My son sings in an a cappella group at his high school. The young men are known for their skillful harmonies, their playful enthusiasm and their natty dressing. They also have a tendency to make costuming decisions maddeningly close to concert night.
One Monday evening, Stefan came home from rehearsal saying that some in the group had decided that they all should wear black dress shirts and red bow ties for the Wednesday evening concert.
“Maybe we should try to run to the mall now, before it closes?” I asked.
“After school tomorrow?”
“There may not be enough time to find what you need on Wednesday, Stefan. Maybe we should…”
“I’m not buying a black shirt. We can’t keep deciding at the last minute, and then expect everyone to run around. What if you don’t have anyone who can take you to the store? What if you have too much homework? What if you don’t have the money for another shirt?”
He would not be budged. On concert night, I suggested he wear his dark purple shirt, or perhaps the blue, something that might blend in a little. He came out to the car wearing his white dress shirt. I can’t remember my laundry ever looking quite so pristine; that shirt practically vibrated. At the concert I found myself sinking down in my chair, and wondering what the other parents must be thinking. That Stefan hadn’t paid attention to instructions. That his parents didn’t care. That maybe I should spend less time at seminary, and more time tending my family.
But then, I began to think of what else that bright white shirt represented. Yes, a touch of cussed non-conformity, which he totally gets from his father; at sixteen, I would have had my mother driving all over creation in search of a black shirt, rather than stand up and stand out like that. But that shirt also stood for his sense of fair play, and what we should rightly ask of each other. It testified to his ability to say no, rather than conform to another’s whim. It symbolized his willingness to stand by his conviction, in an outward and most visible way. So today, it’s just a dress shirt and a high school concert. But, tomorrow, those good and stubborn things at his core might allow him to speak truth to some power, or to stand with others who find themselves a shirt or two short.
Tomorrow, those good and stubborn things might help him follow Christ.
The Rev. Luanne Panarotti serves as pastor of Pleasant Plains Presbyterian Church in Staatsburg, NY. She has one husband, two kids, one dog, five cats and one really messy house.