When a friend sent me the Instagram account @preachersnsneakers, I was dumbfounded. A guy who goes by the name “Tyler” posts photographs of nondenominational mega-church pastors sporting sneakers alongside a cost analysis. It is funny and staggering.

I had no idea that sneakers can cost hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars. I mean, I feel like I knew it. I just did not realize it was an acceptable sartorial ministry practice.

I run in mostly liturgical and denominational circles. Preachers, or priests in my vernacular, do not typically wear sneakers to church. And if they do they are solidly of the Dad Variety (monochromatic and New Balance). They might don a pair to the summer cookout if they are feeling themselves, but they are not up in the pulpit wearing them while talking about the Risen Lord.

Cue the glow of self-righteousness.

I would never spend that much money on shoes, sneakers or otherwise! Go me!

Of course, righteousness is like carrying around a purse with a rotten vitamin in it. You go for weeks wondering where that smell is coming from until you realize it is you. Your well-meaning superiority complex smells godawful.

And yes, that is a real-life example.

The truth hurts. I come from a tradition that is obsessed with apparel. We have the right robes for the right occasions. And then there are robes that go on top of robes. Also, some people get to hold a stick. Depending on where you “rank” in the church hierarchy, you get to wear certain colors. There are sashes that we call stoles (#pageantchurch). Oh, and everything costs money. Some of it costs lots of money. The polyester versions are less expensive. But tacky. But also humble? Either way, it’s a vitamin-in-the-purse situation of the upmost pharisaic degree. 

And I love all of it.

We will justify this behavior in all kinds of ways. We will tell you that our church vestments (so, clothes) are “ancient.” I mean, sure, but so is sexism. Also, to say that if something is old then it’s obviously superior is like WASP Playbook 101.

When up against these nondenominational sneaker preachers, we will tell you that sneakers are for a season, but clergy vestments are for a lifetime. As though in 60 years, basically all adults alive right now won’t all be dead. And those vestments and those sneakers won’t be sitting in the same landfill. Please.

I have to say, personally speaking, self-righteousness is a delicious way to ignore abject jealousy. I mean, these guys are packing out churches! They get to say things like, “Hey Church!” and “Get connected!” without sounding like a 36-year-old mother of two who is constantly trying too hard (me). I could never be them. Like, literally. They do not ordain women. It will never happen for me. So it is easier to define myself against them so that I can totally avoid dealing with the 10th commandment.

Weirdly, while I approached @preachersnsneakers with voyeuristic curiosity, I have come to see it as a kind of merciful conversation. This “Tyler” guy behind the scenes is very clear that he is not trying to take down the pastors he features. He started the account because he loves sneakers and Jesus. A week ago, when I first eyed this account, he had 20k followers. He’s up to over 100k right now.

This clearly could be a moment for us to call these pastors to account. But seriously, what good does that do? There’s no bridge to conversation if your first move is to burn it. The jarring thing about Tyler is that while he has created this conversation, he asks that followers not harass the people who are featured. He has accomplished a small miracle in this culture of calling people out: Tyler has insisted on a funny and kind conversation.

His Q&A alone are worth a cursory glance:

Q: What’s a reasonable amount to spend on shoes?

A: I honestly have no idea and it’s not up to me.

Q: Do you think these pastors should sell den kicks 4 wells in 3rd world countries?

A: Not for me to say at all. It’s about the heart and we should all consider how we are stewarding what God has trusted us with.

Q: Calvinism or Arminianism?

A: I can spell both of these words for sure.

Where’s the judgement, man? Where’s the condemnation? It’s like he’s not even trying!

Tyler seems to understand that the urge to prove our righteousness is a game we will lose every single time. There will always be someone more competent, more frugal, and more Christ-like than you. We can always hold up a mirror to ourselves and see our own mistakes. But you can’t hold up a mirror to other people.

That’s not how mirrors work.