Monday of Lent 2

Jeremiah 1:11-19 

The Barber

Every little boy in late 1950s Bonham either had a burr, a flattop, or a shaved-side and Brylcreem-parted, short-topped haircut. The barbershop was located on the first floor of what had once been the grandest hotel in town, The Alexander, on the southeast corner of the square. The barber was a gruff old guy, who sharpened his razor on a long leather strop, Business men went to him for a clean shave and a quick trim. They might also have their shoes shined by an older black man. It was a no-nonsense atmosphere.

At first, Mama would walk me in on a Saturday morning and watch, but it was clear this was a place for men and boys. So, after that, she would hand me the price of a haircut and wait in the car. The barber would put a board across the chair, so that I could sit taller, and give me the cut he thought was right. And that was that. There might be a little current events or sports talk among the men. There might even be mention of a visit by the Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn who had come home to the family farm west of town. Mostly, it was a get in and get out place.

In time, the barber would engage me in more conversation. He knew who my Dad was and that Dad was an occasional customer. I remember him asking if my Dad drank, and I probably said beer. I remember the tone was what I thought was disrespectful, and I didn’t like that, because he was talking about my Dad. The barber asked me if I knew his youngest son, who was a year older than me. I said I did, although we didn’t run in the same circles in those days. There were plenty of neighbors to play with, and the summer baseball teams were mostly separated by ages. I really didn’t get to know his son more than casually until we began to run around together in my first year of college. After that, we became roommates for the next two years and dated girls who were best friends. He married his. Blessedly, I did not marry mine. Doubtless, she feels the same way. And I could add the “A” word to boot, but it’s Lent.

I remember telling my Dad about the barber’s curiosity about his drinking. Dad muttered something about there being nothing worse than a reformed drunk. So, we switched barbershops to one on the west side of the square. The barber he went to was a WWII Army vet, and they could talk war talk and politics. Later on, I found out that Dad and he frequently drank beer together at the local VFW, an oasis in a dry town.

Years later, my roommate invited me to his Dad’s AA birthday. It was a major milestone, and the family organized a picnic with cake. They were so proud of him, and he was a much more jovial soul. It was clear he was comfortable in his own skin, as proud of his kids and grandkids as they were of him. My Dad was dead by that time, and I could admit the truth about him. Dad was an upstanding drunk, who died far too young. We were as proud of our Dad as the barber’s kids were of him but for different reasons.

I suspect the barber was still fairly new in his sobriety when I first met him. Living one day at a time, taking it easy, and minding your own side of the street are slogans, but they are reminders to drunks that it’s a lifelong battle, whether you used to drink beer, wine, or liquor. All of us have to wrestle with functional atheism, that is, excluding God from certain areas of our life… as in the amount of alcohol we consume.

There are always things about which each of us gets defensive. A lot of Lutherans get defensive about their alcohol use, because we aren’t like the Baptists. And didn’t Martin Luther have a lot of funny things to say when he was drinking… and some rather unfunny things, too? That’s how functional atheism works.

Thank you, dear Father, for the barber and all those who turn their lives over to you on a daily basis and being entirely willing to have you remove all their character defects. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put thirteen pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box to feed the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.