I’m on a search for the perfect pair of jeans. I had the perfect pair. Never mind that I was in eighth grade then. Never mind that it was before I gained and lost weight with pregnancy, mono, pneumonia, breastfeeding, driving everywhere. Hope springs eternal.
It’s not that I don’t own jeans, I do, but they’re all lacking some important feature. Every six months or so, I submit myself to the torture of mall dressing rooms or a box of mail orders that I inevitably return.
I’ll know the perfect pair. Not dark, just faded enough, but not acid washed or worn looking, or worse yet, with pre-made holes. Not so short that my calf shows when I sit down, but not too long, I could hem them, but home hemmed jeans lack aesthetics. Enough room that the thighs don’t fit like an ace bandage when I sit down, but not so loose that another thigh could fit it. Snug at the waist, but not so tight that I have to unzip after dinner. No 360-degree elastic waist, that’s for old ladies, and I can’t be one yet. Not side-elastic, because you have to wear a belt, or look dorky, and I’m vain. No high waists with pleats that balloon up when I sit down, no low rises, because they gap out, exposing my back. Denim heavy enough that I don’t have to wear thermals in winter, but not so heavy that I have to wash them 100 times before the cardboard feel disappears. Soft, but not so thin that wind comes through.
Shopping with this kind of criteria is exhausting and disappointing. But I do it because I believe the jeans I’m looking for exist somewhere.
I thank God that when looking for a church, my requirements were fewer––the church had to care about social issues. I found a good “fit” with United Methodists right from the start. I never went anywhere else. I can’t imagine what’d it be like to go “church shopping,” trying churches on for size, deciding whether I liked the pastor’s sermons, the music, the pews, the views of parishioners, the way the scripture was presented, the church school curriculum, the bathrooms.
It would be hard to pick one, invest for a few months, even years, only to find the church lacked some essential component. I’d be forced to return home to try another activity, like aerobics.
The perfect church fit, may be like my perfect jeans, a desire based on memory or fantasy. Come to think of it, I had to pin the zipper up with a safety pin on a favorite pair of jeans. My pair wasn’t so perfect after all, but I accepted the flaw.
Churches are flawed too. Churches are composed of humans, and humans are far from perfect. We are frail, we fail, we have limitations and passions; we get excited about the new big thing we’re going to do, but forget to follow through. We can be perfect angels one day and miserable sinners the next. No single church and no single person can fill all our God requirements.
So why bother? Because we need something to wrap up in, we need clothes for our faith the same way we need clothes for our bodies. Okay, I know there are some people who get along without clothing just fine, but they don’t live in a redwood forest like me.
Church, like jeans, imparts a layer of protection around our fragile selves. It protects us from being too thin-skinned and sensitive to the wounds of the world. And although the perfect church, and perhaps the perfect jeans are unattainable, there are churches and jeans that are better than good enough. Pleasing to the touch, sturdy and useful in many situations, we feel at home in them. With those requirements met, we are free to encounter God, dream big and impact the world.
Some shopping strategies apply to church and jeans alike. Decide what you want. It is not a one-size fits-all world––from extra small to extra large, there’s choice in pants and church size. Consider fashion––the latest designer jeans or hippest worship music or faded Levi’s and tradition. What about function? Where are you in your life cycle and in your faith cycle? Do you need something that will fit young children, young adults, or seniors? Shop online. A good website will narrow the choices. Ask a salesclerk, clergy person or office staff for help. They’ll help you determine a good fit. Then, by all means, try it on, wear it around, return it if you need to.
Don’t worry if the search takes awhile. The results will be worth it.