Careful What You Wear

live dangerouslySeen on the T-shirt of a heavy equipment operator: “Live Dangerously.”

Umm…is that really the sort of attitude that we want to see in someone who operates heavy equipment for a living? Maybe if it said “Work Safely, Live Dangerously,” it would be more reassuring.

Human beings have always worn clothing that makes a statement about who they are and their status in the world. Artsy people often wear colorful or unusual clothing. Shy people tend to wear conservative or plain clothing. People who seek the approval of others often wear what those around them are wearing. Non-conformists tend to wear things that set them apart from the crowd.

No other clothing makes a statement more clearly than a T-shirt. T-shirt statements can range from advertisements to clever sayings to favorite teams to a company name to crudities. In a local store, I once stood in line behind a man whose T-shirt said something exceedingly vulgar about women. I wanted to say to him: Is this what you think about your mother or sister or girlfriend? After he walked off with his purchases the female cashier and I looked at each other and the cashier said, “What is wrong with him?” I responded with the line about his mother, sister or girlfriend, and then I wished that I had said it to him instead of to the cashier.

I’ve seen T-shirts that declare one’s faith in Christ, in beer, in the military, in America. I’ve seen shirts that encourage bad behavior, good behavior, love for the neighbor, hatred of the neighbor, respect for others, intolerance of anyone who is different. It seems to me that sometimes people use T-shirts to say things that they otherwise might not speak out loud and thus make sure that other people—even strangers—know exactly how they feel about an issue.

The man wearing the T-shirt with the exceedingly vulgar statement about women revealed something about who he was—and it was an ugly revelation. I wonder if he knew this (probably) and if he cared (probably not). I find that very sad.

I find it sad that this man felt this way about women—even if only a little bit. I felt sad that he thought that wearing such a shirt was appropriate or acceptable. I felt sad that he didn’t care what others thought about him because of his T-shirt. And I felt sad that he was obviously such a miserable, hate-filled individual. I’m glad I don’t have to live in his head.

But I also felt angry. I felt angry that he thought he could wear such a horrible T-shirt and that the rest of us were just supposed to put up with it. I felt angry that he thought of women in this way. And I felt angry that I didn’t have the courage to call him on his behavior.

We are living in a time when many people seem to think that hateful, bigoted, misogynistic rhetoric is acceptable. The level of intolerance in the world is growing daily, and while some opine that this is the last gasp of a dying culture of intolerance, I fear that it may well be a resurgence of the “bad old days” when women were treated as second class citizens, minorities were oppressed, and the poor were treated with contempt. I pray I am wrong, but when a man thinks that it is acceptable to wear a T-shirt to a public store declaring that all women should be raped, I fear for the future of the planet.

I don’t wear T-shirts much anymore. It’s my age, I suppose. The only T-shirts I do wear are quiet witnesses to my faith in a God whose goal is peace, harmony, love, and mercy–for all.

And the next time I see the man with the vulgar T-shirt, I will say something. In the meantime, I can only pray that broken, hateful hearts like his might be mended by the compassion of a God who sees us all as worthy of being loved.


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