Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. I rarely find comfort in the King James Version and with this verse it is no different. Instead, these words poke at me like a preacher wagging his finger over the pulpit. I know his words are directed at me. I know that they poke at something I don’t care to admit, but there it is. I am vain. I feel vain. All is vanity.
OK. I admit it’s a bit over-dramatic, but I am indeed struggling with my own vanity. It feels silly and trite. Every ounce of my being believes that I should have gotten over this by now. I’ve been ordained for nearly as long as The Young Clergy Women Project has existed. I got to dream about what this organization would be – but when we met at our first conference we shared our vain frustrations. We lamented the church member that accused us of wearing too much make-up. We bemoaned that we were told we couldn’t wear big earrings while preaching. We insisted upon the supreme style of our shoes. After all, it’s all the congregation can really see under our robes. These conversations birthed this column in Fidelia’s Sisters. We wanted to talk about these details in our own voices, but now it’s nearly five years later. Vanity of vanities! Why am I digging this up again?
In 2008, Sarah Kinney Gaventa wrote the ultimate resource on hair for young clergy women. It’s already been said – except now (for those of us who've been around from "the beginning") we’re five years older. We’ve been challenged and we’ve grown. We’ve deepened our faith and come to know more about ourselves. So, I wonder if there’s more to say about the hair of young clergy women… But, this is my story so it begins with drinks.
Between sips of wine, my friend and fellow young clergy woman remarked on another young clergy woman’s ponytail. My dear friend insisted that this made her look too young. People wouldn’t take her seriously, she said. The church wouldn’t respect her office. This is not a nice thing to say about another young clergy woman, but let’s be honest: sometimes we talk about each other to understand ourselves. Plus, I’m the pot calling the kettle black. I donned a ponytail that night. She didn’t say anything about it, but that didn’t stop me from nervously pulling the elastic out and fluffing my hair into some more “mature” style. But, that’s ridiculous. It’s absurd that any woman should be seen as less mature than another just because she pulls her hair back into an elastic band. I mean, c’mon…
Still, this bothered me. In seminary, I grew my hair so that I could donate 13 inches of my blonde tresses to Locks of Love. This wasn’t an act of vanity. It was instead extremely emotional. I didn’t fully expect this fact as my hair grew. And yet, as my locks inched down my back, I kept thinking of my mother. She’d had long hair before she started chemo, and I remembered my mother’s long braids as my own hair started to look like hers. It was difficult to say goodbye to this new relationship with my mom after years of missing her, but soon every last strand fell to the salon floor.
My hair was short. It was about that time when other seminary friends started to cut their hair. I remember noticing it, but I don’t recall any conversations that might have surrounded this newly-bobbed army of disciples heading out to serve God’s church. Years later, I maintained that I kept my hair short in order to appear older. I look 12. I get this comment a lot. I have always felt that I needed shorter hair in order to smite this pleasantry out existence.
All is vanity. It doesn’t work, but things change. I have been challenged. I have grown. I have come into a deeper sense of my self – and I’ve found that I don’t really want short hair. I want to grow my hair long again. I want to be able to wear it in a style that reflects who I understand myself to be. I don’t want my hair to be a prescription of my calling to serve the church. Instead, I want my hair to reflect who I understand myself to be in the image of God. I want that image to be what I offer the church. Now, maybe I’ve fallen into one too many comas while watching TLC’s What Not to Wear, but I did notice that Stacy and Clinton didn’t make Emily Bloemker chop her locks.
This may seem obvious to you but it’s a bit earth shattering to me. Five years later, I more fully realize that I’m called to be myself. I am called to be who I am with whatever hairstyle best expresses that uniqueness. I will be a better minister when I see God in the way that I choose to offer myself to the world.