preaching at my home church presents a clothing challenge. less so these days — but this was especially true for me five or six years ago when i started preaching there occaisionally. my wardrobe consisted of “nice clothes”, and a very large selection of t-shirts and shorts. those who preached at my church tended to wear nice casual (which, in san diego language, does NOT mean a button-down shirt, but, rather, a hawaiian shirt). i had one really nice hawaiian shirt that i’d bought on the sale rack of a local golf course — it was one of those $110 shirts, marked down about 5 times, ’til i bought it for about $30.
by default, it became my lucky preaching shirt.
when ed noble (our teaching pastor, and my former co-worker/boss from the omaha days) came to this church, he’s the one who officially named it my “preaching shirt”.
about four years ago, ed and i were sharing a series. i’d preached week one, and — of course — wore “the shirt”. ed preached week two, and i was over in the middle school room. a woman came and found me and said (with a concerned face) that she needed to talk to me about something that was very difficult for her from the previous week. i’d preached on non-conformity, so wasn’t surprised this woman might have a problem with what i said. but then she surprised me: “it wasn’t anything you said — i loved what you said. it was your shirt. i’m really troubled that you wore it last time you preached, and again last week.”
me: “ha! that’s hilarious! ed calls it my preaching shirt!” (can you sense that i thought she was kidding?)
her: “i’m not kidding” (her face made this clear), “you wore it two times in a row.”
me: “but… um… the last time i preached… was, like… 8 months ago!”
her: “yes, i know. but you still wore it two times in a row. and i find it extremely distracting. PLEASE, whatever you do, do NOT wear that shirt next week when you preach.”
needless to say, i was absolutely conflicted. there was such a massive-huge part of me that wanted to wear the shirt just to spite her, and to force her to confront the triviality of her stupid issue. but, then, i didn’t really want to wear the shirt that close to when i’d just worn it, or — i thought — everyone would start mumbling about how that damn pineapple hawaiian shirt must be my only shirt. i had visions of receiving dozens of shirts in the mail from well-meaning church-goers.
i hung the preaching shirt on a hanger in my closet, and didn’t wear it for four years.
until yesterday. i was preaching on identity. and as i was rummaging through my shirts, trying to decide what to wear, i saw “the preaching shirt”, and was struck by how that stupid thing and that lady’s stupid comment had played an identity role for me. so i decided to redeem the shirt, and give it back its rightful place.
i even made this story my opening illustration (i have no idea if that lady still goes to our church — i don’t think i’ve seen her in a while), and when i said i was out to redeem the preaching shirt, the congregation broke into applause (while i flexed the shirt — ahnold-style).
the preaching shirt is now wadded up with other dark clothing in the dirty laundry bag. but it’s back. and it’s feelin’ pretty good about that.