Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Priest Wears Dangling Earrings—Still

Just three known-to-me times in my twenty-some years of being a priest, active in parishes, counseling, spiritual direction and chaplaincy, have my earrings made the headlines in someone’s mind—once for scandal, once for shock, and once for delight.
The Episcopal Church voted that women could be ordained in 1976, a very good year for church and USA. I was ordained in 1988 after some struggle, but women were still not regular fixtures at parish altars. We just didn’t look right. To some we were an offense.
When I started celebrating at the altar in my first parish in Connecticut I wore the correct uniform except for one thing—my dangly gold earrings. They were delicate, teardrop-shaped like a fish, the Christian symbol after all, but they raised eyebrows. No one said anything to me personally but by Monday morning the moribund, covered with dust and cobwebs Suggestion Box contained two slips of paper. We knew there was new life for this old box because the messengers had carefully left the edge of the white message paper sticking out of the slot.
The messages were for me. One note said, “The priest should NOT wear dangly earrings,” and the other one was like unto it. I gave them to the male rector, told him they were for him, went home, fumed to anyone who would listen, asked Godde what to do, and wore buttons not danglers the next Sunday and several more until the people knew me and liked me behind my danglers. Then I wore the danglers again without comment. It was okay to be an anomaly but not wise to flaunt my gender ornaments in anger and just to mock others. Motives count.
The second time my earrings drew comment was when I officiated at the wedding of my former spiritual director, a French Jesuit priest who had left his country, his religion and his order to marry a sweet young thing named Mary. He hadn’t left his Roman Catholic priesthood, just transferred into Episcopal priesthood. A priest is a priest is a priest. Okay for him to have me officiate but the shock for at least one Catholic wedding guest jumped unbidden out of her mouth. “Look! The priest has earrings!”
The third time my earrings became the center of someone’s attention was in the yes of a six month old child at her baptism. She was screeching, her parents blushing and shushing when I reached for the child to get it over with quickly. Suddenly she stopped her wailing and stared at me with smiles and coos. That was just before she grabbed at one of my danglers and yanked. In spite of the endangerment to my ear everyone laughed. How cute!
The moral of this story is that dangling earrings can be dangerous, but isn’t that true of all adornments? They stand out, command attention, turn heads.
Scripture has a tradition of adornment. Godde adorns with beauty those whom society casts out. Godde raises them up, saves them from the muck of human degradation and abuse, calls them beloved, and dresses them in garments of fair linen, and fits them for halos—and the women get dangly earrings.