Back in my days at divinity school a classmate, who turned out to be one of the best friends a person could have, told me a story about going to a protest march and seeing an old Catholic priest and his stole. The stole was covered with protest, social justice, peace, and movement buttons. That image always stuck in my mind and over the years I have collected buttons from anti-war protests, environmental rallies, closing the School of America gatherings, and such, hoping one day I would put them on a stole.
One day this summer while driving down to Iowa I had a series of sermons by Gardner Taylor playing on the tape deck (yes my car has a tape player). In the midst of ubiquitous cornfields I began to think that the progressive movement needs to adopt John the Baptizer as our "patron saint." And about that same time Gardner Taylor started preaching on John the Baptizer. Slowly he described John, and even though I had read the descriptions of John countless times I had never thought specifically about what John wore, a raiment of camel's hair (as the King James reads). Instantly, my mind started wondering where one could get some camel hair cloth, then it hit me: from a camel hair blazer, of course! Yeah a camel hair blazer, cover it with buttons and wear it year around with a clerical collar (talk about branding). I then, however, began to think about actually wearing, year-round, a camel hair blazer in Minneapolis- that one could get mighty hot (even here in the upper midwest) and stinky!
I thought on this some more and after a few dozen more corn fields synergy happened: a stole made from a camel hair blazer covered with buttons (buttons that in some way express the Kingdom of God). So I asked the artist (whom I am married to) when she is out sourcing for materials at a thrift store and comes upon a camel hair blazer would she please pick it up. And sure enough, a couple months later, she did. She brought it home and showed me how to rip the blazer apart; not as easy as it sounds, an evening with a seam ripper took its toll on my hands.
She did a remarkable job with the stole, as always. After she completed the stole I started looking for all my buttons. But one problem: I could only find a remnant of them! I suppose over the course of the many moves, time, and such I lost them along the way. Rather than mourn over my loss I decided from now on to start a new collection and add them to the stole each Advent. I told the kids during time with children to think of the buttons as my Continuing Education certificates as a progressive pastor.