The other day, an article in Relevant Magazine came to my attention. It reported on a new Instagram© account, PreachersNSneakers, that shows influential Christian leaders wearing high priced fashion. According to the article, the internet poster shows, among many examples, one pastor wearing SBB Jordan 1 sneakers, which cost $965, and another pastor wearing $1,045 Adam & Yves Saint Laurent boots. With all fairness, it is unclear who paid for or provided the pictured church leaders with their footwear or clothing, whether it was a personal purchase, an unsolicited gift or a promotional perk. Whatever the source, the pictures are shocking the sensibilities of many in the Christian community.
The article made me think about my choices, especially a few weeks ago on Easter Sunday, of dress. I wore a new suit (purchased at a ‘Buy 1, Get 2 Free’ sale), a new shirt and tie (both acquired while on sale at Kohl’s), a pair of old, but polished shoes, and new socks. It is these socks that give me pause: they were a gift from my daughter, who purchased them in Rome at the Vatican’s gift shop; they were produced by the tailor of the Pope. They may be the most luxurious item I have worn in a great while.
I remember commenting on the socks throughout the morning, glowingly reflecting that my “Pope socks” were a gift. I have no idea how much they cost my daughter – perhaps as little as $10 or as much as $50 (to which my thoughts scream, “Heavens, no!”) I gave no thought to the challenges some in the congregation may be facing: was there a participant in worship that wondered if I had paid for socks that would have filled their car with gas or bought them a weekend’s worth of groceries? This train of thought has subsequently been derailed as I think of the luxuries I enjoy that may come at the expense of ministry – thoughts relating to how much I spend on coffee or dining out or fashion accessories.
Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Proverbs 15:16
It is easy to judge people we only read about because their sneakers are more valuable than our cars. It is harder to correctly assess these things as they relate to our own personal spending habits. The line between necessities and luxuries can be difficult to locate. Most of us do not need personally tailored suits or dresses, brand name sneakers or stilettos, or homes with ten bedrooms. But we do need shirts, shoes and shelters. The optics of excess lie in the details, both in what we spend and the cultural surrounding in which we spend. Manhattan has a different standard than Montgomery of what is a necessity versus a luxury .
I am choosing to continue wearing my “Pope socks” but I will graciously refuse to accept any gift which includes a pair of Yeezy Boost 350 V2s. I will continue to try to give more to others than I luxuriously spend on myself. Hopefully, that we keep me from appearing on Instagram in a Tesla®.
I recently lost my debit card; I am pretty sure I used an ATM and forgot to retrieve it at the end of the transaction. I discovered the loss when I went to use it the next day and realized it was not in my wallet (thankfully, I was with my wife and she was willing to pay for our lunch). I immediately called the bank, requesting that the card be cancelled and another one issued, which they were more than happy to do…in as little as three to five business days. True to that representative’s word, 5 business days later, the new card arrived, and all was right with the world again. Sort of.
Those intervening nine days without a debit card showed me two things about myself: 1) I have a bunch of automatic payments linked to my bank card, many of which already emailed me and requested updated information; and 2) I rarely use or carry cash, having become fully reliant upon that little chip on a sheet of plastic for almost every purchase I make. I had to think ahead, considering each day what needed to be paid and what resources did I need to pay it. How will I pay for the groceries? Will Netflix© continue to stream through our devices? These are the kinds of thoughts that were fresh in my mind. But then, with the arrival of a plain envelope with a return address of an unknown post office box, everything was back to normal.
How did this happen? How did I become so dependent on things (as this experience has revealed that I have difficulty when I am without the ‘necessity’ of my debit card, but also extends to things like my eye glasses and my cell phone)? Each morning, I get up and make sure I have these items with me before I engage with the world. All this has gotten me wrestling with another related question: Do I give God as much consideration, as I begin my day, that I give my ‘necessities’?
In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3
What benefit is there in an ability to pay if one’s purchases are worthless? What benefit is there in having clear vision if what one sees is not edifying? What benefit is there in instant access to everyone and everything if the portal is used to entertain one’s prurient interests? What good is there in engaging with the world if one has not first had an engagement with God?
All these questions have distilled into one thought: the first (and perhaps only) thing I need to be a productive and effective member of society is God. I am able to live without a debit card or a cell phone. I am able to exist without eye glasses or a vehicle. I cannot (and must not) survive without God going with me. To neglect a few moments each morning with Him, to refuse to wait expectantly for His direction, would be as foolish as walking away from an ATM as it dings to remind you that your card is still in the machine. And who would ever do that?