Sunday, July 15, 2007

"Iron your pants," the pastor demanded.

(This story is true, though I have changed the names.)

Brian is a young bachelor, 36 years old. Having never been married he is ill-acquainted with some of the more subtle domestic niceties. Often he reeks of body odor though it seldom seems to bother him, so it is easily overlooked. Dandruff is a constant companion, flakes residing both on the tufts of his frequently tousled hair as well as on his shoulders. Shaving must be a daily struggle because I have regularly seen circular Band-Aids affixed to his neck, even in the evening, having forgotten he put it there at 7:00 a.m. He shops at Goodwill. Working at the local library does not seem to afford him some of the luxuries you and I enjoy. Quite often his clothes do not fit.

I have known Brian for several years now and I have seen him in some messy garb. He once wore a cream-colored Oxford, the top button buttoned yet no tie, without an undershirt so his chest hair was plainly visible; no, not acquainted with some aesthetic subtleties. Brian is not a member of the church I serve (though I wish he was). He is a member of another church yet close enough that he is not precluded from attending worship at our church on occasion and he often attends choir practice just for the sake of singing with God's people.

Brian has a gift; an extraordinary gift for music. He is the type of musician that makes one ashamed of knowing less about the field. Were Brian to have been blessed with greater than adequate resources, there is no telling where his talent might have taken him. However, he is content to use his talent serving God's people. He is frequently invited to direct cantatas and dramatic presentations at area churches. Once while directing an anthem at a church I had the blessing of preaching revival services, the sleeves of his blazer (twenty years out of style) extended beyond his wrists, so his directions were hard to follow.

When Brian sings, a hush falls over the assembly as if all at once they know they are about to be ushered into the presence of God. Some people however fail to realize this characteristic about some of God's people. Brian had attended choir practice at our church and had hung around for an unusually long time at the conclusion. I realized he was waiting to talk with me, so I hurried up conversing with other saints and pressed to make time for Brian.

"Tony, this should not bother me and I feel childish for allowing it to."

"What's wrong?" I responded.

"Well, Pastor Don has been preaching messages about Christians' looking after themselves. He has talked about smoking, drinking, and the like, and one Sunday he talked about the way a Christian ought to dress."

"Hmm. It sounds as if something might have gotten close to you. Did something happen?"

"Well. This is childish, but...(sigh) as he was greeting people after the service and I walked by, he caught me by the arm and said, 'Next time you come to church, make sure you iron your pants.'"

At this moment my mouth dropped open, the utter horror and disbelief plain as the noonday sun on my face. I know Brian's sensitivity and I have made numerous allowances in consideration of his appearance, being mindful of his great heart.

Brian was nearly to tears. "Tony, I don't know how to iron. I have tried. And Pastor Don even had the gall to chase me down in the parking lot and tell me if I needed her to, his wife would be glad to iron my pants before church next Sunday."

Needless to say, Brian was crushed, what little self-esteem he possessed having been annihilated by an over-zealous, nit-picky, uncomfortable do-gooder of a pastor.

There are a thousand different ways this could have been dealt with. If, and this is a mighty big if, the condition of Brian's britches was such an issue, why did the pastor find it necessary to single Brian out? Perhaps he thought he could get away with it, knowing Brian's oversensitive heart that he would suffer no repercussions. Brian would never retaliate. He doesn't have a vengeful bone in his body.

Nevertheless, an easier way to help Brian improve his appearance, if that is even necessary, is enlist a grandmother in the congregation to come alongside of him to flatter him, invite him over for supper, ask him to do some chores around her house, and then casually mention that she would love to iron his clothes for him.

"Honey, you are so sweet to do these things for me and I so enjoy your company. You know, you always look so nice on Sundays, but it ain't nothing a little ironing couldn't help out just a smidge. Would you let me iron a few of your shirts and pants for you? I'll make you look extra-special-nice come Sunday."

The Body would have been strengthened, Brian would not have been shattered, and he would have gotten fresh, crisp, starched, pants, ready for Sunday morning.

