by Amy Sander Montanez
I don’t like wearing traditional athletic t-shirts, the kind with the high crew neck and thick cotton fabric. Long ago I gave away nearly all of the ones I had collected over the years from being a part of things: college, the ballet, the schools I taught in, various churches, not-for-profit charity events, service corps, reunions, camps, spiritual direction programs, and even my own occasional “Life is Good” purchase. I don’t like them because they are not comfortable for me. And I don’t like them because they are not flattering in any way. (Yes, you can accuse me of vanity right now.)
So when a t-shirt was delivered to my house last week for me to wear when I walked with my church’s team in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) fundraiser/walk, I balked. I tossed it on to a chair in my bedroom, leaving it until the morning I would need it. It was ugly. Boring gray with a knight…ok, a saint…on a horse in dark blue, with the church’s name at the top. Awful.
I slipped it on at 6:30 am the morning of the walk and zipped up a bright blue hoodie over it. It was cold, so the hoodie was needed, but I was grateful to have a reason to cover this up. Uggh. I got to the registration area and began to look for people from my church. I didn’t even know who was coming, and because I am fairly new to this congregation, I don’t know most of the parishioners. Looking up the hill to the parking lot, I spotted a teenager in one of the t-shirts. I walked toward her, unzipped my hoodie so she could see the knight…I mean saint…on the front, and said, “Hey, I’m with St. Martin’s, too.” We introduced ourselves and stood together and talked a bit. Together we began looking for the others.
Two or three at a time they arrived. “Look, there are two more,” one of us would say as soon as we spotted the shirt. We would go say hello, and if we didn’t know the folks, we would introduce ourselves. As ugly as these shirts were, they helped us find each other. They helped us think of ourselves as a team. They identified us as a group. And, to be totally honest, I liked the feeling of being part of a group. I liked belonging.
I was glad to hear someone else make a sarcastic comment about the “turtleneck” of the shirt. So I took that opportunity to start a line of questioning about the t-shirts. “ Is this the only t-shirt the church has? Why doesn’t this one say ‘Episcopal’? Is a knight….I mean a saint…on a horse the only symbol that would work for our church? What would our slogan be for the back of the shirt? Could we get some with v-necks? Different fabric?” Someone chimed in and suggested the diocesan shield. Someone else suggested symbols. As other teams arrived, we saw bright colors, cool slogans, front and back designs. “If we’re going to wear t-shirts, let’s at least make a positive statement,” someone else said. Our rector, who was also walking with us, mentioned that the Outreach Committee was already talking about a new t-shirt. Thank God.
Sometimes it is the small things that gather us into community and bind us together. Like ugly t-shirts. Like daydreaming about better t-shirts. Like walking together for the sick, the poor, and the needy.
What binds your community together?
© 2013. Amy Sander Montanez, D.Min., has been a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage & family therapist and spiritual director for over twenty years. She blogs weekly at Amy Sander Montanez.