I am often asked why I wear red socks on Sunday. I have to admit I don’t really know. Maybe it really began with my Dad. He prayed every night beside his bed, was a man of moral integrity, generous but wouldn’t think of entering a church on principle. On learning I intended to be ordained he banged on the dining table, made all the pots dance, and shouted, “Why the hell should a son of mine want to go into the bloody church?” (Maybe the whole thing was a kind of divine joke.)
The idea of red socks starts there. In a way he was right. The churches of all denominations are very much human organizations and with any success become corrupted by power and money. How much ego is on display on any Sunday in any number of worshipping congregations? Hypocrisy hovers over the church always, as standards of perfection preached can never meet the reality of our human condition. The only thing we can say is that hypocrisy in the church is not as brazen as in political entities and other centers of power and money.
So every Sunday I turn up at church but wear red socks as a subversive reminder. This is not me being arrogant, although that is always a possibility, but me expressing my own guilt, my struggle with the Christian message in contrast with my own capacity to be much different.
Here is the problem: The church, any church, pick one, always suggests you should be different and would be if you bought their package. In my years as a priest, I saw nobody change and become that ideal the church pushes. Lots of people got a better handle on life, grew up and found freedom, but I’m glad to say they could only grow by totally ignoring the idea, “People should be different.”
That idea is not only found in the preaching but buried in our doctrine. We are supposed to preach that everyone is born in sin. We all start off corrupted, and only by the grace of God are we saved from the great barbecue at the end of time. Baloney! Then we turn around in the pulpit and explain how much God, the loving father, wants for us to be perfect. Double baloney! When my children were born, there was nothing wrong with them, in fact, their innocence took my breath away, and I felt for a moment I shared with God the joy he finds in each of us. What now? They have grown up in our imperfect world of people with all the imperfections of our society. All I can say of them is they are better people than I am, with no thanks for my screw-ups.
So here is the dilemma. On the one hand is the organized church with its flawed doctrine, but on the other hand, I can attest to the wonders at the heart of life. Red Socks is somehow a kind of expletive in color. It’s saying, “I don’t buy what you are selling but I want to join with all the other people who constitute the Church, the spiritual community in which even my Dad would have felt at home.”
Maybe that gets me a little closer.