"One and All"

Acts 9 and Revelations 7

The Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry



My mother was a hairdresser, a stylist, or as the license read a cosmetologist. She cut hair in a few shops and then opened one in our garage for about twenty years after my brother was born. With the shop at the house I saw a number of things, but on the whole I tried to steer clear of the "ladies" as they were called. She always kept a framed needle point on the wall that said, this is a comb not a wand.

Having a mother who is a hairdresser means a couple things. First, haircuts are always free, but they’re also non-negotiable. I can remember the first time I went to a barber. We were in Princeton and I made why way to the popular shop on Nassau Street. After an hour wait, this round Italian fellow adjusted the chair and bid me to take a seat. After a good pause and with a gruff bark he said, "so what do you want?" I panicked- my mother never asked this question. "Shorter" was the best I could muster.

Growing up with a mother as a hairdresser also meant I walked through many an Aquanet cloud. For the uninitiated Aquanet is a hairspray for the serious "do". It is usually applied in mass quantities to create a kind of invisible cement for the hair. With Aquanet you can make hair rise above the head 10-12 inches maybe. After such an application the hairspray lingers in the air for a few minutes. Walking through an Aquanet cloud is like stepping into a wet and pungent spider web.

I can remember one of the ladies who sported a style that required all of Aquanet’s industrial strength. Dottie was the lady’s name and she was in her sixties when I knew her. She came once a week to have her hair adjusted or styled. I remember her partly because she wore an eye patch which is always fascinating to a child. Dottie was also fascinating because her hair literally was teased into a stove pipe that rose straight off the top her head at least a foot. After many years of seeing Dottie come and go and having the bravado of a teen, I turned to mother as Dottie walked away and said, "I’ve seen you cut a lot of hair and I know you can do a lot better than that. You have to get her to change her hair style. She looks nutty."

My mother was sweeping and she didn’t look up. She spoke to the floor. "What you can’t see is that many years ago that was a very beautiful woman. Men treated her like a goddess. She moved in the best circles and she was sought after by many. Now all that is left of that time in her life is a hair style. When she looks at herself she sees the person who was many years ago and she doesn’t want to let that go. That is why her hair looks that way."

After that I kept my critical comments to a minimum, basically suggesting to patrons waiting for a permanent that I could stick their finger in a light socket and achieve a similar affect and it would be much cheaper- less messy and smelly too. Although I never coveted my mother’s skills or was much interested in what my hair or anyone’s hair looked like, I have always been impressed by the amount of effort that goes into the whole ordeal. Coloring, styling, perming, cutting, highlighting, and there is more for just one person- one woman really.

Not too long ago Susan was quick to chastise my indifference, reminding me that such was the benefit of being a man. To be a man with a bad hair cut may lead to a joke or even a moment of ridicule, yet to be a woman on a bad hair day was a whole other kind of experience. Gathered in Room 10 last week as people discussed the novel, The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, I was reminded again that there were other kinds of experiences. Not about hair mind you, but gender. I was also reminded about how little I am led to consider the difference between men and women.

I am not a feminist. I know this will come as a surprise to Susan. And there are reasons for this. First I am a man and consider that to be at the very least a major hurdle to being a feminist. Second so much of feminism rejects history as a kind a male "fest". So being a male trained in history the hurdle becomes a rather daunting obstacle. I have other more philosophical reservations about feminism, but I am coming to see those as a luxury.

My reservations are a luxury because I don’t need them. I don’t have to fight for legitimacy or equality or respect. I didn’t worry if you would accept me as your pastor because I am male; I don’t worry about being stereotyped; I don’t worry about my hair. Yet, if I were a woman, would that be the case? Sitting in room 10 last week I listened to the different ways men described the book from the way women read it. I tried to imagine reading The Da Vinci Code as a woman, what would I have heard that I didn’t hear, what would I have seen that I didn’t as a man?

