Last Sunday I wore a Christmas tie to church. For fun. It was December 11 and cool outside. I wore a white shirt, which I tucked in, and a simple cardigan I got on super-sale two springs ago. I still wore the usual jeans and boots, however; I didn’t want to go overboard.
The Journeyers gave me the same reactions as they always do when they see me at a memorial service or a wedding and I have on a suit or a liturgical robe, or even just a tie:
- Genuine shock.
- Smiles of disbelief.
- Squinting looks, sideways-cocked-heads looks, half-scowls.
They say things like,
- “Oh my God, who died?” or
- “Are you okay?” or
- “Are you seriously wearing a tie?” or
- “Is that you?!” or “My eyes! My eyes!” or
- “Shit, man, you scared me!”
And they only mostly mean those things as a joke. Partly we’re just laughing because me wearing a tie is so incongruous to Journey’s ethos. But they are also checking with me, because I’ve crossed a line that is not stated but is understood. The “Rick Doesn’t Dress Like A Preacher” agreement.
There’s no reason anyone can’t wear a tie to a worship gathering to a JIFC gathering; everybody’s welcome to wear whatever they want. This was a conscious decision we made a dozen years ago when Journey was first starting. The Baby Boomer megachurch movement had started in the 1980s with casual dress code as a tool for attracting people. But our choice wasn’t attractional; it was an expression of something we believe in deeply, which is: you are fine. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not a “sinner.” You may feel broken, and disconnected, and hungry, and like a disaster, which can be a good place to find God and each other. But you’re a beautiful disaster. Don’t fix it.
So, I don’t wear ties, because I get to wear what I want and be myself, accepted, just like everybody else.
But there’s another reason I don’t wear traditional “preacher” clothes:
Many Journeyers have been hurt by religion. Wounded. Scarred. Abused. By unhealthy church systems. By pastors and leaders. By parents and other adults. By just general bullshit that wears the name “church.” By theology. By what they were told was God.
I don’t wear ties – or other preacher clothes – including hip preacher clothes and tattoos and haircuts – because I don’t want to hurt people more than they’ve already been hurt. I very deliberately try to make sure that what I and other Journey leaders say and do won’t re-wound people.
Church PTSD has broken people’s hearts. I don’t just mean their feelings about religion; I mean their feelings about themselves, their sense of worth, their joy, their sexuality, what they can be, what they can hope for.
I get it.
So that Sunday when many Journeyers balked at my tie, I’d hold it up and show them:
- that it’s a pattern of cartoon drawings of Santa Clauses with diverse skin colors, and
- that it’s a Save the Children tie, designed by a 13-year-old girl, and its sales went to helping children in need, and
- that I wore it in love, and celebration, and not because it was required of me or of any of us.
And this was, mostly, acceptable. Just … don’t make a habit of it.
 This isn’t the same as the messages some churches use, overtly or covertly, that everyone is welcome as they are, but once you get here, you need to change. Or, “God loves you just as you are – but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.” Y’know what? Screw you. Oh, and, God is not a male.
 NOTE: There are ways to deal with religious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the emotions and thoughts that flare up when someone who’s been abused suddenly perceives they’re being threatened by the same danger they experienced before. If you’re suffering from church abuse, there is help, lots of help. Starting with what Robin Williams says to Matt Damon near the end of Good Will Hunting:
“It’s not your fault.”