“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases…” (Matthew 6:7).


“Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’….” (Matthew 5:37).


There are three basic styles of clergy collars. One is the slip-in tab collar, commonly seen on Roman Catholic priests. Another is the neckband shirt, featuring a plastic or fabric band that, as the name implies, goes all the way around the neck, rather like a dog collar. This style is often seen on a variety of Protestant clergy, particularly Episcopal priests.


The third sort is the one I prefer, though I have all three kinds. It’s called a “tonsure shirt” (pictured left, below) and has a band (at righttonsurepurplebig23, below) that encircles the neck between an inner and outer layer of fabric, so that the collar peeks out tonsure-collar1about ¼ inch all around, with about 2½ inches of white showing in front. It’s secured by snapping on two little posts on either side of the opening.


When I first got one of these shirts, I went almost mad (or just got mad) trying to put the collar in. I would snap it onto the fasteners, then try to make the rest of the collar fit between the inner and outer layers. I got all twisted up, trying to reach behind my head to push down the uncooperative plastic on both sides. That effort made me incredibly frustrated, and finally I simply didn’t wear them for a time, opting for the other styles.


Finally, somehow, it dawned on me that if I fed the band in first on the right, then secured it, then did the same on the left, I could have that collar in place in no time. Common sense, right? Well, that’s exactly why it took me so long to figure it out. It was too simple. I guess I was too much like Frasier Crane, who on one episode of the sitcom said “Dad, I don’t do simple.”


I should have remembered the famous principle called “Occam’s Razor,” which says that all other things being equal, the simplest explanation is probably the right one. Or more precisely: “when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better” (see source note below).


All of us unnecessarily complicate our lives, don’t we? Like me with my shirts or my overly complex explanations of theology or my wordy Presbyterian liturgies. Others fill their lives with so many activities and things that they can’t keep everything straight, even with today’s sophisticated electronic planning and communication tools (which end up adding even more complication. Why can’t a phone just be a phone?) And we shouldn’t forget about the folks who over-think everything—relationships, plans, decisions of any kind—and talk, talk, talk with little action. The old Mary Chapin Carpenter song has the right attitude instead: “Shut Up and Kiss Me!”


Karl Barth, a great Reformed theologian of the 20th century, was asked what he considered to be the most profound summary of Christian faith ever written. He had published a highly influential commentary on Romans as well as the massive Church Dogmatics, but here is what he said: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”


Now that’s keeping your “razor” honed and sharp.


© 2009 Tom Cheatham