Monday, 19 December 2016

Santa suits and clerical collars: ethical issues when wearing either

This year, I bought a Santa Claus suit. It was a used suit from a costume shop which was going out of business.  It's pretty good, although I think I may try to upgrade my Santa suit either for next Christmas or for the following one.

I've worn it a few times for adult groups, while I haven't tried out my Santa gig on a group of kids in this suit yet.  I did some Santa Claus-ing for groups of kids some years ago when I lived in Canberra and I enjoyed it.  (One thing I learned then was that walking down a suburban street in a Santa suit is a sure way to get every dog in the neighbourhood to freak out.) 

This year, I've concentrated my Santa Claus activities on adult groups.  I may soon put "enthusiastic amateur Santa Claus" on my biographical blurb for FaceBookLinkedIn, and my blog, possibly just after "colourful Hobart religious identity".

Wearing a Santa suit involves an awesome responsibility.  When anyone puts on a Santa suit, that person "becomes" Santa Claus for all those within sight (or sound).  Wearing a Santa suit makes you the bearer of the Santa Claus tradition in all its fullness.  You must embody such quality as universal generosity and unquenchable good cheer.  For example, the man or woman in a Santa suit cannot swear, even when given ample reason to do so.  WWSND (What would St. Nicholas do?) becomes the necessary guiding principle for anyone who puts on the itchy red suit with fake fur. 

Santa Claus is a powerful metaphor for the profound truth that generosity is good fun.  If you wear the Santa suit, you become the "icon" of this metaphor.  If (while wearing the Santa suit) you swear, or give someone the finger, or use the N-word, or do anything else unworthy of the Santa Claus tradition, you dilute the power of the Santa Claus myth.

It's a bit like wearing a clerical collar (which is something else I've been known to wear).  Now some of my colleagues wear their collars all (or almost all) of the time, while others of my colleagues make a big point of never wearing their collars (and even boasting of the fact that they don't even own a collar).  Personally, I'm in between these two positions.  I wear my collar on occasions when I believe it's appropriate depending on what I'm doing, ministry-wise, such as visiting a hospital or nursing home outside of normal visiting hours.  For me, if it's not practical to robe up to lead a worship service, I at least try to "collar up".   

As with wearing a Santa suit, people who wear clerical collars need to be careful with their activities.  (It's like wearing a Santa suit, only more so.)  Once, when I was wearing my collar, I was crossing a street against a red light.  A drunk was watching me and called out "Hey, I thought your job was to tell the rest of us to obey the rules!"  (I realise this man's comment was a gross misunderstanding of the role of the Christian church and its clergy, but it's a common one here in Australia.  This misunderstanding is one reason why many churches here have just about emptied themselves of young people, working-class people, and men.) 

When wearing a clerical collar, I am carrying the past history of others with their own experiences of the Christian church, whether that experience is positive or negative.  Some people will be inclined to be open to the man or woman in the collar; while others will be similarly inclined to be closed.  (But then again, if I chose to regularly engage in ministry dressed in a business suit with tie, I'd similarly invite comparison with some of the "evangelical" preachers who function as part-CEO, part-politician, part-motivational speaker, and part-entertainer.  And I don't really see myself as part of that particular crowd.)

One other thing about wearing a clerical collar is that strangers sometimes say "hello".  Among those who frequently greet the wearers of clerical collars with a warm smile are men in yarmulkes and women in hijabs.  Sometimes I think they're asking themselves "I wonder if he catches as much flak for wearing a collar as I catch for my yarmulke/hijab." 

In my own case, the answer is that I don't.

Nevertheless, one of the things I'm aware of when I put on my clerical collar is that I'm (at least passively) in solidarity with my neighbour who will, on occasion, catch flak for his yarmulke or her hijab.

And for your enjoyment (I think?) here's a photo of myself wearing my Santa suit and my clerical collar simultaneously.

Anyway, to all of you:  Blessed Christ-Mass, Merry Christmas, Chag Hanukkah Sameach, Happy Holidays (if you're willing to risk the wrath of the various purveyors of fake "news"), and (to use a particularly Australian expression) "Have a good one!"   (Please choose the greeting or greetings you prefer.)

And, if you'd like some of my reflections on Advent and Christmas sitting on your bookshelf as well as on your computer, you may want to buy my book  Christmas Lost and Christmas Regained from Amazon.

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.