This past weekend was the first time I’d ever officiated a western-style wedding. Actually, it was the first time I’d even been to a western wedding, or for that matter, dressed up as a sheriff. The bride provided the badge; the groom provided the bolo tie. I spent some time in a hat shop getting just the right hat, then sorted through the offerings in two costume shops before coming up with the right coat and vest. In the end, the only things missing were the boots (I refuse to do that to my feet), the six-shooter (imagine the number of “shotgun wedding” jokes that would have invited), and the faux-Texas accent. I can do the accent–but a man has to draw a line somewhere.
I admit: I had fun with it, more than I expected. I had to leave the reception early, before sampling the wedding barbecue, so stopped by Chick-Fil-A to grab a bite to eat. On impulse, I decided to go into the store fully costumed–hat, badge, and all–just to see what would happen. The young women behind the counter looked up as I entered; big, half-embarrassed “Am I on Candid Camera?” grins spread across their faces. It seemed like they wanted to ask what was going on, but were working really hard to stick to their “May I take your order?” script, as if nothing had happened.
The family at the register turned around, saw me, and then moved out of the way–though whether out of respect for the badge or fear for the safety of their children, I couldn’t say. I tried to be as nonchalant as possible. Finally, one of the cashiers couldn’t contain herself any longer. “I like your hat!” she blurted out, with a tentative inflection that seemed to suggest, “I had to say something, and really, that’s all that came to mind.”
The whole affair seemed to satisfy some kind of boyhood urge (why else would I wear the hat around the house just for fun?). After all, I grew up in the era in which the cowboy was still television’s iconic king, and most boys dreamed at least sometimes of being the fastest gun in the West.
And more: I was a big fan of Marvel Comics (and yes, I’m eagerly awaiting The Avengers in May). Captain America and Spider-Man were my favorites; to me, these were high literature. Sure, there was the wham-bang excitement of epic battles between costumed heroes and their evil nemeses. But what kept you reading were the backstories: Spidey’s love for a girl who unjustly blamed him for the death of her father; Cap carrying a torch for a long-lost love, along with a festering guilt for the death of his young sidekick, Bucky Barnes. The human side of their characters somehow made them both more believable and more virtuous.
So, for a long time, there’s some part of me that’s wanted to be either a caped crusader, or the guy with the laconic manner and the lightning-fast draw who cleaned up Dodge City. It was fun to pretend again, even for a few hours, to be the man with the hat and the badge.
But then it’s time to take the costumes back to the store, to go back to ordinary life. I had to question the boy in me: does it take putting on a costume to be a hero?
The question has made me reflect on and appreciate more ordinary kinds of heroism–the ways justice is served by those who put aside their more selfish inclinations to be loving spouses, hospitable neighbors, diligent workers, and fair supervisors. There are everyday heroes who are sensitively attuned to their young children even when they’re tired, patient with their teenagers even when they feel unappreciated as parents, and who honor their aging parents even when they’re uncertain why they should.
In recent years, there seems to have been an uptick of news stories about neighborhood vigilantes who take justice into their own hands, sometimes even dressed as comic book characters. They have their reasons. But I’m not called to strap on a gun nor to don a mask and cape. I’m called–as are all believers–to put on the character of Christ:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:12-14, NIV)
In clothing myself in this way, I am not to have a duality of character: Clark Kent by day and Superman by night, a Christian in public and someone else in the privacy of my home. It’s the character of Jesus, right to the bone. We may clothe ourselves with his character, and don the cloak of love to bind everything together; but the meaning of our sanctification, of those who are declared holy and who are being made holy, means that the qualities Paul lists–and more–must become more than just a costume.
I’m keeping the hat, and I’ll wear it occasionally. But compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love: those are things worth wearing all the time, until they become the very fabric of who we are.