Thursday, August 6, 2009

The ministry of the overalls (and high-tops and hair)

Several years ago, I went to a workshop at the Quaker meetinghouse in Pasadena. A friend of mine was facilitating, and when she saw me, she immediately commented on the overalls I was wearing. "You always wear such interesting overalls!" she proclaimed.
Indeed, I was! Those who know me know that I always wear overalls and that many of them are "interesting." The ones I was wearing that day were a gorgeous light-weight pair, found at a thrift store, featuring a variety of patterns, including small flowers, in tan, black and red. (Unfortunately, they have since ripped quite a bit and are no longer wearable.)
I thanked my friend for her acknowledgment of my overalls and realized very soon afterwards that I should have said that they are my ministry.
Overalls as a ministry. What did I mean? How can the overalls that I wear everyday, along with, I later realized, the mis-matched Converse All Star high-tops that I wear from April through October (I wear Docs during the rest of the year) with rainbow laces, be, as I understand we Quakers define "ministry," a testimony or a mission? It has taken me years to figure that out.
For years, whenever I went home with a new outfit or a new hairstyle (long hair, braids, shaved head, etc.), my dad would always ask me if I was making a statement. Making a statement? No, no, I kept protesting, as if making a statement was the bad thing implied in my father’s query, I’m just wearing and doing what I like.
Who was I kidding? Why do I like wearing pretty overalls? There are many reasons, but my friend’s reaction that day - "You always wear such interesting overalls!" - basically summed them up. I liked it that she saw them.
I have said that I want people to notice my overalls, my shoes, my hair rather than my being in a wheelchair. I want to be "the guy in the cool bibs" rather than "the guy in the wheelchair" or at least "the guy in the overalls in the wheelchair." I also want it clear that I decide what I wear and how I have my hair and that some nurse or orderly isn’t just throwing some clothes on me.
More than that, I like being "interesting." If people are going to stare at me, why not make it interesting, even art-ful. Sure, I like it when people are amused, pleased and delighted by my colorful looks. I like brightening up their day. But I also like to wake people up, provoke them, get them to think. Like about what kind of a statement I might be making.


  1. I like this much. I wish I had Joe Franko's mighty brain that I could follow your speech as well as he does, but I also admire the gift of being articulate in print, and you, sir, are. Yes, claim your colorful ministry!

  2. I having read your mission to get people to think about what they must do as an individual and make changes, rather than want the world to change, has intrigued me to the notion, just being yourself is as much as we could ask. My letting people and opinion influence the way I enjoy what I do, is co-dependent to say the least. My philosophy should be like yours John, let the world take a gander and either approve or get out of the way, because who I am is more important than what I do, and simply who I please is less important than what pleases me!
    I applaud you and your testimony, letting judgement be less critical than my own opinion on what I can do personally for myself than to count favors and spreading self too thin.
    My hope is to continue knowing the people in my life are going through the same process more or less with discovering no one controls me, unless I let them.

  3. That's kinda how it is with my hair! People always want to know if I'm trying to make a statement. Actually, they usually just ASSUME I am trying to make a statement, and usually the statement they assume I am trying to make is that I'm queer and/or that I'm "doing it to get attention" or something. If I WERE trying to make a statement with my hair, it would be more likely something to do with my spirituality than with my sexual orientation or gender identity, and I appreciate when people compliment my hair but I'm not TRYING to get people to look at it. My hair isn't really purple for a reason, any more than my eyes are blue for a reason or my belly button is an innie for a reason. It's just purple, and I like it. :)

  4. Hi John, I just want to say hello being an overalls addict like you and my overalls have also sort of become my signature, even if I'm not a queer. I just love overalls so much that I have suggested to make an international overalls day, so far together with a lot of farmgirls, take a look on my blog and the links. We also have a flickr album so it could be fun to have some photos of you in your overalls ! all the best Niels aka bibprofessor

  5. Hi, John, I want to thank bibprofessor for sending me link to this post. We love overalls! I do suppose I am being counted as one of his "farmgirls" although I haven't lived on a farm in years. I do hope you will visit all of us online. I write The Gratitude Journal ( I do hope you will stop by. You will fit right in with us.

    Wonderful blog here. So glad I found you. Thanks, to Neils. Best to you, John!