Discomfort with social graces motivates much nastiness among the Body. It motivates nastiness among a lot of people regardless of spiritual standing. Each one of us has overlooked a need, discounted a potential friendship, and missed a blessing because we were uncomfortable with someone's appearance. We all have a Brian somewhere in our lives, begging to be noticed, begging for friends, begging for recognition, begging to bless and be blessed, begging to be loved. It doesn't take much to bless someone like Brian.

Someone like Brian strives to be a blessing to others, but rarely is the blessing ever returned because "that boy just ain't quite right." If right by mental or emotional standards is what you are after, the wrongness of your thoughts and intents betray the thoughts and intents of your heart. If you mean not quite right by what we consider normative, then you may be correct.

The Brians remain fighting a needless uphill battle in the Body--until someone like you or like me chooses to overlook what distances them from "us." Do you know a Brian? Of course you do.


Les Puryear said...


The "Brian" story has just completely broken my heart. The Pharisaic attitude displayed by Pastor Don keeps more people away from worshiping with God's people than all the athiests in the world combined.

As Pogo so brilliantly said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

God, please save us from ourselves.


Heather said...

How sad! And I'm angry too! I know I shouldn't be, but it just makes me do angry when I hear about things like this, especially having worked with the homeless. :(

Tony said...


My heart was broken, too.


My heart wasn't just broken, but I had to guard myself against anger when he shared this with me. He struggled really hard to get the words out because he was hurt so deeply.

I know "Pastor Don" and I wanted to call him out on it, but I quickly digressed. The body cannot be built upon such confrontations, especially against someone who thinks he is so right in an issue where liberty and love ought to be the law.

I remember reading your blog about working with some homeless people in...was it LA? I know that was a blessing of a time!

Heather said...

Yes, Tony, in L.A. ... what a wonderful and eye-opening experience it was. I, too, have to guard against the anger ...


Steve Sensenig said...

I'm just speechless at this story. I want to be mad at "Pastor Don", and my heart definitely breaks for Brian, but somehow I just have an overwhelming desire to search my own heart and find the ways in which I am behaving the same as "Pastor Don".

Lord help us all.

Tony said...


I had to guard my mouth when I was told because it made me really, really angry. After much thought and reflection, dealing with my own heart, I came to the same conclusion.

How many times have I overlooked someone just because they didn't fit my standards? I hope there is more "Brian" in me than "Pastor Don".

Streak said...

Reminds me of a sunday school class I attended in Houston at a very conservative SBC church. The class had an extensive conversation about whether poorer women should be allowed to wear pants to church. At any point, I expected them to break into laughter signalling that this was a stupid and horrible conversation. They did not and they were very, very serious.

Part of that problem is SS and the lack of serious content in so many, but part of it was that these people had no clue what church was for--and after spending too many years around people too much like them, I have no clue either. But I know it isn't that, and it isn't the Pastor Don approach.

Do you know a Brian? Of course you do. And conversely, do you know a well-dressed, immaculately groomed church member (who may be a deacon or prominent member) who you would do anything to avoid spending time with? Of course you do.

elder's wife said...

That was a post that has been long-needed.
Thank you.

Tony said...


Great comments.

I do agree that Sunday School classes tend to turn church members into horrid little cliques. They then use the SS class more as a meeting time rather than a mobilization unit, so to speak, to meet the needs of others.

I have been confused the length of time I have pastored over the effectiveness of SS. I have asked such questions as what's it for, what's the purpose, is something greater intended? Is "fellowship" all that is desired? Yet it is like swimming upstream and unfortunately smacks too hard against the status quo to ever make any significant progress one way or the other.

And yes--I do know some well-dressed, immaculately groomed deacons, pastors, and church members that I would much rather be around the Brians rather than them.


You're welcome. I am glad the post touched you.

rrbj said...

Thanks for this post Bro. Tony .

Our actions is a lot of times is the only Bible some people see?

I guess one of us has esp because my post yesterday goes hand in hand in what your post said!