in him, it means we’re willing to be interrupted for the sake of others. It means we have eyes for those around us. It means we want to enter into other’s lives and not just get on with our day.
Since my true clothing is Christ, I’ve had to ask myself: does what I wear on my body make what I’m wearing in my heart more or less evident? The good news is that Jesus would approach me in the collar or the Katy Perry t-shirt. Neither would deter him from approaching me. So I’ll stick to what helps others more easily see that I’m truly clothed in him.