Hey, minister dude: dress like a grownup!

Okay, this is going to be a bit of a rant. If that’s not your kind of thing, or your tender view of me does not include a ranting Dan, then perhaps you’d prefer to mouse over to some other web site.

Also, I am directing this to ministers, or those who are studying to be ministers. Others may be interested, or entertained. But my intended target — um, I mean “audience”, is the clergy, especially those who are men, because I can speak intelligibly about mens wear, while speaking about women’s clothing might get me in big trouble.

So here’s the thing, guys: would you please dress like an adult? Would you please give some thought to what you wear when serving in your official role as pastor to a flock?

Honestly, I have grown impatient with the dumb reasons I hear for why it’s okay for a male pastor to dress as a slovenly man-child. Yes, the reasons are truly dumb. I have heard these often enough that I will here take them apart.

“I want to be comfortable”

This has got to be the dumbest reason I’ve heard. “I dress the way I do” (in ratty jeans or goofy print T-shirt or whatever) “because I’m comfortable that way.” Oh, please. By that standard, if comfort is the deciding factor in your choice of wardrobe for ministry, then why not go to work wearing your pjs and slippers? On warm days, why not go naked?

Talk about dumb.

Sure, comfort is important. But it can’t be the only criterion. Really, it’s never the only thing that factors into your wardrobe decision for any occasion, let alone for ministry work.

But let’s take this comfort thing a little further. Many men (not just ministers and seminary students) believe that decent, adult professional clothing is uncomfortable.

They’re wrong. A pair of khaki slacks is much more comfortable than jeans. And a dress shirt with a tie is uncomfortable only if you have believed your pleasing little lie that you are now the same size you were in high school.

Guess what? You’re not.

Basically, if attire appropriate for ministry is uncomfortable for you, then either it doesn’t fit or is poorly made. And nobody looks good in such clothing, either.

“I don’t want to look like a CEO”

I first heard this over twenty years ago from a good friend. Actually, what he said was that he didn’t want to look like a banker. More recently I heard the “CEO” version. Which is actually part of why this is a dumb reason. Do I not want to look like a banker, or a CEO?

Or maybe a lawyer?

Or how about a detective?

Or maybe a politician?


Or a scientist?

Or a journalist?


My point is that the style of men’s dress that is derided by these unreflective male ministers and candidates for ministry is not the uniform of one particular industry of profession. It is simply appropriate menswear in professional settings. In other words, it’s what men wear when they want to look presentable. (See here.)

Now maybe my targets are trying to show some correspondence between their choice of outfit and their theology of ministry. But what sort of theology of ministry does slovenliness reflect? And how does dressing with some care and self-respect indicate a deficient theology?

That leads to another dumb reasons I’ll consider:

“I don’t want to set myself apart from my parishioners”

Well, guess what. You already are. And what’s more, whether you like it or not, they expect you to be. That expectation does not mean that they hold a deficient understanding of the priesthood of all believers, or that somehow their expectations of pastors are messed up. (They might be anyway, but that has little to do with their belief that you should dress differently for pastoral work than you do for flipping burgers on your back porch.)

Ministerial work is special work. Oh, don’t worry: it’s not because you’re special. No, this work is special because God is special, and because the people God has appointed you to pastor are special. What you wear shows them how special you think they are. If you dress as if what you are doing is important, vital, and life-affirming, they will pick up on that. If you dress as if this task is no big deal, well, they’ll get that, too.

“I can’t afford it”

This reason is a lot less dumb. But it still doesn’t pan out. Yes, it costs a bit of money to develop a decent wardrobe. But it’s not all that much, and you do it over time. To look decent doesn’t mean plunking down over $1k for a Brooks Brother’s suit, or $125 for a pair of Bill’s Khakis. Good clothing is readily found at lower prices. And never be too proud for thrift stores!

If you worked in an office, perhaps even for a lower salary (yes, people do make less money than ministers), you could very well be subject to a dress code. You would have to budget some of your income for clothing that was acceptable. It goes with the job. Flaunt the code, and you could be out of a job.

In most places in my tradition, ministry does not have a formal dress code. It must be worked out, perhaps informally, with the congregation. Even so, you should expect to spend some of your income each year on clothing that is appropriate for your work in your ministry context.

There are probably other reasons I could deconstruct. But those biggies will suffice. Let me sum it all up this way:

How you dress signals your respect for yourself and for others. So please show some respect, and dress decently.


On the Way to a Sabbatical

My sabbatical starts in a little more than 6 weeks.


I feel that just preparing for the sabbatical is like a second job. There is so much to do, and much has already been done.

People ask me what I will do on my sabbatical. As Winnie the Pooh said, “It’s a long story, and even longer when I tell it.”

The title I gave to the proposal that led to my receiving a grant is “Calling in Counterpoint: A Musical Exploration of Pastoral Vocation.” What I have in mind with that title is something along these lines:

Identity and calling are complicated for pastors — not only pastors, of course, but surely them. Myself, I wear many hats: husband, father, preacher, teacher, administrator, counselor, musician, academic, child of God, follower of Christ. Even though it can be difficult to live into all those roles, I would not want to give up any of them. They are all, somehow, part of my calling.

It occurred to me that perhaps music can be used to explore and understand calling better. As most of you reading this know, I love music deeply. Maybe my experience and passion for music can help me explore pastoral vocation.

In particular, I think the idea of musical counterpoint may be a useful way of approaching the struggle of understanding and living into the pastoral calling. The great masters of counterpoint take musical lines and weave them together into something greater (think of “Zion hört die Wächter singen” from Bach’s cantata “Wachet Auf”) — playing each off against each other, giving first one then another its time and space, yet always in interaction with the others.

