There are a lot of unwritten "rules" for clergy, but I didn't know that one of them was to avoid hot pink lipstick on a Sunday morning.
I've never worn a lot of make-up, and when I do, I try to look as "natural" as possible. One time, though, I read a magazine article claiming that wearing bold, vibrant lipstick colors reflected confidence.
I felt empowered and adventurous. Why not try out some hot pink lipstick that complemented my skin tone? Not everyday but at least once in a while? I picked up a fresh tube at the local department store and eagerly waited to try it out on Sunday.
That was when I learned what seminary neglected to teach me: switching from a practically non-existent lipstick to hot pink in a week's time may cause some people to take notice.
Before Sunday school convened that morning, I chatted with some folks in the fellowship hall. As I got up to leave, one of the women at the table asked to speak to me. She seemed serious, and my mind went to what could be wrong. Were there hurt feelings? Was someone in the hospital? Did the altar guild accidentally buy garlic bread for Communion?
After pulling me aside, she looked me in the eye and said, "Take off that lipstick."
That was one thing that had not raced through my mind.
"Excuse me?" I asked. I was hoping she'd smile, that she was just trying to be funny.
Instead, she frowned, shook her head, and walked away without another word.
After recovering from the surprise, I walked to my office and did what seemed most reasonable:
I pulled out the tube of lipstick and added another layer of hot pink to my lips. I made a point to see her with a big smile before worship began.
The next day I mumbled and grumbled to the church's secretary about the woman's comment. Who did she think she was, telling me what to wear? Was my bold make-up choice any of her business?
The secretary laughed with me, but then shook her head sadly and said, "Comments like that will make people not want to come to church."
I was so consumed with my own experience that I had not seen the bigger lesson that was clear to the secretary. Speaking our minds can push people away, especially at church, where many of us come vulnerable and sensitive. Sometimes expressing our own opinions to "help" someone else ends up hurting them instead. Like this woman, we feel comfortable enough to speak "my" mind without first thinking of how my words will affect "your" soul. It's easy for us to focus so much on what we want to say that we don't consider what the other person will hear.
Years have passed since that hot pink Sunday, and I am now very grateful for what the woman said to me. The experience reminds me that my spoken opinions, and how I speak those opinions, are always in conversation with the opinions of my brothers and sisters. When is the time to speak and the time to remain silent? When I do offer advice or opinions, with what spirit do I speak? Out of love for the other or devotion to my self?
When Paul wrote to the congregation in Philippi, his concern was for the community to have the mind of Christ--one mind in the likeness of our Lord that emanated peace. Our news feeds and headline tickers suggest the opposite of peace these days with divisive rhetoric and defensive responses.
As the Church, let's move beyond speaking "my" mind into living "our" calling. To seek the good of all by seeing good in one another. To share in what is true, honorable, just and pure. To balance in the love of Christ our speaking and listening.
all good things to each of you,