I was part of a conversation recently that disturbed me. Someone shared a story about a pastor friend. This pastor decided he’d like to try having long hair and began growing his hair out. When his hair reached a certain length, a deacon approached him, advising him to get a haircut. He kindly refused, saying he liked his hair the way it was. The deacon replied, “Well, do you like working here?” I couldn’t believe it. A church threatening termination of employment over a hairstyle. According to the person telling the story, the congregation had no other issues with the pastor, they were pleased with his ministry amongst them, they just didn’t fancy his long, gold-y locks.
I went from hearing this story to our Sunday morning church service. Our new pastor was asking for a physical response to the question, “Are you all in?” He wanted to know if we were committed to the mission of bringing in God’s Kingdom. There were artists on the platform with three large canvasses on which they had painted a defining landmark in our city, a high level railway bridge that’s over 100 years old. He wanted us to come up and make our mark on the canvas, a sign of our willingness. There were sponges and three background paint colours; yellow and green for the hills surrounding the bridge and blue for the sky. People began to spill into the aisles as he explained. He completed his instructions with, “and don’t go mixing up the colors.”
Still feeling angry over Pastor Rapunzel’s story, I knew I had two options. Either I wasn’t going up there or I was going to do the exact opposite of what our new leader wanted. Really, I only had one option, because I wasn’t interested in staying put in the pew as others indicated their “all-in-ness”. I got in line when there was a lull, knowing full well that I had no intention of conforming. When it was my turn, I soaked one of the sponges in yellow and splashed it with firm defiance across the three canvases where the blue of the sky was supposed to be. Who doesn’t like sunshine?
Why did I do this? For a number of reasons. I did it for a man who had to cut his hair to keep his job. I’m sure short hair wasn’t in his job description, but it was obviously an unwritten rule in that church. To me, it smacks of a lack of love and an emphasis on the wrong thing! God told Samuel, in the process of choosing David as the next king that “the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Judging people by their appearance. That’s a worldly thing to do. If we’re to be like God, then we must begin to look past appearances. Was that church looking at their pastor’s heart when they approached him? No, they were chasing him with scissors and it’s never a good idea to run with scissors.
I did it for everyone whose ever felt judged at church, because of how they chose to express themselves. I did it for the mohawks and the piercings and the tattoos and the wrong clothes. I’m tired of hearing such stories. Who’re we to dictate how others wear their hair or how they dress? Of course, it’s important to honor God with our clothing choices, to be modest and not overtly offensive (obscene or vulgar), but that’s where our censure should end. Shouldn’t we be grateful, in an age where church attendance is falling off, that people come to church at all? A friend of mine, a gifted choir director, got skewered once because he wore flip-flops on the platform. Is it possible that God rejected this man’s glorious choir tribute, because his flip-flops were an abomination?
I did it because I was staring at art up there and my experience of art is that it’s often chaotic or there’s dissonance that captures one’s attention and imagination. The pastor invited people to go pick up their children and allow them to participate. Children are notorious for coloring outside the lines. I wondered how these children would follow his dictation to keep the colors together. I wondered how many Christian’s spontaneity and creativity has been squelched in the name of conformity.
I did it because God made me an individual not a clone. He meant for each one of us to become Christ-like versions of ourselves, not Cookie-cutter Christians, a term my pastor father used often. He meant for you and I to make a our own defining mark on the landscape of his kingdom, not a prescribed one or why would he have given out so many distinct gifts? We were meant to be different from each other in order to build each other up, complementing each other, each one an essential part of the team. He also made us unique, because he knew not everyone was going to like us. God did this on purpose to reach as many as possible. The long hair may be able to reach someone the crew cut can’t reach and vice versa.
I get that there’s a marked difference in the significance of these two situations. On the one hand, a man was made to do something he had no desire to do to appease his employers and maintain his livelihood. On the other, a Pastor, probably someone who loves order, made a fair request to keep things tidy. I do think order is important. We all need a considerable amount of structure in our lives to function in a healthy way and God created boundaries for our benefit, but God isn’t only about order. Take a step into nature and it’s evident that chaos is not in any way outside of his realm. One of the most magical forests I’ve ever visited is on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. It’s called Cathedral Grove: ancient, massive, trees, some tall and stately, pointing proudly to the heavens, some whose branches go higgledy piggledy, draped in drippy, shaggy green, many leaning or fallen where they may, their humongous, jumbled root systems exposed, housing a myriad of creatures. There’s a boardwalk through this forest, man’s attempt to tame it and I’m grateful for that, but it’s all over the place and awe-inspiring to say the least!
On that great Judgement Day, Matthew 25:32 says, “all nations will be gathered before him”. Not one nation, one ethnicity, one bland, monochromatic mass, no all peoples, a kaleidoscope of all colours, shapes, sizes, and hair lengths. Why are we not embracing what is so obviously God’s plan? Why are we not celebrating our differences and giving each other room to flower into our most beautiful, unique selves? Let’s go out from now on, looking kindly, with love, on our neighbor’s hair, his ripped jeans, his exposed hairy toes, for we’ve no time to fret over such frivolities. We’re on important Kingdom business and we’ve got colours to splash. 😀
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