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easy street

By Diogenes (articles) | Apr 23, 2007

Your Uncle Di is really behind the clerical fashion curve this days, only this morning made aware of WomenSpirit's Spring Robe Sale. There's something about a sleeveless clergy stock and non-committally stained glass that says the Summer Solstice, and the USG Sheetrock 400, are just around the corner!

A reasonable conjecture is that traditionally black clerical garb has its origins in some kind of early ascetical theology: signaling widowhood to the world or the like. For the same reason, perhaps, that the monks of some orders slept in their coffins, viz., as a memento mori, clergymen in Europe may have come to wear mourning full-time. That makes the modern emphasis on ministerial comfort all the more, well, modern.

But there's more than mere physical comfort in play. We're meant to find ourselves in a comprehensive, all-embracing, sense of well-being. Kneelers are out. Pews are padded. The road never forks. We can have our cake and eat it. No decision means a final separation. Everyone's a priest: dad, mom, sis, Aunt Gretchen with the tattoo and the butch haircut ... We can tolerate anything except intolerance. We are a Spandex People.

Even spiritual mentoring has changed. The old daguerrotypes and portraits of spiritual sages showed starved ascetics with burning eyes in a bony face. Today's gurus are exceptionlessly cuddly: your retreat master is almost certainly softer than you are, and most of his work consists in getting you in touch with your inner marshmallow. He'll have a great smile.

True, cucullus non facit monachum, and one sleeveless shell doth not a summer make -- even with two comfort fabrics to choose from. For all that, there's something fundamentally un-serious about adjustable, adaptable, emancipated religion. A line from Michael Frayn's Constructions comes to mind: "A toy car is a projection of a real car, made small enough for a child's hand and imagination to grasp. A real car is a projection of a toy car, made large enough for an adult's hand and imagination to grasp." Substitute "church" for "car" in Frayn's quote and you've got the key to the liberal project. If you order before May 20th, incidentally, all robes are 15% off.

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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