I almost never buy T-shirts. When my son Josh was younger and going through that gotta-have-that-shirt stage, he bought enough for a regiment: sports shirts, camp shirts, school shirts, fund-raiser shirts — whatever was on the market. And when he began to outgrow the T-shirt phase, I inherited more hand-me-downs than a man could use. I kept only enough to handle chore-work for a few years and donated the rest to Goodwill.

The only T-shirt I’ve bought in decades is a recent purchase. Even though it’s brand new, it’s a dingy brown and looks well-worn. It has the words “Same shirt, different day” printed on the front. Okay, it’s corny and maybe a little tasteless, but I fell for it, and I enjoy the brief look of alarm on people’s faces when they first read it.

I am thinking about buying another T-shirt I just saw in a mail-order catalog. This one has a quotation from the Dalai Lama on it: “My faith is kindness.”

How different is that short saying of his from the basic teachings of Jesus? If Jesus came back and gave up his robe for jeans and an imprinted T-shirt, what would his T-shirt say? Remember, now, this is the man who was asked about the most important commandment, and his answer ran — how long? Two lines?

Two lines, you could get on a T-shirt. And maybe I’ve not been that far off when I condensed his answer to five words: “Love God, love each other.” That would fit even better. Or in the modern pictorial idiom, “? God, ? each other.” Nothing like being current, I say.

And you know what? Jesus never recited enough creed and dogma to make your teeth ache. In fact, the essence of his teachings was ethical, not creedal. We’ve managed to mess that up.

So what would the twenty-first century Jesus wear on his imprinted T-shirt? Maybe “Love God, love each other.” And when that shirt was dirty and needed washing, I suspect he could wear the Dalai Lama’s T-shirt and be quite at home in it. In fact, I think everybody in the whole world should be able to wear a shirt like that and be at home in it.

David BlackMr. Black is a retired English teacher and former minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who lives in Louisa, Virginia. His second book of poetry, “The Clown in the Tent,” will be published this fall.

He submitted this essay through our First Person Outreach page.

Share Your Reflection



I love Mr. Black's sense of humor and I agree with his astute observation about the gospel as ethical rather than creedal. For this reason, I don't believe Jesus will be wearing any slogans on his t-shirt anytime soon. What matters is who is wearing the shirt, not what's on the shirt. We are bombarded with meaningless words every day. Let's live differently and let the world stand back in wonder.

My comment, Mr. Black, will be short and sweet, as are your two t-shirt sayings:
Thanks for saying what you said and saying it SO well.

Peace, Helen

My favorite t-shirt says simply - EAT MORE KALE. I think it says it all. Peace, love, sustainability, kindness to the earth and all it's creatures.

Thank you, David Black. Love your insights. I've been listening again to Krista's interview with Jaroslav Pelikan regarding Creeds. He notes two creedal statements that have guided two important faiths through history. In the Jewish faith, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is one." And, in the Muslim faith "There is no God but Allah,. and Muhammad is his prophet." Pelikan also notes that Christianity "sprouts" creedal statements left and right. He collected over a thousand. Yet, "Love God. Love each other" should be enough? I would think so. It is only when we start to parse out our commitments to that statement, that we start to "sprout" creeds to define our borders and boundaries between faith and life. We lose something in the process.
Clowns help us see ourselves from new, necessary perspectives. Thank you, David Black, for being "The Clown in the Tent".