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Clint Schnekloth: Do clothes make the man -- and a statement?

Pastor considers what he wears by Clint Schnekloth | October 30, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

I've been spending time closely reading "Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization" by Elaine Enns and Ched Myers. Imagine if two theologians and faithful Mennonites decided to write a book about genealogy that is also about reparations. The combination is powerful, making use of the ancestor work so many of us become interested in in mid-life and turning it toward healing generational trauma.

Enns grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada, and so some of the history she traces is of the Mennonites and Lutherans who left the Ukraine and Russia under oppressive circumstances and moved to Canada, where they were then to varying degrees complicit in the displacement of Indigenous peoples.The project of the book is to take responsibility as settlers for examining their own past and doing healing work, something that has typically been done better and more in-depth by the displaced than the settlers themselves.

Midway through the book, Enns and Myers offer meditations on texts of Scripture they believe offer especially powerful guidance for us still. Myers wrote one of the best commentaries I've ever read on the gospel of Mark, so I was not surprised to discover some gems at this point, but nevertheless the following really struck me:

"The counsel to possess only one tunic is interesting. A 'change of clothes' would have been a rare luxury among peasant Middle Easterners. Moreover, in Luke 3:11, John the Baptist exhorts: 'If you have two coats, give one to the poor.' Presumably, Jesus is ensuring that missionaries have already distributed their surplus. We might further extrapolate that a limited wardrobe means that over time they will eventually need to adopt the local style of dress! Traditions of dress matter: they are a way of either fitting in or remaining apart; of culture imposition or adaptation. European Christian missionaries almost always got this backward. Not only did they bring trunks full of their own culture; they also imposed this baggage, including their costumes, on their native hosts. This is illustrated by the well-known image of the 8-year-old Cree Thomas Moore Keesick before and after his enrollment in Regina Indian Residential School, Saskatchewan, a keystone of colonial policies of forced assimilation. How different things would have been had Christians practiced a 'disrobed' mission: naked (so to speak) and unashamed!"

I find the meditation on clothes and Christian mission profound both as an allegory, but also impactful in the literal sense, because I've been asking myself what I should wear when as a pastor, and why. Not just the clothes I wear daily or for worship, but also how am I presenting myself in various contexts, and do I have the one cloak mindset of openness to the communities I encounter, or do I enter them presuming and holding a colonial mindset.

I recommend the book highly. It offers a path for those of us who settled on these lands to do the work. It's probably the only kind of "discipleship" I find compelling these days.

The Rev. Clint Schnekloth is lead pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville. He blogs at or email him at [email protected]

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