Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A close shave

I was getting a haircut the other day, and the barber started shaving my hairline.  He was using an old straight razor. 
"Is that hard to learn, shaving with one of those things?"
"Not really," he said. "It's all in the angle you hold it.  I wouldn't try it on myself, though."
That did not make me feel better.  Nevertheless I asked him.
"Do you still have people come in with a full shave?"
"oh sure. Some men come in once a week for a shave.  Others come in once a year, or for a special occasion as a treat."
"Why would a man want a shave for a treat?"
"Have you ever had one?"
Confessed that I had not. 
"Well, you won't get it down at the hair styling place at the mall. It takes real barber to give a really close shave."
What the heck, I thought.  I'm fifty-eight and never had a close shave.
"Okay, " I said. "Let's do it. 
For the first time in my life, I experienced the ritual of a close shave.  It was a formal ritual, a rite no less elegant than a Japanese tea ceremony or an Arab dinner, practiced by barbers since ancient times.
First he took a hot, wet towel and wrapped my entire face as he arranged his ritual instruments. 
"What's that for?" My words were muffled by the towel.
"The heat makes the hairs stand up on the face.  It makes them easier to cut.
'then he put hot lather over my whole lower half of my face, except for the goatee area.  Then,  with presice, flowing strokes, he trimmed the area next to the beard, the sideburns and the ears.  A few long, quick strokes denuded the rest of the foamy area.  Finally, he stepped back and admired his work.  seeing a few rough spots, he dabbed more hot lather over them, and shaved them again.  Finally, he wrapped the whole face again with a hot towel and topped it off with a splash of bay rum.  Then, he spun the chair around and showed me his work.  "What do you think?" he said.
It was amazing. For ten bucks, I felt like a million.    My face was so smooth that fleas could use it as a slip-and-slide.
I was going to say something about grace at the end of this--how a common man can be made to feel like a man through this simple grooming ritual, and how much it is like the cleansing of sin available in God's grace, but that would probably be too preachy. 
But I will say this,  For one brief moment,  I felt once again that I was a  young man. At least fifty-five or fifty-six. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Good Church Closes

Last week, the session of the Good Shepherd church where I have been preaching voted to close the doors. I had only been with this congregation for a little over two months. During that time, we have laughed, prayed, and wept together.  I have become very fond of them.
The reason for the closing comes down ultimately to money and people.  The church had been living under a tremendous overhead--more than four thousand a month.  When I arrived, the numbers had dwindled to about twenty-five.  the lease runs out at the end of the month.  We had found a place to go, but when it came close to the time to make a move,  many of the original people decided that they were either unable or just too tired to make another move. So next Sunday will be their last.
There has been a steady stream of trucks coming up to the church,  picking up items that will go to many other churches. My old church got new choir chairs. A Liberian Christian church will get a piano.  A half dozen churches will profit financially from what this church had.
I thank God for Good Shepherd church and all its members.  Even till the very end, it never became a depressed, self-absorbed fellowship. the people genuinely love others. They genuinely love Christ. They are wonderful prayers and lovers.  they have embraced all kinds of people, from the mayor of the town to the homeless people on the street. They have nothing to be ashamed of as a group.
The really sad part about this closing is that it will make four churches I have seen close in a year.  It seems to be a trend. 
It is not surprising.  We are living in a different world than the one we lived in when I was young.  In this world, church is not part of the lives of the majority of people.  The social Christianity that sustained a plethora of churches across the country is passing away,  In its place is a hard, secular world that is hostile to institutional Christianity.
The only good thing I can say about all this is that maybe it will cause us as Christians to rethink what church is supposed to be.  it was never intended to be an institution. It is a life, a way of living. That is why Christians were originally called the Way.  We have  been building buildings. We should have been building people.
As for the Good Shepherd church,  it will never end.  It will go on, because the people in it are alive. 
Take a fire and spread its' sparks. The weak ones will go out, but the strong ones will start new fires. Scatter a church and the same things happens. Those who were insincere will stay away from organized religion or sink into the background. but when we are on fire for Christ, we will share that fire everywhere we go.
Good Shepherd is gone, but Good shepherd people are just beginning to spread the love of Christ.  What a fire they will start wherever they go!