I had been enjoying talking to Pete; he is a very friendly kind of guy. Then I happened to glance down at the chest area of his button-down shirt. There is was — the little horse and rider. Polo. Because I was in mid-conversation I didn’t spend too much timing analyzing the significance of the emblem. I do remember thinking, however, that wearing that icon seemed rather uppity of him. My impression of him immediately changed to a perceptible degree. Gone was the approachable middle class image I had of him, replaced by an upper middle class image of someone who was well to do and didn’t mind showing it. At first take I wouldn’t have picked him as needing to display this on his shirt. All these thoughts went whirling through my mind and in a couple of seconds they were gone.
I went downstairs to sit in on the lesson part of my son’s high school church youth group. The lesson this evening happened to center on materialism and possessions, not placing “stuff” over God. As images of techie gadgets popped up on the big screen TV, text across the screen reminded us that our new car will someday be a pile of rust, our iPhone’s days are surely numbered, and even our designer jeans will be out of fashion this time next year.
My mind went back several years to the day the realization struck me that the brand new PS2 my wife had stood in line outside Wal-Mart to buy for our son was no longer brand new; it had become somewhat iffy and hanging onto life by a thread. After pouting a few minutes that day I began to realize that no matter what it is, if it’s man-made and money can buy it, sooner or later it will be old and maybe even worn out or broken.
I looked over at Pete and again the little horse and rider image popped into my head. Polo. Again. Ostentatious by any means. For some reason I glanced down at the shirt I had quickly slipped on to come here. What was I wearing anyway? As my eyes landed on the blue of my shirt, reality sunk in. I cautiously glanced slightly to the left at that part of the fabric covering my heart. There it was in dark blue, almost imperceptible against the medium blue cloth. A horse and rider. Polo.
How could I have been so dull in the head not to realize this before I had judged Pete so critically? Am I a hypocrite? Yes, I guess that makes me a hypocrite. I must frame this by saying that that was my one and only Polo shirt, PLUS (and much more importantly), it was bought by my wife (not me) at the Goodwill store for $3.
At any rate, by wearing this shirt — no matter where it was bought — I have placed myself in position to be judged just as I judged Pete. Maybe people were imagining me to be vain and showy by wearing such a shirt that night. How far from the truth that is, I would have to correct them. If they only knew that I originally had on a $5 Old Navy T-shirt, but I thought I would try to look a bit nicer. After examining the Polo shirt for any obvious stains, I decided that the one or two small ones would not be too noticeable, so I slipped it on instead. Obviously, I need to be more careful in judging others. Nobody can ever know the whole story of another person’s life, especially what struggles that person faces day in and day out.
While experiencing mixed emotions of humbleness (at my quickness in judgment) and pride (interestingly, because of the realization my own clothes status), my gaze fell on a teenager seated directly across from me. As I sized up his attire, even at 20 feet away it would have been hard to miss the bright blue emblem on his orange shirt. The familiar horse and rider. Oh how wonderful it must be to be 17 and supplied with gorgeous, fashionable clothes by your parents, I thought. Life must be simply grand for this lad! I envisioned a wonderful home life, full of joy and love, plenty of discretionary fun money, lots of gadgets, new cars, and plush furniture.
Then, then it hit me again — I was this kid 25 years ago. I was the one wearing the pale pink Polo shirt in my tiny high school of 300 students. I was the one other kids thought had it all: new clothes, nice cars, big house, family-owned business, plenty of money to go around, a sort of protected existence. In our rural area with a high poverty rate, perhaps their parents looked at me, just as I looked at this boy, and thought, Man it must be nice to have what his family has. Maybe I just don’t measure up since I’m not able to provide my kids with those kinds of clothes. It’s tough feeling like you’re on the outside looking in, and even tougher to imagine your kids feeling this way.
The next night my wife and I had plans to go to dinner with some other people who were graduating from the same college program as she was. I was meeting most of these friends of hers for the first time, so I wanted to look halfway decent. That morning as I was about to head out the door for work, she reminded me of the dinner and asked if I had taken clothes with me to change into after work. I made a mad dash back to my closet and finally decided on the trusty blue Polo I’d worn the previous night. A quick glance revealed no new stains from the few hours I’d worn it the previous night, so I thought it would be fine. She wasn’t keen on my choice, so she tells me she’ll go look for me a shirt that day while she’s out. Fine I say.
Later in the day she shows up at my work with her purchase for me to try on. As I pull the shirt out of the bag, I immediately notice the plush softness of the cotton. Then I notice something else. The horse and rider strike again (though only $29.99 at TJ Maxx). Not just any horse and rider emblem however. A bright orange emblem set again sky blue cloth — the exact opposite of the teenage guy’s blue-on-orange design from last night. So now I have two Polo shirts, for a total investment of $33. Not bad I’d say. But what image does this present to others? Did my wife’s classmates judge me as “uppity”, a “show-off” because of my attire that night? Some probably did.
More importantly, however, what does all this say about me? Am I too judgmental for my own good? I like to believe that I am shrewd, able to peg others to a tee with a minimum of given information. I’ve known of many instances over the years where my hasty assumptions have been completely inaccurate, but for whatever reason I continue to persist in assuming and judging. It seems that no matter how many times I am taught the lesson that I should not judge either myself or others by material possessions, I continue to do so. It’s hard to me not to consider my mistakes aberrations. To me it’s just natural to put those people around me into neat little categories based on their clothes, cars, houses, and even skin color and age. I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid.
Nonetheless, it is a character flaw I must continue to work on. As Jesus tells me in Matthew’s account of His life, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”