After watching hours of coverage about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, I think I’ve discovered what Baptist, Pentecostal and other Protestant leaders are lacking.
The Pope’s flashy red satin cape– technically called a ferraiolo and worn for formal liturgical events– jumps right off the screen and says “I’m in charge.” It taunts hapless Reformation-plagued leadership by suggesting their subservience to boards of directors and executive committees is demeaning at best, craven cowardice at worst.
The cape works. Ask James Brown, the hardest working exhibitionist in show business. His drawn-out “cape removal” bit during every show emphasized his musical royalty. Elvis took the hint and donned a cape in his latter days. So did Captain Beefheart and a score of other entertainers.
From Dracula to Zorro to Sherlock Holmes to Superman, the cape has a single message: “This may look silly, but YOU don’t have one, do you?”
In fact, the cape looks so silly it’s cool.
Of course, to copy the Pope’s cape would be crass, and wouldn’t fool anybody anyway. Billy Bob Baptist, ensconced in his pulpit delivering a hellfire and brimstone sermon in a red satin cape would cause widespread distress among his congregation and possibly invite a visit from those Westboro folks.
That’s why I’m suggesting an alternative– the poncho.
The only character who demands more respect than the Pope is the poncho-wearing Man With No Name, Clint Eastwood.
In fact, isn’t every Sunday sermon a metaphor for the showdown in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, in which a flinty-eyed Blondie stares down and eliminates evil. His poncho veils his intentions (what’s he doing under that poncho? Where’s his gun?), his words are few and to the point, his actions are swift and decisive.
The serape or Mexican poncho of the spaghetti westerns would also speak a welcoming message to the increasingly Hispanic population in our cities.
Protestant clergy seem to lack a distinctive symbol of authority. Wearing a poncho at committee meetings would eliminate the confusion that makes it seem everyone at the table is on the same level. (Hey, I got your Roberts Rules of ORDER right HERE, deacon!)
Although Reformation teaching condemns the extraneous pomp and show of Catholic liturgy, a quick perusal of the works of Luther and Calvin reveal no prohibition of the Mexican poncho.
Sadly, neither of these theological giants ever availed themselves of this powerful tool. The loss is theirs, and ours.
(And actually, many scholars believe our Lord wore a type of seamless serape during his ministry here on earth).
Try this simple thought experiment. Picture Jim Wallis in a heated debate with James Dobson. Now picture Wallis in a poncho. Or, hey, picture them both in ponchos. Wouldn’t that be more entertaining and possibly more productive?
There’s absolutely no question about it. Now go and do likewise.