“What was I thinking?” I thought as I stared forlornly into the mirror.
I should have known better than to impulsively stop at the hair salon directly adjacent to the Tom Thumb, still clutching my bag of avocados. I was hoping for a cute haircut before I left on my 10th anniversary weekend trip.
Instead, I got a mullet.
“Do you see this tail?!” I wailed as I grasped a section at the back of my head that was longer than the mushroom she had coiffed at the front. “Please cut off the tail!”
She trimmed the tail and pronounced it was done and it looked great. I was too distraught and distrustful that she could fix it to really ask her to cut anymore so I paid her and walked out to the car, put my head on my steering wheel, and cried. It was a mushroom with a tail, akin to a shorter version of a Carol Brady hairdo.
Bad haircuts are rough, man. Usually, you didn’t ask for them and, unless you’re very lucky, you can’t hide it. You just have to let them grow out naturally. The only way to solve it is to stop cutting for a while. Take a break! Let those hair follicles solve your mullet problem. You can’t rush it.
There’s been an uptick in my spiritual interest lately. For a long time, I deconstructed and then wasn’t much interested in constructing again. It was almost like I just needed a break, a detox period, a length of time to let my proverbial and spiritual hair grow out.
You see, if I liken the faith of my childhood to my bad haircut, it makes sense to me. The systems of power and theology that were forming my faith had been snipping and shaping my faith for years. As a kid, you don’t know any better. Literally. Your mom tells the hairdresser, “Give her a haircut that is literally in the shape of a bowl” and you’re like, “YAY! CARTOOONZ and LOLIPOPZ!” And then you walk around looking like an idiot with a bowl on your head and your family has the pictures to prove it.
(In her defense, I had absentmindedly chopped off my own hair and stuffed it behind a pillow on my grandmother’s couch while watching Sesame Street so this was a rescue haircut).
Same with faith. I certainly wasn’t taught to think critically about faith or the Bible when I was a kid. If anything, the expectation is that you believe it hook, line, and sinker or you’re a sinner. Without really knowing any better, my faith was coiffed into something more like a mullet than a stylish cut because I didn’t know I had a choice and the mirror was covered.
Substitutionary atonement? Sure. snip
There are certain classes of people that are exempt from the “love your enemies” command (gay, Muslim, Democrats)? Sure. snip
Church is run by men and you sit in a pew and shut your mouth? Sure. snip
You have to do quiet time and be good and never sin or God will be mad at you? Sure. snip
The Bible has to be factually, historically true or our faith crumbles and we all die? Sure. snip
It wasn’t until the cover over the mirror slipped that I got a peek at what had happened, unbeknownst to me. To be fair, the mirror cover slippage was slow. I think it probably started in high school when my group of friend befriended Weasel, the homeless man who lived in a tent behind Blockbuster. Being friends with a homeless person (we didn’t have much money so we offered mostly our time) changed me. It led me to working at the soup kitchen in college, where I befriended even more homeless people, which led me to become disenchanted with my Baptist church that was blocks away from the homeless shelter and didn’t do very much with them (eventually building a ginormous new building in the burbs and moving away from a great ministry opportunity). I met fantastic people in the “out group” in college that caused cognitive dissonance because they weren’t terrible, miserable, or adversarial, like I had been taught they would be. I went to Syria and realized I didn’t know what I thought I knew about Muslims or the Middle East conflict. In Syria, I attended my first ever house church and saw a church where leadership was communally held and voices were more-or-less equal. That was the impetus for my first deconstruction, where the cover slipped quickly and I was caught unaware that I had been given the spiritual equivalent of wispy bangs that didn’t fit my face shape. It made me mad. My first deconstruction left me quite angry at the church and their scissor happy snipping of my faith.
The learning continued. I developed deep friendships with people who didn’t identify as Christian. I learned that adoptive parents are not saviors; adoption is complex and complicated and you have to hold all these tensions at once. The church’s stance on homosexuality has caused deep, deep, long-lasting damage and is far from “loving”. Slipping, slipping, slipping.
That racism is alive and well and active (even within me) was the final slip of the cover, the revelation that white evangelicalism had failed me miserably and I was left with a terrible wispy banged, choppy, mushroom-shaped mullet.
Fix it, Jesus.
But I realized quickly this wasn’t going to be an easy fix. This haircut had been developed over years of snipping and I still found myself surrounded by people who were insisting that it looked good. I needed time and space. So I took a break. This monstrosity needed to grow out, without any sort of scissors at all, for a while. “God is good, Jesus was cool” was the extent of my faith for the last year and a half. I didn’t really trust many people to do any sort of cutting or shaping of my faith. I just realized that I had a choice in the matter and so I needed to come up with a game plan about what my faith looks like next. For a long time, I didn’t want to even think about that. I just needed a space to grieve and really take stock of everything that I didn’t like about my original faith haircut.
I think the bad haircut has mostly grown out and I’m slowly becoming ready to start shaping again, but this time, the mirror cover is off and my eyes are wide open (well, as open as they can be at this moment). As I start to rebuild my faith, I want to have certain criteria for things that come back. After all, not every snip of my original haircut was terrible. It didn’t leave me bald. But some of them, like the bangs or the mullet tail, those will be left on the salon floor.
What’s the new ethic by which I will make my decisions about what’s right or moral? (Pro-tip: It will be centered around reducing harm done to others). What do I believe about the crucifixion or Paul’s writings? How does my understanding of God need to be influenced by womanist or liberation theology? As a person of privilege, where do I fit in a theology that liberates the marginalized from systems and powers of oppression?
To be honest, I’m excited about my adult haircut. The cutting will certainly be slower and more deliberate than it was before. And I’m certain that I’ll still make mistakes, somehow one side will mysteriously be longer than the other but I’ve got skills and better tools now to know how to figure out where I went wrong and course correct.
Fix it, Jesus. Let’s (slowly) get to work.