Here’s a rumor for you:  I’ve been sleeping around and it finally caught up with me.  And no, it’s not another tedious story about a promiscuous preacher with a zipper malfunction.  This is much better.

My current full-time job, until I retire again, is in Salem, Illinois, two hours from where I live.  The routine’s not too bad:  I make a couple trips a week down there, staying overnight each trip, and I do the rest of my work remotely, from home.   The biggest problem is that four nights a week I am sleeping in a different bed than I did the night before.  It’s increasingly hard to get a good night’s sleep.

My car looks like I live out of it and I’m always hauling things around in used shopping bags.  
Twice a week I have to pack everything I’ll need in Salem:  clothing, prescriptions, food, computer, my expensive pillow, books…  On occasion, in a rush to leave, I’ve forgotten this and that.  Neglected items have included my lunch, church keys, dress shirts, ties, charging cords, shoes, my pillow…  But last weekend’s lapse was the worst.  

I got down there and had only had one black sock for Sunday morning.  In 49 years of ministry I appear the same every Sunday morning:   hair combed, teeth brushed, deodorant applied, clean and pressed dark suit, starched light shirt, conservative tie, black polished shoes, and black socks.  Last week I showed up as usual, with one glaring exception:  I was wearing white gym socks.  I could hide them when I was walking around or standing up since the suit pants stretched down over the tops of my dress shoes.  But when I sat down in my assigned place on the raised chancel, with everyone in the nave looking toward me, my pantlegs crept up and my white socks visually honked at the congregation.  

The whole thing was all the more mortifying to me because I have strict rules concerning socks.  While I often delight in breaking other people’s rules, I am absolutely fastidious about following my own.  And my personal sock-statutes are among my most inflexible.

Here are those sock rules:  I only buy two types of socks:  white socks and black socks.  I used to have an assortment of sock colors; but it took too long and I made too many mismatches trying to pair them up after doing my laundry.  So for the past 40 years I’ve only kept black socks and white ones.  Rule: any black sock can go out with any other black sock and any white sock can accompany any other white sock. I’m a strict sock segregationist.  (On the other hand, when it comes to people, I’m an avid desegregationist, perhaps because I get it all out of my system in my sock drawer.)  

Rule:  when I am in Salem I wear only black socks, and when I am in Urbana I wear only white socks.  I don’t think this is some poke at the fact that Salem is 117% Caucasian, but then again I’m not always in tune with my subconscious. I think that black socks are to me what spinach is to Popeye and a power tie is to Donald Trump:  my psychological self-confidence. Paul told the Ephesians to put on the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and the shield of faith.  When I wade into my pastoral duties, I put on my black socks of Godly-clout.  

It’s okay for me to wear white socks in Urbana because that’s where I pretend to be retired and feel liberated from  anyone who likes to tell pastors what to do, including that voice inside my own head.

So, you ask, how did I come to get stuck in Salem without my black socks?  I usually put on a pair of black socks right before I leave Urbana and simply wear them until I get back again, 36 or 48 hours later. But last Saturday I had to leave in a rush and simply stuffed the black socks into my shaving kit.  But it turned out to be only one sock, its thickness fooling me into thinking it was two.  And so when I got dressed for church the next morning, I faced the conundrum of either wearing one black sock and one white one to church… or wearing two white ones.  Being a strict sock segregationist, a pair of white it was.  

I suppose my rules about socks began in grade school, when peer pressure made it absolutely illicit to wear white socks to school.  Our parents, of course, thought we were ridiculous.  After all, when they were our age, white socks in school were all the rage.  But for my generation, a pair of white socks exposed you as a bumpkin, labeled you as a moron, and proved that you had cooties.  We had to wear white socks in gym, but peer codes allowed that without penalty.  

None of this is exactly theological.  God told Moses to take off his shoes at the burning bush but evidently gave no instructions regarding socks.  And there is no record Jesus told his disciples to take off their socks so he could wash their feet.  Presumably there would have been no need for a foot-washing custom to exist in the first place had people been wearing socks. History records that the first fabric socks weren’t a thing until the century after Jesus trekked around the Holy Land. 

The first socks had no elastic and so the garter was invented to hold them up.  And as britches got shorter (think around the time of the American Revolutionary War) socks got longer and more elaborate.  This is why the likes of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin never show us much leg.  Praise the Lord.

So, back to last Sunday.  The white socks threw me totally off my game.  Disoriented, all I could come up with was a flimsy sermon begging people not to judge me.  I confessed right off that I was wearing white socks:  better to get out ahead of the scandal and see if I could spin it some.  And then before any parishioners could launch a petition against me, I went on the offense.  I quoted Jesus:  Do not judge lest ye be judged.  I tried to intimidate them with Bible stories:  Samuel, the parable of the weeds and tares, Adam and Eve.  

Even the best of humans are notorious for poor judgment, I told them.  Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to anoint a new king.  All the candidates he judged acceptable were rejected by God:  “humans look on the outward appearance but God sees the heart.”  

In the parable Jesus told, an enemy sneaks into a neighbor’s field at night and sows weeds among the wheat.  When the plants appear, the farmhands see the dastardly deed and want to know if they should pull out the weeds.  The farmer says no.  They do not have the ability to judge the difference.  In their eagerness to purge they will inadvertently pull out the good with the bad.  The implication:  people are no good at judging one another.

Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  That seems odd to us.  After all, isn’t that the job of religious folks like us:  to know and enforce what is good and what is evil?  But in reality, the knowledge of good and evil (which sounds like an worthwhile skill) is actually the slippery slope into the delusion that we are capable of judging others.  As soon as Adam and Eve bit, their poor judgment began:  they judged their nudity shameful, they judged that God was against them, and they judged each other to be alien.  

Sadly, the more religious we get, the more we foist our poor misjudgments upon the pitiful folks around us.  Come to church and we’ll judge your politics, your sexuality, your piety, your generosity, your theology, your fitness for heaven, your nationality, your intelligence, your age, your loyalty… maybe even your socks.  

People in Salem felt so sorry for me by the end of that rickety sermon that they decided to let me come back again the next Sunday and give it one more go.  I was surprised at their grace.  Too frequently church folks have trouble laying off judging others.  Too often we are just like a Cubs shortstop years ago who had trouble laying off curveballs that landed three feet outside the zone and in the dirt.  If he saw it he had to swing at it.  If we Christians, with our knowledge of good and evil, see something amiss, we almost always have to take a swing at it.  And in God’s eyes, according to the Bible, we nearly always miss, misjudge.  

But the church survives because just often enough we practice the discipline of mercy.  So for the folks in aptly named “Grace” church in Salem, thanks be to God.