As you know, I love to listen to music, especially when I’m working. I like to put Pandora on shuffle and listen to 15 different channels because I love the variety, and I just love music of all kinds.
As I was listening one day, the Amy Grant song “Hats” came on; it’s a song I can really relate to because she sings about wearing too many hats, which is something I’ve done for years, both literally and figuratively.
I know I’m not alone in this, so I thought I’d share a bit about how that plays out for me.
It seems as though I’ve spent my whole life looking at the start of my day in terms of what hat — what version of myself — I needed to put on for the day: Daughter, sister, cousin, co-worker, office manager, dog owner, bookkeeper, vicar of education, preacher.
Note, I didn’t mention the lesbian hat; since my coming out, that hat hasn’t been optional. But I sure did when I first realized I was gay. The evidence was clear when I found a church more than 35 miles from where I live. I didn’t want anyone to know. I was afraid that if I openly wore the “gay” hat I would be rejected or ridiculed.
I think we all rotate through a bunch of hats. For me, the challenge I face every day is not so much how to do each of the jobs they represent, but how to be true to myself.
I’ve mentioned this before, and it’s worth mentioning again: My pastor keeps reminding us that “we are all uniquely and wonderfully made in the image of God and that is enough” — and that we should love ourselves as God loves us. So what kind of “hat” should I wear to remind me of this saying?
I know every day I try to be the best “me” and accept and share God’s love with myself and others — but am I really doing this? How does this desire affect all aspects of my life and the various hats I wear?
When I look at my collection of hats, I find myself trying to set a mood by choosing one that will help me be myself. And all this depends on who I will interact with that day:
- When I go to church, I usually pick between my rainbow Atlanta Braves hat and my Love/Peace hat.
- When I go to work, I wear the hat that has my firm’s name on it.
- When I mow the grass, I use a hat that isn’t as special as some of the others, because it’s mainly there to absorb my sweat and keep the sun out of my eyes.
- When I have a migraine and have to work that day, I wear my red Dr. Pepper hat. I suffer from cluster migraines that can go on for days, so I wear my red hat to let others know I have a migraine. I also wear it for myself, since the subtle changes in the the light as I walk around the office makes my migraines worse. (Until I had migraines, I didn’t realize that our eyes are actually sensitive to the near-imperceptible changes in the light as we walk in and out of the glare of office fluorescents.)
- When I go to a Braves game, if I’m going with work friends, I wear a standard Atlanta Braves hat. When I’m going on the annual Pride Night, I wear a rainbow “ATL” hat I bought at the 2018 Pride Night.
- If it’s raining, I wear a cowboy-style hat to keep the rain off my head and neck.
In all, I have over a dozen different hats to pick from. Why are they so important to me?
It’s because my choice of hats is a reflection of my life — an outward symbol that can make a statement that is easily seen and will affect the response I will get when I interact with another person. It’s also a symbol of my lifelong focus on perceiving others’ needs and serving those needs before my own.
Granted, my ability to understand what others expect of me helped me graduate with honors for both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. (If you can read your teacher and determine to learn only what they will test on, you can ace a test every time.)
But living my life internalizing what others expect of me doesn’t leave a lot of time for me to figure out what I want from — or for — my own life. In fact, to be honest, I started his letter in 2020 and couldn’t bring myself to get past this point until now. Self-examination ain’t easy!
But today I’m finishing this. I’ve been self-examining for a while, and I think I can share how I’ve progressed since then.
It’s amazing what a pandemic does to our lives. Working at home for months while I waited to determine the best way to return to work helped me self-examine.
What have I learned?
- I need to be aware of situations, knowing that “assumptions” of gender should not be made. We need to be gender-neutral in our approach. I have a pin someone gave me that declares “she/her” as my preferred pronouns. Yet my voice is low enough on the phone that I get called “he/him” — a lot. It even happens in stores.
- God is non-gender specific. God is just as much a “she” as a “he.” I try to change the Bible readings I use for sermons to reflect gender neutrality.
- I need to let others help me. The mobility issues I’ve experienced over the last two years have allowed me to let lots of people help me. I often feel guilty about it. But if I can’t allow others to show love to me, how can I honestly show God’s love to them?
- Even when big corporations are trying to be open and affirming to LGBTQ+ people, they have their limits as to what they will or won’t do for us.
An example is my beloved Braves; they have a Pride Night, which is great, and there are lots of rainbows at the game that night. But they also make sure we’re all seated the same area of the stadium. Why? So that when they do the Kiss Cam they can avoid us.
But why do they assume that a man and woman sitting together will kiss? They may not even be a couple. Can you imagine if you and I were at a game and they put us on the Kiss Cam? No way I am kissing you that way — ugh, you’re my brother!
Or maybe it’s harder to tell if two people of the same gender are a couple or not. That, or the Braves want to avoid upsetting anyone who might think LGBTQ+ people are sinners. So it boils down to the Braves only giving lip service to their brand of inclusion.
How did Jesus keep true to himself? He wore one hat, which was an all-purpose hat.
As a son, when his mother told him to do something about the lack of wine at a wedding, he turned water into wine.
As a religious learner and teacher, he stayed at the temple to learn and then teach, to be with God.
As a healer, he showed a woman who touched his garment that if she just believed, she’d be healed.
But with each action he took, there was only one hat, one message to be sent: You are uniquely and wonderfully made in the image of God, and that is enough. He didn’t hide from the world, he openly shared God’s love with the world — every day, every hour.
No matter which hat I may pick for the day, I’m really just trying to be more like Jesus and focus on the one message that needs to be sent, day in and day out. Pray that I can do so. I’ve gotten to a good start on Sundays, when I skip wearing a hat to church, because my message that day is that I’m just being me.
Thanks for listening again.
The longtime Vicar of Education for Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, Alyce Keener (she/her) has felt a twofold calling from an early age toward teaching and toward God. Her religious education started in earnest at her first vacation Bible school, which spurred the realization at a very young age of how important God and Jesus were in her life. She began to pray daily and later began studying the Bible in earnest in college, where she became involved with the Navigators, later taking classes at Moody Bible Institute. Born in Ohio, she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Illinois, and was active in local churches, serving on a missions committee, helping develop a church library, leading educational programs and directing a young adults program.