When I was in ninth grade, designer jeans were newly popular. Everyone I knew had at least one pair, or at least that’s what I thought. Those jeans were also quite pricey at $80.00 or more a pair. In the early 1980s that was a lot of money and more than I could afford. I remember asking for a pair of Calvin Klein jeans for Christmas. I knew the jeans were too expensive for anything other than a Christmas gift. I also knew my parents both had a tendency to get gifts similar to what I asked for, but not quite the thing I wanted. I remember the conversation I had with my mother when I told her I was going to ask my father to buy the jeans for me for Christmas.
“I’m going to ask Dad to get me Calvin Klein’s for Christmas.” I announced.
My mother looked at me and said, “Why do you want them? The jeans you have a perfectly fine.” Of course, she was right. The jeans I had were perfectly fine.
“Everyone has them. And I want a pair of Calvin Klein’s because Brooke Shields is their model.” Remember, I was 14 and always felt outside of things. Also, as a young teen I looked very much like Brooke Shields and was once mistaken for her during summer tourist season.
My mother told me I was “better than Brooke Shields” and didn’t need any fancy jeans. Then she continued with her version of some infamous parental words, “If all your friends were jumping off the Bourne Bridge (this is a 135 foot high bridge over the Cape Cod Canal), would you want to do it, too?”
Oddly enough, I did get those jeans for Christmas that year and they did not change my life in the way I had hoped. It turned out to be one of those life lessons I didn’t really pay attention to for a few more years. I thought wearing those specific jeans would somehow make me different. I would have more confidence, more friends, and my life would be like everyone else’s (whatever that might mean). None of that happened. Nothing I could wear or own was going to change the difficulties I would face in the months and years still ahead of me.
God puts before us the ways of life and death as is made clear in Deuteronomy as well as other places in the Bible. According to Sirach, if we choose, we can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of our own choice. The choice to go along with the crowd or go along with Christ is entirely ours. In the current U.S. political climate we would do well to remember that we can choose how we will act, what we will do, and what we will say. It would be easy enough to fall into a pattern of judgement and condemnation that serves no one. However, we are called to something else.
From years of working as a therapist and as a chaplain in a psychiatric hospital, I modified my mother’s question about jumping off the Bourne Bridge. When people tell me that they got into difficulty because “everyone was doing it” or that the other person “started it,” my response was that we should not allow other people’s behavior to determine our own. It’s easier said than done, of course. However, if we are seeking to follow the ways of life rather than the ways of death, not allowing ourselves to be pulled into the angry, fearful, controlling ways of the crowd around us is a good idea.
Remembering that the people of God have a long history of straying from God’s desires for us, of choosing pretty much everything other than the ways of life, can shift our perspective on what is happening now. God never abandoned God’s people in the past, no matter what choices they made or how dire the consequences. Instead, there was always a call to repentance and repentance would lead to rebuilding and restoration. It’s hard to repent when we are busy matching anger for anger or fear for fear. It’s much easier to repent and begin again when we remember that God’s love is ever before us. We have the choice to live in that love and embody hope or to remain a part of the crowd as it pushes and pulls along destructive paths.
Doing what everyone else seems to be doing will not get us to the place where we can make necessary changes. Now is not the time to blend in and go along, hoping life will get better. Now is the time to act faithfully, risk standing out, and embrace those ways of life God continuously sets before us.
RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 12, 2016
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 or
1 Corinthians 3:1-9