Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bury Me With My Boots On

Author Stephen Bly photo
Stephen Bly

Stephen Bly


The lady seemed restless, like she wanted to ask me something important. The pastor and his well-dressed wife had met me at the airport and she hadn't had a chance to break into the conversation. As we merged into freeway traffic, she cleared her throat. Pointing to my footware, she blurted out, "You don't wear those when you preach ... do you?"

assorted cowboy bootsNow I suppose in some parts of the country it might seem strange that my heavy shoes have pointed toes, underslung heels and 13" finely stitched quarters. "Yes, ma'am, I wear cowboy boots to the market, the office, the rodeo, to lunch in New York City, and even in the pulpit."

She sat silent a few minutes, then interrupted once more. "Uh, do you wear that hat when you preach?"

I chuckled. "Oh, no. I usually toss it on the front pew or hang it on the rack when I walk in the church."

She seemed relieved and joined in the laughter.

It's a common reaction. I spend most of my days in ...
 ... Wrangler jeans. Tough denim. Copper rivets softened by hard work and constant wear
... Justin boots that have stretched to the exact size of my feet, so I can throw them into the stirrup, swing into the saddle, ride through the woods or mesquite and sage, listen to the heels slap on a wooden floor
... long-sleeved western shirt with snaps and name on the back of my belt and a big silver buckle fastened at the front.
... wide brimmed, beaver felt or straw Resistol cowboy hat, to keep the water out of my face in the winter, the sun off my neck in the summer and something to tip in respect to the ladies and pull over my eyes for long waits in airport terminals.

Why does a clergyman with several college degrees, summa cum laude in Philosophy, dress like that?

1.) Because I grew up on the land. Roosters woke me with the smell of sizzling bacon and eggs. Open fields and freshly plowed ground with steam rising behind rolling foothills beckoned me to come and play.
2.) Because I live on the western slope of the Bitterroot Mountains, in the middle of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation at 4,000 ft elevation, in the pines on the edge of the Camas Prairie.
3.) Because I like it. It's comfortable. It feels so me. And because the West was never won with Guccis and tanktops.
4.) But, most of all, I dress western to make a statement. I choose to identify with the cowboy, both the history and the myth.

 I read about the adventures of guys like Lewis and Clark, Joseph Walker, the '49ers, Charlie Siringo, Shanghai Pierce, Chief Joseph, and Wild Bill.

I was probably born a hundred years too late.

Movie High Noon with Gary Cooper
High Noon
But I'm also a child of the Silver Screen cowboy. Some of life's most important messages were gleaned on Saturday afternoons at the movie house ... such as, you treat all women like ladies (Stagecoach) ... there are some things in life a man must do, even if he has to do them alone (High Noon) ... good always triumphs over evil (Shane) ... vengeance is a weak life focus motive (The Searchers) ... and every tough time goes better with a Roy Rogers song (Under Western Stars).

 I learned to respect the law and lawmen. To be kind and gentle with women and children. That there were absolutes in life that should never be violated. I learned that honesty, truth, and a good reputation were more important than all the gold in Cripple Creek ... and that real men give their word and keep it.

None of these principles redeemed me in a spiritual sense. None told me of God's love or forgiveness or His salvation gift through Jesus Christ. That came much later. But I blame the Old West and western movies for my conversion. They set me up for it. I didn't have a chance when God's grace cut me off at the pass.

Sure, reading western history or watching western movies as a teaching tool may seem out of date. But have we failed to replace them with something equally as effective ... to prepare hearts to receive God's truth?

So, to all those who have questioned me about my chosen wardrobe: yep, I'm going to ride on down the trail just like I am. Look for the guy wearing the cowboy hat. You can bury me with my boots on, partner ... and let the mouth harp wail "Empty Saddles in the Old Corral."

What have you chosen that signifies something about what you believe and who you are?

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