Why Do I Wear Minister’s Robes?

Daoist Cheongsam suit

Henry David Thoreau famously said, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”

Perhaps Thoreau would have not have approved of something I feel that I must do. I am going to acquire new clothing specifically designed for clergy, and then establish rules for myself about how, when, and where to wear them.

It’s a big small step, an outward manifestation of my decision to become an ordained Integral Minister. It puts me in the line of Christian ministers at least from 1215, when the Fourth Lateran Council required clergy to wear dress that sets them apart from the laity. And many other traditions in every world religion. There is an implicit ecclesiology, however subtle, in my decision.

Clothing has a sort of magical ability to change the wearer’s attitude and the perceptions of the people they interact with. Doctors wear scrubs for hygiene and other good reasons. Police officers wear blue uniforms so people recognize their authority. Studies have shown that lab techs in scientific laboratories make fewer mistakes if they wear a white coat. There is an implicit magical talisman, however subtle, in my decision.

So, when I choose to don ministerial garments, I’m not merely motivated by many pragmatic reasons. I haven’t worn them yet. I’ve just shopped for them and placed a couple of orders tonight.

I haven’t needed a minister’s uniform before now, but then again I haven’t taken ministry as seriously as I ought to have. There’s no Catholic abott to bade me, no Zen shike to enforce a code. I have to internalize the authority that isn’t there. There is a real Integral Metamodern community, but it is somewhat inchoate and not well-organized.

I’m not sure how exactly to go about this, but I feel that I must do what I can. Making internal spiritual transformation happen is hard, and changing ingrained habits that have set in over decades is hard. All I have to do is put on a piece of cloth, right? Should be a piece of cake.

Shopping for the minister’s garments was interesting. I was not limited in my search by Christian denomination nor even by religion. I knew of no precedents among Integral Ministers that I felt obligated to follow. And I knew that I didn’t want to spend a lot of money unless that was the only way to get the right uniform.

I decided to purchase two uniforms. One is a unisex Daoist Cheongsam suit advertised as a martial arts uniform. When worn with rolled cuffs, it looks sporty and can be worn during my Tai Chi.

The second uniform is called a Plymouth clergy robe. It’s sorta a generic pleated robe with a black matte finish, basically a typical Protestant minister’s garment. I think it might look good for a stroll out on the city streets, but at this point in time I’m concerned of what people will think.

I don’t know if these uniforms will look as sharp when I open the package as they do on the internet site, but they are my choices. Maybe I’ll keep both or perhaps I’ll send one back. The purchases are an experiment, and I anticipate needing to see if they fit well (emotionally as well as physically). I’ll try them out in different situations and see how they help me to adjust my state of mind.

I wonder if Thoreau was right to warn us against risky enterprises. Maybe all this fuss is futile. Maybe it’s all just a mind game. Maybe I should send both the purchases back and give the money to charity.

Or maybe I’m right, and the enterprise that we really need to beware of is the enterprise we’re already doing that was once risky but has now grown so established in our nature that we’re not even aware of the risks we’re taking by not taking new risks.

Comparing Thoreau’s notion with my own thoughts, I want to find out who’s right.

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