Saturday, March 17, 2007

On "Nightline" And Achieving Extremely Minor Celebrity

I got to see my "Nightline" segment again last night with the Search Committee who brought me to my congregation in 2002. We have a reunion dinner every year and this was our fifth anniversary, which none of us can quite believe.
One of them brought over a DVD produced by her husband, who took all the promo spots and edited them together with the 3-minute segment. We watched it over appetizers and wine. Fun to have them there to hoot and holler about it with me.

My review is that is was Okay.
I definitely clenched my teeth when Martin Bashir started in with his typically handsome-ominous tone about my "secret identity" -- we all groaned with laughter -- and introduced the story in a cheezy and misleading manner, insinuating that I give fashion advice in the parish to my congregation!! Right, Marty. That's why it's called BEAUTY TIPS FOR MINISTERS. Augh!

The actual segment was done with what I thought was a nice blend of fun and seriousness, and although my main talking point did not make the cut ("The contemporary church is an exciting, relevant place to be, and American clergy are often not projecting a public image that communicates that fact."), I got in a couple of quotes that were fine, and on point.

What was it like seeing myself on camera?
It was... Okay. I hated the angle they shot me at for the close-up interview because it showed a very flat part of my hair (which drooped badly under the hot lights). I watched my own talking face with critical fascination : "Wow, my lips are really lopsided, wow, I have three chins, wow, look at how weird my blinking is, wow, I have really aged, wow, I wonder how much it would cost to get liposuction on my chin(s) and jowls? hey, my make-up looks good, hey, that outfit works pretty well..." and so on, and thusly. Overall, I decided that the image and the message went together fairly effectively, and that's the most important thing.

I was glad that producer and interviewer Nancy Cordes featured shots of us laughing together, and that she included my remark to Tim Jensen that he was weary holey clothes "and not holy in a good way!" I was sorry that you didn't get to see seminarian Donna Collins speak eloquently of how she's a student of all things ministerial, including how to dress like one, and that they were unable to show her preaching from the pulpit and my giving her feedback about how well her face "reads" from the back pew. That's the kind of work I am most interested in doing with ministers.

One of my parishioners pointed out something that I hadn't noticed on the first viewing -- that they intercut an image of a cross with the story -- which irritated us all because there are no crosses anywhere on or in our building, and we're not a specifically Christian congregation in this generation. Where did they get that cross? We're guessing at the cemetery across the street. :::cue rolling of eyes::::

Another groaner of a moment was when the story closed with a shot of a mall and a voice-over saying that in her spare time, Rev. Weinstein "cruises the mall" for ideas... and looks at fashion magazines.
That latter point is fair to make-- since I started BeautyTipsForMinisters I do spend time seriously perusing Allure, Glamour, Lucky, In Style, Out and various clothing catalogues. This is new for me. But cruising the mall? Listen, honey, in my "spare time" I'm working on a doctoral degree!

I'm looking forward to being on the Sunday With Liz Walker Show at 11:00 AM next Sunday on WBZ. We're shooting the segment on Wednesday and I expect that it will have much more substance to it than the "Nightline" offering.

Now. On achieving very minor fame in the clergy community.

Mostly it has been a total delight, a grand opening of my sense of clergy as a worldwide community of friends, sisters and brothers, mutually supportive, funny, wise, affectionate and deeply connected at the level of the soul beyond denominational differences. Since I started Beauty Tips, I have had hundreds of lovely, loving, often -hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking e-mails from ministers all over the country introducing themselves, thanking me for blogging on the subject, asking me for support or advice which I promptly give to the best of my ability, and expressing appreciation for the outrageous persona of PeaceBang, "stage mother to the clergy" who wants "all her babies to be stars."

