This is probably over due. It is one of the few issues on which people have seemed genuinely interested in my views. I have sidestepped the question until now. However something has happened that makes this issue so central to my episcopacy, if not my life, that I can no longer remain silent.
I recently changed my profile pic on FaceBook and the responses have been favorable. Every single person who likes the new pic has said it is because of the hat -- a soft wool Western hat (a Scala classico) which I got in Salt Lake 2 years ago. I gather the pro-pic folks prefer this hat to the church baseball cap which I wore in my old pic (as still seen on this blog).
During the bishop election in 07, I inadvertently created a stir in the diocese by wearing a hat in the profile pic for the candidates. My hat was for some a decisive factor in their discernment. Generally, it seems to have played pretty well in the rurals, to have been an acceptable eccentricity in Reno, but to have been controversial if not downright offensive in Las Vegas. One clergy person interrogated me at some length as to what I was trying to say with my hat or if there was a psychopathlogy concealed beneath it.
The hat, by the way, was a standard white summer straw hat such as I see in stores all over Las Vegas. Some of the hat's critcs called it a Panama Hat. Not true. The Panama Hat is a perfectly respectable style, but I do not now and have never owned one.
So here's the story on that hat. I was told by the search committee to wear "street clericals" for the pic and when I am on the street I wear a hat. The reasons are not subtle or complex. I have been bald for decades and without the hat I would be having cancers dug out of my scalp monthly. The only thought that went through my mind as I decided, in the blink of an eye, about wearing a hat in the picture is that it would cut down on the glare from my head. I was concerned that the glare would suggest a halo and so unfairly disadvantage the other candidates who did not have halos.
So I was surprised and remain perplexed by the interest in my hat. My sense of the spiritual incidental-ness of hats goes back to an anti-racsim public service announcement in the 60's. Richard Boone (Paladin from Have Gun Will Tavel) appeared on camera holding two hats, one white and one black. He said television used hat colors in westerns to distinguish good guys from bad guys, but in real life we sould never judge a person by the color of his hat!
That is obviously true. Hat color tells us nothing about a person. It is the style of the band, the height of the crown, and the strategic tilt of the brim that are the measure of character.
Since my first months in Nevada, like St. Paul I have been learning to be all things to all people in the hope that I may bring a few to the gospel. I have learned to wear a black fedora in Las Vegas, and never a Stetson, except at one congreation where the DOK demands the Stetson. In Elko the Stetson always. In Reno, hats suggestive of down jacketed proximity to California. At House of Bishops, usually the Episcopal Chaplain baseball cap, except sometimes I wear my Pioche Nevada baseball cap because it's fun listening to the other bishops try to pronounce Pioche when they ask me what it is.
Oh yes, I was also surprised that anyone would be concerned about a bishop's propensity to wear odd hats, given the eccentricity of the mitre. I started out wearing a plain humble Beckett mitre but that was met by groans of dissatisfaction. So now I usually wear the "higher mitre" of medieval pomposity -- the one worn by the pompous clergyman in Princess Bride. (It makes me want to say "Mawiage. Cwistian mawiage." The bands in the back flop around my face making me feel like Jar Jar Binks in church). That seems to better meet expectations, but I would still like to have a mitre with showgirl feathers (of seasonally appropriate liturgical colors of course) for special occasions -- such as diocesan conventions when we meet in a casino.