I believe that likewise my life, and the living and working of a pastor, may be better understood and lived as an exercise in spiritual counterpoint, in which my own several “melodies” find their true connection with each other only as they sing in relation to a more fundamental line sung by the Triune God, who makes music in threefold yet one eternal relationship, into which other lesser musicians are invited.

In my sabbatical, I will do a lot with music. I want to listen to music, play music, and compose (or arrange) music. I will also develop my thoughts on calling and counterpoint, identity and music, so that I can write an article on it.

The music starts in a big way at the very beginning of the sabbatical. On April 25, Tammi and I will fly to England. We’ll attend a concert of the BBC orchestra featuring the work of Arvo Pärt. We’ll go to evensong, and attend Westminster Abbey. We’ll go to pubs and hear live music. Maybe we’ll encounter street musicians.

This is a big thing for us, as neither Tammi nor I have been to any other country besides Canada.

There will be more music when I’m stateside. The International Viola Congress is meeting in Rochester at the end of May. I’ll attend that, plus some concerts of the Rochester Philharmonic. In early June I may be going to Washington state for a “Living Liturgy” workshop, one of whose leaders is Marty Haugen, whose music I love. I intend to go to Tanglewood to hear a world premiere of a double concerto by Edgar Meyer featuring him and Joshua Bell as soloists.

Needless to say, I’m so excited I almost can’t stand it.

In between performance events, I’ll be working on my own music: practicing viola, composing pieces. And with all of that as counterpoint, I’ll be working at the article.

Some of this will be at home, some will be at retreat centers and camps and even hotels as I attend other things. One week will be at a lake house of the family of some good friends. And at the end the sabbatical, I hope to offer a casual recital with friends.

And yet, in all this, I hope to rest. I need to rest. What I have described may not sound restful to some. But being able for a time to step aside from the relentless week-after-week of sermon and worship preparation, as well as the meetings and the pastoral visits will certainly feel restful to me. I love these things, but I need to rest from them so I can be renewed for them.

Good music also consists of rests, after all.

Why I Am (and Am Not) Taking a Sabbatical

As I said in my first post, I will be taking a three month sabbatical starting on April 25. I’ll say more next time about what I’ll be doing. Today I want to cover my reasons for taking a sabbatical.

The word “sabbatical” comes from “sabbath.” This suggests that it should have something to do with rest, and that would be rest not as in sloth but rather the kind of rest that has its God as its origin and goal.

It’s not that way for everybody who uses this word. I have a number of friends who teach in seminaries, and for them sabbatical is not mainly a time for rest but rather for work of a different kind. They use the time to finish the book that will get them tenured or promoted. “Publish or perish.” Or, as it was for my beloved dissertation advisor, Charles Wood, it would be the break from teaching and other responsibilities as your final chapter at the university. I think they call it “terminal leave,” which sounds very disturbing.

Among ministers, we find an attempt to retrieve the sabbath aspects of sabbatical. So the ideal is for the person on sabbatical to reconnect with the holy rhythms that God has built into the structure of creation. This would involve a temporary cessation from the typical activities of one’s “professional life,” so that one can eventually be made stronger for it. It would involve work of different kind, perhaps more intensive and focused “soul work,” than what is typically possible in the relentless demands of pastoral work.

That’s the ideal. Of course, in real life sometimes the ideal doesn’t happen. And so there are pastors who take sabbaticals in order to look for a new job. There are pastors whose sabbaticals are indistinguishable from vacations. There are pastors who say they’re on sabbatical and yet are still seen frequently at their places of ministry.

I would like this to be very clear to all my friends: I am not taking a sabbatical to figure out if I am going to stay in my ministry at Trinity Church. Rather, I am taking a sabbatical so that I can stay (God willing). And not merely stay, as in hanging around with no passion, by simply coasting along. Rather, I want to stay here well, and I believe that the sabbatical is an excellent way to do that. Indeed, it might be my only way.

It is my expectation and desire to use the sabbatical as a time of renewal. It’s a wonderful gift of time. In it I will have not only room for rest but also space to create.

More about that soon.


The Southern American writer Flannery O’Connor once had this to say about writing:

Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

The Internet makes self-publication even easier. So much for stifling. Dear Flannery would be appalled, and probably have something very funny to say about it.

Why, then, should I contribute to the noise? Why start this blog?

Simply put, I have found that I am not sure what I think until I’ve been able to write about it. Just as thought is essential to writing, so too is writing essential for thinking. At least, that is how it is for me.

And yeah, sure, I start this blog out of the confidence (I trust it is not false) that my interests are shared by others. I intend to publish these reflections so others may read them, for ends as plain as instruction, advocacy, invitation, confession, and celebration.

It will be a mixed bag, because that is what my interests are: mixed, varied, a combination — much like the title of this blog. So I will be writing about ministry and theology, as I am the pastor of a protestant church. I will write about music, as I am a violist, guitarist, bass-baritone, and former choir director. I will write about computers and software, because I have been involved with these for over 30 years (for a few years professionally), and am passionate about GNU-Linux, Emacs, and other software in the Free/Libre “Open Source” realm.

Starting the end of April, my posts will concern my three-month sabbatical, made possible because of the graciousness of my congregation and the generosity of the Louisville Institute, which awarded me a 2012 Sabbatical Grant for Pastoral Leaders. But I will compose some posts before then to describe what I will be doing so that during the sabbatical I can reflect what is going on at that time rather than giving a bunch of background.

This overture is now concluded. I am eager to continue the music-making.

Thanks for listening, and I welcome your contributions.