As I have discussed before on this original blog, it became clear to me very soon after starting the Beauty Tips blog that I wanted to make PeaceBang's voice more flamboyantly dramatic than the one I adopted for this first blog, feeling that the topic warranted it. I wanted the blog to feel like a fabulous salon where, when you entered it, you would feel enveloped and almost overwhelmed by this grand diva who would pull you over to a full-length mirror and say, "DARLING! HOW CAN WE MAKE YOU SHINE, SHINE, SHINE!!??" I pictured myself in a pair of satin pajamas with maribou-covered mules and a huge feather boa, kind of a Rev. Auntie Mame.

It has been received well. The vast majority of readers "get it."

While I had a vague idea that I would really like to help ministers find a more appropriate, confidence-promoting image for themselves, I figured most of that would happen on-line. It never occurred to me that I would get media attention that would give me the opportunity to blend my PeaceBang persona with my real ministry as Vicki Weinstein. Interesting! How to do it? My conclusion: continue to write as the outrageous PeaceBang on the blog and be myself on camera, or anywhere else. Not that there's a universe of difference between the two, of course -- just several degrees of flamboyance and insistence!

This has all been a really interesting exercise in identity and public image, much like the journey from laywoman to minister but with far more personal detachment and neutral curiosity, whereas my journey to ministry was rife with (clergy, do you remember?) drama, a sense of thrill and vague crisis, projection and worry. Since my blogging happens as a pleasant hobby within the context of a profoundly fulfilling and totally happy life in parish ministry with a congregation I adore (but made a decision right away not to discuss in detail on any of my blogs), it has just been FUN.

There has been heartache in this work, too: I've received a number of letters from incredibly insecure ministers who pour out their hearts to me confessing their fears and hurts about how bad they think they look and/or how helpless they feel in choosing what to wear. I never realized how much of 8th grade stays with us, and I'm surprised and saddened by it. I never wanted the blog to invoke rampant insecurity among any of my readers; frankly, I would have imagined we were beyond that level of fragility. I was wrong, and apparently naive. But what some folks need isn't fashion advice but support in working through some serious emotional issues. I hope they get that support. At best, maybe my blog can make them aware of their low self-esteem and encourage them to investigate it with courage and care.

The blog has generated some controversy, and I think that's great.
After Michael Paulson's article ran in the Boston Globe and was subsequently syndicated around the country, many clergypeople addressed it in newsletters and sermons. I have read about a dozen of these reflections and appreciate all of them, even when the writer vehemently disagrees with me. They have many excellent points.

There is a group of women ministers who blog together and who are still tsking about me based on an ugly cat fight we had last summer. That's okay, too.
I stand by my argument, however harshly made, that there is no reason whatsoever to preside over a religious ceremony looking disheveled and sloppy. What began as a conversation in July became a shrieking accusation that I don't understand because I'm not a Mom. And when that happens, I know enough to leave the room. No one needs to engage in a Fight Of the Screaming Archetypes, and especially not me, because I'm a single woman with no one at home to love and support me emotionally or financially and you have the comfort of children and partners not to mention the approval of a society that still sees motherhood as the apotheosis of feminine identity and...see what I mean? Non-productive.
I deleted the exchange because I think that female clergy need to present a unified front to a world that is still not accustomed to our existence.

Just today, I read a blog exchange about me that was the only outright disturbing thing I have ever read, because it sounded like dialogue out of some teen drama like the "OC" rather than a conversation happening between mature adults, let alone self-professed spiritual leaders. In reaction to my article in the Boston Globe, a retired Lutheran minister (!) in England, snidely wrote that I looked like I was wearing a wig hat. (What's a wig hat? Where can I get one?) Others on the same blog chimed in insulting my hair, and yet another wrote that he was slightly disappointed to find that I am a woman (I suppose he thought I was a gay man -- and he wouldn't be the first). The group cheered their own clergy image maven and boo'd me with all the maturity reserved for a bitter prom queen fight at Saxe Junior High. I can't tell you how depressing I find this. Religious leaders actually stooping to the level of schoolbus bullies, picking on the popular girl and teasing her about her hair. Hey kids, this is a relationship. If you can read me, I can read you. And I do, in the hopes that you'll have something substantive to offer, not to hear you make snotty little remarks about my hair, which by the way, is great hair (and is that color in honor of Agnes Moorehead's character Endora on "Bewitched" --which shows just how hard I'm trying for your idea of a "class act").

