Saturday, December 5, 2009

On Having Long Hair

My decision to grow my hair long has been relatively recent, perhaps only three or four years ago (sometime in 2006 or 2007). For most people who have known me for a long time, my decision was surprisingly out of character: I have always been outwardly "good" or "nice", quite conservative in social and political preferences, born and raised in a small, rural western town, and a Christian since 1976.

So, why the decision to grow my hair long? And, perhaps more importantly, why write about my decision to grow my hair long?

Let me start with my conclusion, just so we can relieve the suspense and get on with the interesting stuff:

My hair is long because I like it long and I can grow it long and I'm free to grow it long.

I can see at least four major influences, or assumptions, that have shaped my attitude towards long hair:

  • I don't like getting my hair cut.
  • Long hair for men, in my mind, has ALWAYS been associated with a rebellious and reckless lifestyle...until recently.
  • I'm a Christian, passionately in love with Jesus Christ and completely dependent upon His Holy Word, the Bible.
  • I like having long hair.
  • Let's deal with the easiest one first:

    Why don't I like getting my hair cut?

    I remember my first haircut at the barbershop. I must have been young, perhaps 3-4 years old? I remember my granddad Sherwood with me. I remember the loud, threatening sound of the electric clippers...the cold press of the metal against my skin...the tickle of falling hair...nothing of the experience gave me pleasure.

    I do not remember ever returning to the barbershop for a haircut. All my other memories are of my mother cutting my hair, and how I fought it. I cried, argued, and pouted, but I always ended up sitting still for it.

    When on my own, I had hair stylists cut my hair. I didn't cry, argue, or pout, and usually I actually enjoyed having someone cut my hair, as long as they used scissors, and especially if they washed my hair. But I resent the time and the frequency. It sounds ridiculous to see it written's only 15 or 20 minutes, every five or six weeks, but I just do not like it.

    So, a haircut at the barbershop? Definitely not. Go to a hair stylist? Only after putting it off as long as I can. What's left? I let my hair grow long.

    Now, how about my second concern:

    Why has long hair been associated in my mind with rebellion and recklessness,

    and what has changed that mindset now?

    I attended public school in Vale, a small town in the sagebrush desert of eastern Oregon. I remember first becoming concerned about my personal appearance and attractiveness during my seventh or eighth year of school. Our school dress code strictly limited the hair length of boys to "nothing below the collar". Our PE teacher would often grab any bit of hair that exceeded this length and painfully pull it to emphasize the rule. This rigid length-of-hair-on-boys policy imprinted my mind with the attitude that long hair equals disobedience and disorder. At the same time, it created in me a growing resentment of those in authority who bully and strut.

    Television and film reinforced the feeling that masculine long hair was rebellious, if not evil: only the most outrageous rock and roll bands sported hair reaching their shoulders...only the delinquents and dopers had hair in ponytails.

    This blanket aura of wickedness covered not only long hair, but also beards and mustaches. Friends who grew facial hair were those who would also experiment with alcohol, pot, fast driving and promiscuity.

    All of this "morality" swirling in my mind was entirely independent of any religious influence. I only infrequently attended any church service while growing up. I remember wholeheartedly embracing evolution as the foundation of human origin, and I vocally scorned church, missionaries, and the Bible. My "morality" was based entirely on attitudes taught by the community and school.

    When did this all change?

    The change began in my last year of high school with several defining experiences. One teacher had wildly inconsistent classroom discipline tactics, and I openly defied his arbitrary rules and consequences. The athletic director threatened to suspend from any sports program any student who allowed their hair to grow below their collar. Public support for the Vietnam War had disintegrated, bringing loud protest and instances of civil disobedience. And I graduated from high school and moved away to attend a college. It seems like that last year of high school brought out in me all the distrust of authority and disgust with "normal" that I was seeing in the rest of the world.

