A special thanks to Blue Shepard for allowing me to publish his weekly e-newsletter here on Vigilant Wolf. The Blue Shepard is a friend and past guest of Ever Vigilant podcast (episode 43). I personally look forward to his weekly thoughts on Christianity, Manhood, and Brotherhood and I believe you will feel the same.
Two years ago I owned not asingle matching suit. I was rather pleased with myself. I never particularly liked dressing up. Through most of my teens my sense of hillbilly formal wear was brogans, some Wrangler Carpenters, a short sleeve polo and a cowboy hat. I became an evangelist at 17 and that changed a little. I already had a couple of suits which, at that time, I shared with my brother. When I became a senior pastor at age 19 I had three good suits. I went into the police academy three years later and lost so much weight none of my suits fit any more. What's more, I had seen earnest, country folk intimidated away from church by family members and congregants who ridiculed them for not wearing ties, wearing overalls to church, or pairing their sweat stained John Deere cap with their Sunday Best, and this had cause quite a bit of bitterness amongst my list of potentials.
One fellow in particular, in his greasy overalls and raggedy Tractor Supply Co. cap, Danner work boots, and pearl snap shirt, would sit on the back row and weep to no end in contrition every Sunday that he was there. But he would only come for a Sunday or two at a time because his mother (one of the charter members) always ridiculed and belittled his dress in front of everyone, dreadfully embarrassing him and alienating him from any hope of progress. I always felt very sorry for the poor fellow, and spoke with him as often as I could, even wearing overalls myself a few times to teach Wednesday night Bible study. He always said that he didn't feel welcome at church where everyone had nice clothes and he was just a farmer. His elderly mother was truly the only one (to my knowledge) who made him feel this way. He never did convert during my four year tenure.
I resigned from there. With a host of other issues, like self blame and the feeling of failure, I had an anecdotal disdain for dressing up. I hated neck ties as much as I ever had, and my Sunday best consisted of a pair of pleated slacks and a plaid, dress shirt. But there is one phrase that is common here that I get so sick of hearing: "See, that's why I don't go to church, cuz I got to dress up to be accepted and that's not how Jesus was."
By a turn of events which I attribute to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we found ourselves at the Wesleyan Pentecostal Church of Fayetteville (so far I have not found anyone who feels good about that name, but then they are pleasantly surprised when they actually come saying that it's not what they expected). Pastor Lavern Hayden, with his pastor-teacher approach to Scriptural Orthodoxy, was always in a suit. I was okay with this. But the environment is what began to impact me. At WPC we place a significant majority of our time and resources on street missions in Fayetteville, NC. Most of our congregation is male. About two thirds of our congregants are homeless or in reintegration programs. Many of them have been in gangs (some still are). Many of them have served time in prison (a few for murder). Some of them are veterans. Many grew up on the streets, living hand-to-mouth since childhood or pre-teens. One has lived under a bridge for eight years. Another has been homeless since my birth year. Pimps, hookers, deadbeats and addicts: they all respected Br. Hayden and had great confidence in him. As I got to know them better, I began to track who was putting forth the effort to better himself and who was not. I noticed that as they progressed in the Christian way, they began to have more self respect as well. And as they had more respect for the bodies God had given them, and progressed in their own confidence and abilities, and got jobs, and rented apartments and became no longer homeless, they began to dress up. Even some who were still homeless would pick and peck pieces from clothes donations and put suit separates together with ties and the best shoes they could find. This process continues to this day.
Then one day my mother told me that she was taking me to try on a suit. She did. I felt awkward. She bought it. The following Sunday I wore it. I felt awkward. I looked awkward.
But it, along with my recent exposures, started something. I found The Gentleman's Gazette on YouTube and became intrigued. I started looking at photographs of Churchill, Bogart, "Jelly" Bryce, and other pre 1960's men of flair and flavor. I started mixing and matching the jackets I had and actually wearing my ties. I began to dress like a self respecting man.
I happened upon Lowes one day in a shirt and tie. I was in desperate need of a privy, and the public one was out of order... I do mean DESPERATE... I stepped into the Employees only section, knowing that they would rather find me there than clean up the alternative consequences. An Employee came out of the break room and looked at me in a startled manner. As he was approaching me, I knew I had to come up with a plan fast. He approached and said, "Sir, can I help you?" I spied him head to toe, saw that his name tag read "Steve", and then condescendingly looked over his shoulder as if he were not there at all. I said, "Where is Kat?" (a completely fabricated name. I had no one in mind and was gambling whether someone named Kat even worked there). "Uh, um, in Garden, uh, I think," he replied nervously. "Well go and get her for me," I said, still ignoring his presence. He hesitated, glancing me up and down. I made brief, glaring eye contact (you know, when someone stares into your soul). With a hop and a sputter, he was off, saying, "Oh! Yes sir!" I quickly conducted my business in privacy and then made a discreet egress. As I searched the store for my wife, I thought to myself, "So this is why James Bond is always dressed nice..."
I was learning an invaluable lesson. I accrued a few more suits from my mother and in-laws. It is good for a man to seek to be honorable among men, and he can certainly do it through dress. There is a reason why political officials, federal agents, news anchors, and medical students wear collared shirts and ties: it announces a message of confidence. And if you thing I am confident in myself, you will be much more likely to be confident in me. That's science. You can't inspire confidence with your beer gut peeking through the bare midriff of your AC DC t shirt and your ripped Rustler jeans. You can't inspire confidence in sweat pants and a tank top.
Ladies, if your 20 something man routinely dresses like he is 11, please refrain from procreating with him until he has at least passed through adolescence. We need couples who are multiplying class, not contributing to the problem.
The Blue Shepard
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