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T-shirt evangelism

Wearing my Standing on the Side of Love shirt tells the world, including me, what I stand for.
By Meg Riley
Summer 2014

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There was a time when the mere sight of a bright yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” T-shirt on a person in front of me could set my heart to racing. That person might turn out to be sporting the colors of a soccer team or union or school, but I always hoped to see the familiar shirt that said I was meeting a kindred spirit.

Nowadays, several of those unbecoming goldenrod shirts later, I think of my SSL shirt as a “working shirt.” I put it on when I have something to say or do, to bring more love where love has been violated. Wearing it grounds me when I’m afraid, helps me remember that I’m not alone, and tells the world, including me, what I stand for.

Whether it’s the chalice to bring warmth and light, or a broken chalk heart to bring care to the places that need healing, putting on a T-shirt and walking around in it can be a spiritual practice.

Years ago I had a T-shirt that read “Respecting the Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person,” with a beautiful graphic of a chalice that looked like a pink triangle, and the words “Unitarian Universalist” written somewhere on there. I wore it because I loved the graphic. I didn’t think much about those words.

One day, I was rushing onto an airplane in a state of utter stress. I had almost missed my 7 p.m. plane because at 3:30 I’d unexpectedly decided to put in an offer to buy a house in a new city, and things got a little rushed. I was relieved that I’d made it to the plane on time and was thinking about nothing but getting into a seat to collapse.

As the guy took my ticket before I walked down the tarmac, he said, “Huh. Respecting the inherent worth and dignity of every person. You haven’t even looked at me!” Startled, I looked up at him—this tired, uniformed man having repetitive conversations with half-conscious people like me all day. “Thank you!” I said. “You’re right! How terrible of me!” We laughed, and I boarded the plane, suddenly revived.

Many religious people, lay and ordained, wear their faith. Whether a cross, a yarmulke, a turban, or hijab, many people are visibly identified with their faith. That identification holds them accountable to what they care most about, reminds them who they are and whose they are. Though I put on a clerical collar for public events, most of the time, it turns out that a T-shirt is most likely to be my religious garb. May I wear it in good faith.


This article appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of UU World (page 18). Photograph (above): Two people wear Standing on the Side of Love T-shirts at the April 10, 2013, Time Is Now Rally for Immigration Reform on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C. (© Jessica Halperin/UUA). See sidebar for links to related resources.

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