    College exposed me to many different people, some good, some bad, some short-haired, some long-haired, some clean, and some dirty. It seemed that the old rule of thumb of "long-hair equals bad" no longer held true. I began to question many of my long-held childish notions, and my lifeview began to change radically.

    The result of that first year of being away from home was that I became a Christian, and I became determined to accept no social mores or religious values unless they were solidly based on God's Word, the Holy Bible.

    Length of hair, whether short or long, became almost irrelevant to daily life, career, or my eternal destiny.

    I began growing a beard.

    I had a beard for a couple of years, met my wife and started a family. The beard remained until I joined the local fire department as a volunteer, requiring my to be clean-shaven for the air supply mask we all carried. That was the first time my wife saw my bare face!

    My decision to grow my hair long came years later. Our children were grown and living on their own. I'd survived a heart attack and triple bypass surgery. One of my favorite movies, "The Lord of the Rings", had several heroic characters with long hair. I was working at a prison, teaching inmates basic skills of reading and math. Many inmates, of course, had long hair, but so did several co-workers whom I admired. All these circumstances combined to stir my mind to consider letting my hair grow long, as an experiment. Would it be a hassle? How would others view me? Would I like it? Are there advantages?

    I decided to try it.

    Now we come to the third concern:

    How can a Bible-believing Christian justify long hair on a man, and why do I like having long hair?

    I am determined to avoid taking Scripture out of context, and I will not base a rigid doctrine on just a single verse. Scripture must be carefully translated from the original language and understood only with careful, honest comparison with all other parts of Scripture. After doing this, I'm convinced that the issue of long hair on a man is on the same level of importance as pants on a woman. In fact, if it will help, here's several issues on that same level:

  • Make-up
  • Jewelry
  • Motorcycles
  • King James Version of the Bible
  • Rent or buy
  • K-Mart or Bi-Mart
  • Baptist or Methodist.
  • If any of these activate your "hot button", you'll likely have the same reaction to the issue of long hair on a man. If you shake your head at the list and say, "What does it matter?", then long hair has likely never been an issue for you.

    If you've gotten this far in my essay, you'll probably not be offended if I offer the following disclaimer:

    I do not write this to convince anyone that long hair on a man is right or even allowed. Conversely, this essay is not written for anyone who has never had a second thought about having long hair. This article is for the few of us who have had honest questions about whether long hair on a man is okay, especially in view of Scripture. (Plus, I'm writing this for my wife, who has often wondered why I've let my hair grow!)

    A quick search of "long hair" in the Bible (ESV) shows the following references: (Scripture references courtesy of Berean Bible Study Freeware)

    "All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long." (Number 6:5)

    This is a strong support for the legitimacy, even the righteousness, of long hair on a man. The entire sixth chapter of this book deals with the symbolism of a person's head, and how long hair (on a man or woman) was a representation of holiness, being set aside entirely for God's use and glory.

    "I will make my arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh--- with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired heads of the enemy." (Deuteronomy 32:42)

    Other than being a characteristic of "the enemy", this reference has no bearing on the issue of whether long hair is right or wrong for a man.

    "They shall not shave their heads or let their locks grow long; they shall surely trim the hair of their heads." (Ezekiel 44:20)

    This reference is part of a longer passage dealing with the return of holiness to a nation that had rebelled against God and worshiped false idols. The priests were required to publicly represent purity and holiness, having neither shaven heads nor long hair. As Christians, our righteousness is founded only upon the righteousness of Christ. Nothing we do can allow us to earn or deserve righteousness in God's sight. If length of hair were to be a strong symbol of righteousness for my community, I would honor that symbol, just as I honor our national flag.

    "Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws." (Daniel 4:33)

    In this reference, long hair was a result of dark insanity brought by Nebuchadnezzar's rebellion against God. This was a specific instance in history, with no support for any "no long hair" doctrine found in the New Testament. Looking at this verse alone, long hair is no more a sin than eating grass or allowing your fingernails to grow.

