There is a popular children’s book that all the children are reading called “Flat Stanley”. According to the story, written in 1964, a bulletin board falls on a little boy, Stanley, and squashes him flat.
Captain’s Note: this could never happen in 2014, what with all the safety guidelines and regulations about hanging bulletin boards and such.
Another Captain’s Note: this book probably would not have been published in 2014 either, what with the “violence toward children” that is at the center of the story.
Yet Another Captain’s Note: And today we couldn’t get away with calling him “Flat Stanley” as that would be calling attention to his unique physical appearance.
Nonetheless, as a two-dimensional figure, “Flat Stanley” is able to slide under doors, serve as a kite for his little brother, and be folded into an envelope and mailed to distant places.
That last part is why “Flat Stanley” has grown in popularity of recent. Public school teachers have made a geography lesson out of the story, asking their students to make a “Flat Stanley” out of paper, then mail him to distant relatives.
My niece in Southern California did this in grade school, and we took “Flat Stanley” all over town, posing him at various historic sites and other places of interest. The First Mate created a snowboard and sock cap for “Flat Stanley” and took him out into the snow for some downhill fun, and I even let “Flat Stanley” preach for me one Sunday morning!
I know, that’s a long way to get to my point for this blog. Good memories. Sorry.
Of recent, your humble Captain has been taking criticism for 1) his choice of clothing, 2) his earring, and 3) his posts on Facebook.
Are you frikkin’ kidding me???
Yes, I dress more casual than most of my predecessors, even on Sunday mornings when leading worship. When the weather is warm, I wear one of many silk Hawaiian-print shirts. I have explained that we should always give God our best in worship, and in my closet, my Tommy Bahamas are my best!
When the weather is too cold for short sleeves (anything below 80 degrees), I will wear khakis and a navy blazer with a necktie. Not “professional” in the strictest terms, but clean and respectable.
In fact, I no longer own a suit, and very few of the people I know do – mostly lawyers, bankers and undertakers. And on a given Sunday morning at church I can count as many as three neckties in the building. Women in formal dresses are even more rare.
Haven’t seen a hat and white gloves on a grown woman in years!
But for some reason, the Preacher is supposed to wear a suit.
The earring is a fairly new addition. I had my ear pierced when I was in seminary in California, but feared that folks in Western Kentucky would not appreciate it, so I took it out. Twenty-seven years later – and two years into my present appointment – I decided I wanted my earring back.
I usually wear a small silver ring.
It goes great with my pirate persona.
But it has caused some raised (non-pierced) eyebrows within the congregation.
One older woman known for speaking her mind grabbed my earlobe and demanded to know, “What is that in your ear?” In response, I grabbed her pierced earlobe and said, “What is that in your ear?”
She’s praying for me.
I think some are afraid that their children might want to emulate me – which would, of course, make them “gay”.
Or a pirate.
Or a gay pirate.
There are worse things…
And finally, there’s my Facebook posts. My Facebook is about me. There you will find short comments about my interests and hobbies, and pictures of my vacations, my family, and my cats.
I will post church announcements occasionally – because the Church is also a part of who I am – and I will post or share blogs and news articles that I think are worthy of consideration and perhaps dialogue.
Yes, some of these are “edgy”. Intentionally so. I want you to think. So engage me and let’s talk about it.
But what I am feeling from the criticism is that some people want a two-dimensional preacher, a “Flat Bro. Dave” if you will.
They don’t want to get to know “me”, to find out who I am or what I like. They want a two-dimensional figure that just stands in the pulpit on Sunday morning and sits in the “office” (another two-dimensional concept) throughout the week.
“Flat Preacher” never gets sick.
“Flat Preacher” never has personal problems.
“Flat Preacher” never brings up controversial issues.
“Flat Preacher” only listens to the latest contemporary Christian music.
“Flat Preacher” never sleeps.
“Flat Preacher” never eats or drinks or poops.
Seriously, my previous church provided me with my own personal restroom in my office so the congregation would never see me standing at a urinal or locked in a stall with my pants down around my ankles.
Sorry for that image!
You see, that much personal information is too much for some parishioners to accept. Just be “Flat Preacher”. Wear the pulpit gown so you’ll look like every other “Flat Preacher” we’ve ever had. Wear the suit the rest of the time.
Even to the grocery store. It’s important that you “look the part”.
To each of these my response is the same: “I am who I am.” The clothes, the earring, the Facebook posts – yes, even the Margaritaville stuff – are all a part of who I am. To deny that would reduce me to non-person.
A two-dimensional “Flat Preacher”.
And I would be living a lie.
What you should be looking for – beyond the clothing, beyond the earring, beyond the Facebook posts – is whether I am a sold-out follower of Jesus Christ!
I can assure I am. And none of what I do or say or wear or “share” says otherwise.
True, I may not fit into your two-dimensional image of what a preacher “ought to look like”. I don’t want to.
Not because I’m being intentionally rebellious – good Lord, I’m 51 years old! – but because I hate the limitations of a suit and tie.
And I hate the two-dimensional stereotype.
My point is that I don’t want to simply be “Flat Bro. Dave”.
And I don’t want you to be two-dimensional either.
I know you’re not. In addition to being Christ-followers yourself, I know you to be parents and grandparents and UK fans and Cardinals fans and artists and writers and social conservatives and bleeding-heart liberals and people who are grieving and people who are hurt and people who almost died years ago and people who feel blessed by God every single day…
And I know some of you like Margaritas too!
I want us to move out of the second dimension into the third, where we can be honest and real with one another, where we can openly be who God created us to be, where we can express all of our God-given creativity, where we can share our thoughts and feelings and engage one another at a deeper level.
That, to me, is what the Church is all about. We are commissioned by Jesus to create a new community – in THIS world – based on his teachings and guidance.
And trust me, there’s nothing “Flat” when it comes to “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul… and love your neighbor as yourself.”
That is as real and three-dimensional as it gets!