I was a teenager in the seventies, and like most adolescents from any decade, I was clueless. I didn’t think about existential matters. What I believed about life, why I was alive, or where in the world I was going didn’t get much of my mental bandwidth. I just wanted to fit in. I wanted to be liked by the people I thought were important. When you’re a teenager, in order to fit in you put on clothes that look like the people you admire.
I had a friend named Ricky—no doubt the coolest guy on campus. Ricky wore platform shoes with six–inch heels and elephant leg pants. Elephant pants are best defined as bell–bottoms on steroids. One Friday after school Ricky took me shopping and I bought a red pair of platform shoes with white stitching, bright red elephant pants, a white turtleneck, and a multi–colored polyester shirt with puffy sleeves and a wide collar. When Ricky and I showed up at the football game all of his friends couldn’t stop talking about how groovy the two of us looked.
It took a while, but shortly after high school I discovered life is more than the clothes we wear. Perhaps more importantly, I discovered relationships, built on fictional personas put on to impress others, is not the stuff true character and genuine friendships are made of. More than anyone else, it was my friendship with Jesus that taught me the value of being true to my self.
When Jesus invites people to be his friend he usually says something like this: If you want to learn about life from me, deny yourself, take up a cause that adds beauty to life and follow me. For me his invitation was a little more blunt: Larry, put away all the fake and cheesy ways you’re trying to impress people and be real. Be the person I made you to be and love people whether they like you back or not.
Being friends with Jesus helped me discover the real me and I actually like the person I found. I packed up all the “groovy” clothes and dropped them off at the Good Will store. For kicks, I kept my red shoes and put them in a box in the back of my closet. I started wearing Levi Jeans and Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. Forty years later my wardrobe looks the same. When I buy new shoes the only choice I have is whether to buy a black pair of Chucks or a gray pair. I usually go with gray, but the other day I bought a red pair. I wanted to add a little whimsy to my life.
Wearing red tennis shoes reminds me to “Think Red” in the words I write and the ways I walk. For me, “Thinking Red” means to honor the words of Jesus, the ones printed in red. This year I plan to write and reflect on the words of Jesus every week. But I want to do more than reflect on the red letters; I want to walk them out with my friends. If you want to Think Red together you don’t have to wear red tennis shoes, simply "like" this page and share your comments. Together, we will reflect on the words and ways of Jesus and see if we can put them into action.
If you’re wondering about the red shoes in the back of my closet . . . when my son was five years old he liked to play dress up. One day, after twenty minuets of rummaging through my closet, Ryan came out wearing a paisley print necktie, a bathrobe, and my 1970’s platform shoes. He looked at the shoes and then he looked up at me and asked, “Dad, were you a clown?” I bent down on one knee, put his cheeks between my hands, and told him the truth, “Son, as strange as this may sound, before I married your mom your dad was a real clown.”
Larry Stoess is an author, public speaker, and urban church planter. He loves telling stories about how dreaming with God will empower people to make old and broken things new again. Larry and a band of friends founded the Church of the Promise in Louisville's Portland neighborhood; The Table, a pay-what-you-can community café; and Promise Housing Plus, a non-profit construction company. He has written about their experience of dreaming with God in his new book: Think Red.