When I looked at the passage this week I tried to do the same, to turn it upside down. On the surface it is very straightforward. Tabitha dies and Peter is called in to resurrect her. The story is significant in that it generalizes the miracle of Easter. Jesus rose from the dead, he was resurrected; but he was also the Son of God, the Lord, the Christ. Tabitha was a loving person who did good deeds; she was like you and me. Her resurrection says Easter is not an isolated event, but a witness that death has been conquered for one and all.

The early church confused this resurrection with the possibility that we would no longer die. Paul addressed this in his Letters to the Thessalonians. Yet, in time Tabitha’s resurrection came to be a witness that we are not lost in death, but found by God. We too will be resurrected when Christ comes again, when we are gathered to the throne like the vision we read in Revelations. This I understood. And there is a simple benefit to this witness: our life here is for a time and our end is a beginning. For centuries the church has lived with this belief.

Looking at the passage and thinking about the conversation last week, I wondered, what would have this story have become had it been reversed? What if it was Peter who had taken ill and died? Peter was not immune to disease and disaster. He was human. What if it was he who died and Tabitha was called to pray over him? What if Tabitha had resurrected Peter? Recognizing my lack of a feminine perspective, I asked Kathy what she thought and she was quick to suggest the danger such an act would have posed for Tabitha, that such a power would have been treated as magic or witchcraft in a woman. "They would have put her to death," she said.

I was struck by the irony: putting someone to death for resurrecting another. Yet there is an insinuation in the Gospel of John with the resurrection of Lazarus that such a display of power scared the Pharisees and most likely motivated them to put Jesus to death- a kind of "final straw". Yet, what would they have done had it been Mary or Martha who resurrected Lazarus who was their brother? It’s hard to say.

One thing though is for sure the miracle would have been about more than resurrection. It would have been a shocking, radical reversal of gender and social mores. Had Tabitha resurrected Peter the story would have been about Tabitha, about equality and inclusiveness and this would have been a radical vision of life. The early church as it was described in Acts had a number of such radical departures: the most memorable was a kind of communalism and egalitarianism that was a complete break from way people lived and related to each other. This, though, didn’t last. Paul’s claim that in Jesus Christ there was neither Greek nor Jew, slave or free, but a sense of oneness was another early church vision; this claim, though, became a dream of heaven not earth. We will be free, one and all, before the throne, someday, but not now.

Working with Susan this last year has been a great gift to me. Thinking through her departure I remembered in 200 years you’ve had a number of pastors. I walk past their pictures everyday. An unnamed member likes to call them the "rogue’s gallery." In the front of our last photo directory their pictures were included as a nod to the bicentennial. Unique to all the pictures though was Susan’s. Although there were a few other women who were Christian Educators, she was the only pastor who was a woman, your first. Yet other than the whole hair thing, I think you made it look rather effortless.

This is a hard thing to be, to do. For the last thing a pastor wants to be is a novelty or the focus. An effective pastor is such as they are transparent, as you decrease and God increases. To be a good pastor you never want to be the issue, to be the star as it were. In the early church had Tabitha resurrected Peter, the story would have been about her, it would have been about gender or the role and potential of women. The image of God, the power of God that was transparently grounded in Peter would have been lost had the roles been reversed.

As Acts records, it was Peter who resurrected Tabitha and with it the resurrection became a gift of one and all. A bit of heaven broke through and people believed. The church would get ahead of itself here, get confused by the miracle. Like Paul’s hope in Colossians that we would live in a kind of oneness, he, or we can get ahead of ourselves trying to make heaven on earth.

Yet, if the truth be told, such confusion, the peril of groundbreaking and new territory, isn’t that what we are? Isn’t the church supposed to be the emerging restoration of earth in the image of heaven? We laud our tradition and try to keep to it as if we got it right then and so must follow it or be wrong. Our tradition is all about radical change, challenging social orders and systems: the founders of the Presbyterian Church were outlaws.

Although I was wrong to be so flippant about Dottie’s hair, a part of me laments her trying to keep the past. A part of me will ever be sad that she couldn’t see herself as beautiful just as she was. It’s not about hair- at least I don’t think so. Amen.