I started BeautyTipsForMinisters because my sister kept noodging me to. The response has been amazing. I keep writing Beauty Tips because hundreds of clergy and others appreciate it. Everything I said, do, write and suggest is for them. If they hadn't anointed me in this unique role of Minister to Ministers, I wouldn't be in the newspaper or on television. I've never been a fashion plate and never said I was. I have said nothing but the truth: that I'm a very chubby, short female minister who tries to look her very best to communicate the vibrancy of contemporary religious life every time she appears in public. I'm not a model. I'm a pastor and a writer.
[This just in: it appears that the blogger, Mad Priest, is actually charming and funny -- but his commenters --who apparently think of themselves as a merry, irreverent and hilarious little band of Anglican rebels -- just aren't funny, and they really want to be. That doesn't bother me so much as the fact that they haven't got the sense God gave a schnauzer, because they keep writing about me as though I can't see them. Hey kids: Boo! I'm here!-- PB]

Finally, for the reader who worries about what to wear when we meet at the Festival Of Homiletics in May, believe me, darling -- I'M the one who should worry. After all, I've gone from being an anonymous dispenser of fashion advice to clergy to being very much out in the world as ministerial image consultant. I hadn't bargained on that, but I'm glad it happened.

To be continued!
How I looked:
Vicki On Nightline 2007
How I felt:Nightline Appearance 2007 001


Blogger Peregrinato said...

There will be detractors.

There will be some with criticisms you may find valid, and maybe you'll respond to them and let your own vision accommodate these perspectives.

There will still be those who turn their nose up and choose to elevate all things spiritual to all things worldly. (Until they fast and live atop a pillar for 30 years, they're on shaky grounds. They just don't like their tastes challenged.)

There will just be those who like to snipe and complain. Remember the old saying, "the moon is not swayed by the baying of hounds."

So...there will be things you should listen to, and there will be things you should ignore, and you will continue to do your work, just remember to do it prayerfully.


p.s., as I said elsewhere, I thought you looked gorgeous.

Blogger Caminante said...

Dropping in for the first time... I am with you; I have always felt I should look decent out of respect for the office (I am an Episcopal priest) and for the congregation. If I look as though I just rolled out of bed, then it says I don't care. But, then, I am child-free, so what do I know? (And I have no memories of 7th-8th grade either.)

Love the box pews! Neat looking church.

And neat looking person, too.

Blogger robiewankenobie said...

my dad was a rhet. crit./public speaking prof, and a lay minister. boy, gee howdy, could that man captivate an audience. i've sat in many a pew since then, and heard brilliant sermons that didn't come across simply because of presentation. those poor congregations didn't know what they had! diamonds in the rough! a little peacebang? and they would have been smokin'! (in a good way. *grin*)

Blogger Juanuchis said...

I found my way here via, yes, Mad Priest. I asked the question there in reply, but obviously, it's better to ask it here:

Were you a UU minister in Columbia, MD? Because I believe you married my late husband and I. :)

Nonetheless, I think the "Beauty Tips" is a fantastic idea. I look forward to reading the BT blog itself. What I've scanned I love -- witty, fresh. I need something like this since I'm in a fashion rut (Bobbie Brooks, White Stag, anyone?).

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Oh my gosh! I was indeed in Columbia, MD! Janis, is that you!?
Write to me at peacebang - at-!!!

Blogger Katester said...

Is there a link to the vid on Youtube or even the nightline site? I tried to do a search but didn't come up with anything. Congrats on being a celeb!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

word from li'l flava: tell those meanies to go to PLAYA HATA! ;-)


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