That’s what I asked the children gathered at the chancel area for our weekly conversation, after I removed my robe and stole and put on my hoodie.
Do I look suspicious? Do I look dangerous or threatening? Or do I just look like Pastor Dave with a hoodie on?
They all thought I just looked like myself, albeit wearing odd clothes for a Sunday morning worship service.
I responded with something like this:
That’s what I think too, I just look like me in a hoodie. Unfortunately, the sad, sad truth is sometimes in our country and around the world, sometimes people get scared of other people who look different from them. People who have a different skin color or people who wear different clothes than them.
And the extraordinarily sad truth is that sometimes when people are scared of other people, they hurt them. They hurt them with their words by saying mean things or they hurt them with their bodies.
When I hear reports of that, it breaks my heart. And I believe it breaks God’s heart too. Because one of the things we learn from Jesus, one of the things Jesus did a lot, was talk to people. People who looked different from him. People with a different skin color, people of another race. People who dressed different or believed differently than him. He talked with them. And you know what else he would do?
What do you have to do besides talk in order to have a conversation? [One child responds, Let them talk.] That’s right! And what do you do while they’re talking? [Listen]. Listen, exactly. That’s something Jesus did, he would really listen to people. Even people who were different from him. Even people his friends thought were dangerous, people his friends thought he should have nothing to do with. Do you think Jesus said mean things to people? Hurt them with his words or his actions or his body or with weapons? No, he didn’t. He didn’t.
It’s hard because sometimes when we’re afraid of something, it changes how we act. So our challenge today is to remember that even when we’re afraid – maybe especially when we’re afraid – God is with us. God still wants us follow him, to live like Jesus did. What does Jesus say about how we treat others? Treat others the way… you want to be treated.
Do you want to be treated well? I do too. Do you want people to say mean things to you? No, I don’t either. Do you want people to hurt you? No. I don’t want anybody to hurt you. I don’t want anybody to hurt me.
That’s part of how we conquer that fear: we live that way. We live in the way we want to be treated. Think we can do that? I think so.
Thanks for all the ways you follow and love Jesus.
After that conversation I put my robe and stole back on over the hoodie and kept it that way throughout the rest of the service. I saw some quizzical looks sent my way. I noticed some others chuckling. Still others seemed not to react at all. After worship concluded, a few people asked me about the hoodie. I’m told others were heard asking each other, “Why is he wearing that?”
While I fully acknowledge that it is fairly lame for me to take almost two weeks to offer a response to those legitimate questions, I hope this post will help make sense of my words and actions.
To be honest though, while I was deliberately trying to be subtle while talking with the kids, I expected most of the adults would quickly and easily connect that conversation with current national events.
But it seems my allusions weren’t so clear after all. Or perhaps the news of Trayvon Martin’s murder just hasn’t spread as far and wide as I thought it had.
Has that changed in the nearly two weeks since? I certainly hope so. If you need a refresher, Wikipedia has a terrific and detailed account of the case. Or, to really dive into the racial aspects of the case, spend some time perusing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ posts.
It seems Trayvon was wearing a hoodie the night he was shot to death by George Zimmerman. Geraldo Rivera claims the hoodie made Martin look suspicious and thus, by extension, it was fine for Zimmerman to shoot him.
Obviously I was neither in Florida when the shooting occurred, nor do I have any special insight into Zimmerman’s reasons for fatally shooting a child. That’s not what my conversation and my wardrobe were about.
I kept my hoodie on because violence against children breaks God’s heart and it breaks my heart, too. I kept my hoodie on in solidarity with all those gunned down in our streets and in our classrooms. I’ve never been violently attacked. Neither have my children. I kept my hoodie on to acknowledge that I’m aware what a rare privilege it is to be able to say that. I kept my hoodie on to point out how ridiculous it is to hurt someone based on what they wear. I kept my hoodie on to remind us that racism not end with the Civil Rights movement of the ’60’s.
I said what I said and wore what I wore as a way of being honest with our children about fear, violence, and racism. I said what I said and wore what I wore as a way of being honest about pain and sorrow in the world. I said what I said and wore what I wore to remind us that fear and violence and racism break God’s heart. They are not God’s way in the world.
But I also said what I said and wore what I wore to remind us that in spite of all those sins, as prevalent as they are, we still have hope for the world.
I had that conversation and continued to wear my hoodie to remind us that racism and violence and fear and ultimately even death are not God’s dream for the world. God’s calls us to live a different way; a better way. The way of Jesus: loving God and loving neighbor. Even when – especially when – that neighbor is one we want to call ‘enemy.’
I kept my hoodie on throughout our March 28th worship service because – no matter how silly it seemed to some, nor how confusing it was for others – it was a way for the real suffering of the real world to break through our sanctuary walls and remind us that as followers of God in the way of Jesus, our place is always alongside those who are hurt, dejected, discriminated against, marginalized, or oppressed. Because that is where we find Jesus.