Pepé La Pew Goes to Church
by Pastor George Van Alstine
I have a few ties that are not “pastoral.” Clergy have traditionally been referred to as “men of the cloth,” and the “cloth” has almost invariably been black or gray. So when I’m leading in public worship, and especially if I’m preaching, I usually submit to custom and wear my more conservative ties. But there are a handful of neat ties in my closet that don’t get out enough. Most have been gifts from family members, and quite a few feature cartoon characters.
Last Sunday, we had a guest preacher, and Pastor Connie was responsible for most of the “serious” parts of the service, including the pastoral prayer. So as I dressed in the morning, I decided to indulge my playful side by choosing one of those ties. It’s really pretty cool. From a distance, it appears very dressy, not at all loud or flamboyant. But as you look closer, you may see some familiar faces from Warner Brothers cartoons, including Pepé Le Pew, Yosemite Sam, and the Tasmanian Devil. Adults sometimes miss them, but little kids can pick them out from yards away.
Neither Yosemite Sam nor the Tasmanian Devil seems to be the churchgoing type, and even Pepé rarely sits in “La Pew.” But I actually felt pretty comfortable sitting in their company at the worship service, and I thought even Jesus might join us if he had a little carpenter shop in our town.
In the afternoon, as I took off my tie, I realized I had been acting out a sort of a parable. The traditional wisdom has been that our dress during worship ought to reflect the seriousness of the issues before us — the meaning of life, the reality of death, the weight of sin and the sureness of judgment. Somber matters call for somber attire. We should come before the Lord in a manner that shows that we are in awe of him and come before him with total respect.
However, in the past few decades church dress codes have undergone significant changes. In Evangelical church circles, I am in the minority for wearing ties at all. Hawaiian-style, flowered short-sleeved shirts seem to be the most accepted clergy garb for leading worship. Personally, I believe this is overdone and tends to trivialize the importance of the pulpit and spiritual leadership. But it is a refreshing change from the dark days of grays and blacks. The Gospel is Good News. We are a forgiven people who have begun experiencing the joys of Eternal Life. The Holy Spirit has come to bring “days of refreshing.” Our mood should be dominated by God’s sure promises and the confidence of victory.
The truth is, for those who have experienced his salvation, the somber side of God has been more than balanced by the joyful, creative, even playful side of God. I think this is why people in the poorest Christian cultures seem to wear the most colorful clothing, do the loudest singing, and do the most energetic dancing. I don’t believe this is the case among the poor who follow other religions, where there is no message of life conquering death, or of God’s love outlasting God’s judgment.
If you agree with me, I’ll bring out a couple more of those ties. But don’t ask me to wear short-sleeved flowered shirts in the pulpit.
(This discussion has been kind of gender-specific. I invite Pastor Connie to add the feminine perspective. Or she can begin wearing ties.)