    "After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow." (Acts 18:18)

    This is probably a reference to the custom of the "Nazirites", found in Numbers 6. Shaving or cutting the hair of one's head was the way in which someone proclaimed publicly that their time of special "separateness" was over. A similar instance occurs in Acts 21, where Paul and four others underwent a vow and did not shave their heads until the "days of purification were fulfilled" (Acts 21:23-26). Was it the long hair or the shaven head that best represented sanctification?

    "Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering." (1 Corinthians 11:14)

    This is an illustration Paul uses to support his main argument: Men and women ought to submit to God as Creator and Leader and Provider. His summary thought is seen in verses 11-12:

    "Nevertheless, in the Lord, woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God."

    The relationship between man and woman, and both with God, was represented in their culture by the head. A person's physical head represented their ultimate Ruler and Creator. For a man, who was held responsible by God for both himself and his wife, an uncovered head demonstrated a clear link between himself and God...a link of responsibility and accountability. Because woman was created for man, as a helper, the woman best showed this relationship with a head that is covered.

    So, what is "covered" or "uncovered"?

    The Greek word for "covered" is "kata", a prepostion meaning simply down. The word is used often to describe the idea of obscuring or hidden. The implication fits with the context: A man who prays or preaches with his head (face) obscured does not demonstrate dependence upon, or submission to, God.

    For the woman, the word "uncovered" is "akatakaluptos", meaning unveiled. Literally, it means "not down covered-up". Again, the implication fits the context. A woman's relationship with her husband is one of being under his protection: the man is responsible for his wife's wellbeing, which includes their relationship to God. A woman's veil best demonstrates her submission, her agreement, to his responsibility of protecting and providing.

    Paul describes the veil as being similar to long hair. For a woman, long hair can serve as a veil, obscuring or hiding part or all of her face. For a man, long hair could easily do the same, even inadvertantly, so Paul cites a popular custom: women may have long hair and men must be careful not to allow their hair to obscure their face while praying or preaching. Paul's overriding concern throughout the entire chapter is whether a person's heart is completely submitted to God, whether man or woman. The issue of long hair is used only to support this argument.

    Because of this Scripture, I am careful to not allow my long hair to obscure my face, especially when in public. I don't regard it as a command from God, but a good idea that will help the public avoid confusion when they see me. I do not want people to look at me and assume I am a woman, and I do not want people confused by my long hair when I pray or preach. A simple tie allows my hair to be gathered at the back of my head in a ponytail, allowing my face to be clearly God and country!

    Now, at last, I arrive at the fun part of my argument:

    Why do I like having long hair?

    I have found it to be the easiest way to care for my hair. Although it confounds my wife, I do not feel that I am spending anywhere near the time I used to spend in trying to make short hair presentable.

    I brush my hair when I awake, and before going to bed. I keep it in a ponytail if the wind's not blowing, otherwise I hold it with a simple 3-strand braid. I wash it approximately once a week, and I don't blow dry it.

    With short hair, it seemed like there was just a narrow window, perhaps a week, in which my hair felt like it was presentable. For the week or so after first getting it cut, I always fought a stubborn cowlick and it seemed like the natural part in my hair just didn't want to lay right. By the second week or so, my hair had grown enough to allow me to comb it into place easily, and it stayed through the day. But by the end of the third week it was starting to be awkwardly long, sticking out over my ears, brushing over my eyes...the least bit of wind blew it out of place unless I used gel.

    I have much less hassle now. Of course, during the process of growing my hair long, it went through a time of extreme awkwardness and out-of-control-ness. During that time I wore a cap and used a heavy-duty gel. It took perhaps six months to get through that period to get to a length in which it was easy to tie up on a ponytail that controlled my hair.

    So, having long hair fits with my lifestyle and lifeview. It seems more "natural" than frequent cutting and it allows me more control, and variety, over my appearance. For now, I'm a solid long-hair!

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