Do you remember that time when the Pharisees took Jesus to task because his disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating? The Pharisees were all like, “Ewww gross! Y’all nasty.” And Jesus was like, “Um, no. Dirt won’t hurt. Check your attitude.” And then Jesus went on to list a whole bunch of things seriously worse than eating with unsanctified hands. Well, I was reading that text recently (Mark 7), and remembered a time that I acted just like a modern day Pharisee.
It was a Sunday night, or maybe it was Wednesday—I’m not sure—but I know the Bible study was already in session when the balcony door opened. That church’s balcony wraps around the sanctuary (where the class was being held), its doors on the second level directly above the front entry doors downstairs. So, when someone enters upstairs, they’re facing the folks below.
Our latecomers? The youth group, slinking in all giggling and stage whispery. That would have been distracting enough, but in addition all the boys were wearing baseball caps. BASEBALL caps! In church! And not just anywhere in church either. As I said, we were in the sanctuary. The actual SANCTUARY! What disrespect! What utter lack of awareness! I eyed them, hoping that my glares would somehow make the point and that the little hoodlums would remove the offending headgear. I was seething, fuming.
Oh, but those silent, holier-than-thou fits are delicious, aren’t they? Those self-assured inner rants when your certainty is unshakeable, and your conviction is admirable and righteous? In the middle of one of those delicacies, you know absolutely that if given the chance you could unleash a verbal attack that would end all injustice. Makes you salivate just to think of it doesn’t it?
Luckily, before I indulged my inclination to right the (perceived) wrong, the Holy Spirit interrupted my internal tirade, and I came to, rubbing the self-righteousness out of my eyes. When I did, I realized that I had just given my full attention, and considerable energy, to the disregard of an antiquated Southern custom.
In fact, wearing hats inside or not has nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with social etiquette. Best I can figure, at some point, it became a sign of respect for men to remove their hats. Incidentally, the same does not now and has never been applied to women. We females can embellish our noggins with decorations the size of Volkswagens if we like; and we may wear them, uninhibited, wherever we choose. Yeah, it makes no sense.
Here in the South—which is where my pharisaical fitty occurred—men removing hats is only one of the many social norms we practice. People say, “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir” to folks of all ages. We overuse “Please,” and “Thank you.” Men hold doors for women, not because they think the women can’t open them, but because in this part of the country, it’s considered the polite thing to do. And, hear me, I like all these things about the South. I really do. They’re part of the culture that made me. But these niceties should never be used to exclude people, particularly from church. Good manners—however we define them—are meant to welcome, not exclude.
So, I don’t know if those kids stayed the whole time, or if they ever removed their caps. I do know that, getting the message, I refocused my attention on Scripture. More importantly, the lesson was permanent—at least so far. It’s been more than three decades, and I still don’t really care who wears a hat in church. I mean, I would not necessarily be comfortable with my husband and son strolling down the center aisle sporting wide brim Stetsons, but I think I could manage to stay off my high horse—at least until Bible study ended.