Sunday, September 04, 2005

Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity

I'm supposed to be leading Reader's Typika right now for our Mission, but I'm staying home with my father in law who has diahhrea. Its just not compassionate to make him sit in a dirty Depends for 4 hours because his daughter and son in law are the Reader and chanter/choir director and can't change several times him during the service. My wife carries the bulk of the musical responsibilities and we have someone who can intone "Lord have mercy" and read Psalms just fine, even without a black robe on.

So... I know I'm not a monk. I know I live in the world. I know we are to be "in the world but not of it". I visit the monasteries quite a bit, I know there are no mirrors. Last week I stood in front of the mirror and re-invented myself with a shave and a haircut. Now to maintain it, I have to stand in front of a mirror much longer than I used to. What's the problem? IS there a problem? Am I creating one, or by being aware of the fact that there could be a problem I have in fact avoided it actually being one? Where is the intersection of image/world/culture and vanity?

To begin, everyone has to be something, even a monk who doesn't shave or cut his hair at all.
That in itself is an "image" within a certain culture that just happens to be tied to the Church. I know priests and laymen that have adopted the monkish look as part of their "Orthodoxy". I know the traditions vary regarding priests' hairstyles and beardedness and the topic of clerical facial hair becomes an instant flame war on some discussion lists. I recall seeing two priests comparing pony tails and discussing the "bad hair days" when the pony tails didn't quite hang right because they were works in progress. Hmmmm...I thought, gee, if you can't really be unvain I guess you can at least try to look like the people who aren't. After all, image is everything, right? sigh....of course not every priest with a beard and pony tail primp and condition it with Paul Mitchell products. Its harder to flame someone's inner thoughts than an outward appearance, after all hair is just hair, right? Its ego PLUS hair that gets us. Ego plus anything, actually.

OK, I know I'm rambling here. Anyway, so I'm finally getting in touch with my inner Charlie Chan-ness. I'd say Jet Li, but at my age, with my gut, its more like "Biplane Li". Its not that I was ever ashamed of it, but it just wasn't something on the surface. I could even watch movies that portrayed Chinese people in stereotyical roles and not be offended for myself or the Chinese culture... nor am I about to become a Chonky "Jesse Jackson" looking under every adjective and noun for racial slurs. But race is an interesting thing. It is a reality. SHOULD we celebrate our racial heritages? Can we do that without walling ourselves off? Is politicized and mandated multi-culturalism just another liberal plot to stick the Rainbow up our collective ummmmm.....
Or is politicized melting pot uniformity-ism just another conservative plot to keep non-English speaking people from burning up our tax dollars? Those things are way beyond me. All I want to do is find a place in my head for what and who I am connected to a much larger community that stretches back thousands of years and intergrate that into where, who and what I am now.
Its not about living in the past, or in my head in some illusion or comic book version of a culture I've only encountered on a non-verbal basis. My mother never sat down with me and said "This is how WE do this... or this is the Chinese attitude toward that..." Although when I read about the culture and talk to people, I can see I was raised wellll... Chinese, insofar as my mother reflected the culture she was raised in after they immigrated to Hawaii when she was a child.
I know I unconciously passed some of that along to my kids, albeit now watered down and obscured by the fact of being Chonky and first generation American born.

I also have two adopted racially mixed kids. My daughter, whose birth mother told us she slept with a Mexican man, I recently figured out is actually Navajo. I met her "twin sister of different mothers" at a McDonald's in Gallup New Mexico last year. My son, whose birth mother also claimed a Mexican stud... well, he passes for Greek, Arabic, Mulato, and Mexican. We know this from his girlfriend's parent's reactions to him. They both look like "my kids". Well, except for the fact my son is 6'5"...if they look at me with suprise, and I just tell them he gets his height from his mother. ehhhhh.... I have no idea where this thought was going....

So, back to the original point, or search for a point. I think it was "Everyone has to be something". No matter if we cut our hair or not, style it or not, we are engaging our culture, be it ethnic, religious, or business by how we groom ourselves. Something as simple as what we do with our God given hair we are making a statment. How that statement intersects with the bigger statement of our lives is the issue. Is Christ manifest, not because of or in spite of, but within my racial and cultural heritage? Do dreds, or Fu-manchu's, or pony tails, or beards or smooth faces make a Christian? Of course not. Can they be baptized? Absolutely, my hair went into the water with me, if I recall correctly. So all that's left really is me. Yeah, I'm vain. Heck, I have a blog, for crying out loud. Yeah, I like it when people say "I like your new look". But I liked it when people liked my old looks. And of course there's people who don't like any of them. Whatever. I don't live and breathe by my critics or fans, ultimately. I live and breathe in Christ who made me Chonky. How do I praise and glorify Him FOR what I am, and IN what I am?
That is the issue.


olympiada said...

Deep thinking sp, right on! I like you. I can relate, admist the absolute insanity of my own crazy life.

Do you know they have church canons on the cutting of hair? Oh yeah. I could refer you to a few.

You know that word 'chonky' struck me as humorous, until the end of your post, and then it was not funny any more. Interesting.

I like how you talk about race without flinching. That is my aim...It is still a sensitive issue for me, having voluntarily ended an interracial marriage by choice as a woman...

I am glad you are around. You give me strength. Pray for me a sinner.

justanotherjim said...

Uh oh, your post is worrying me. I have always despised the corporate look but have had to wear it because of my job as a Presbyterian pastor. I now have a job where what I look like doesn't matter and I'm in the process of going shaggy (something I've wanted to do my whole life).

I'm also an Orthodox catechumen. It never occurred to me that it would look like I was going monkish. And I'm just vain enough for this to worry me!! :)

My identity issues aren't as dramatic or painful as yours, but it strikes me that my identity (or more specifically, my chafing against the identity that was thrust upon me) has a lot to do with my hair.

And I'm only a guy! I make fun of the big haired Southern Baptist women. Maybe I'll have to start making fun of Orthodox men with pony tails instead.

s-p said...

Hi JaJ,
LOL! Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. When I left the ministry I grew my hair long, grew a beard and went jeans and t-shirt for 15 years. Free at last, free at last! I actually cut my hair about 6 years ago and now that I'm Orthodox it is ironic that now I CAN grow my hair and beard and be considered actually pious and not looked at like a goofy Woodstock throwback. :) AND you can dress in all black and not be considered a potential goth-columbine wierdo.
Anyway, I feel your pain and your jubilation! Enjoy your freedom.
I think there's a lot of old hippies like me who find the Orthodox "hair code" cool.

s-p said...

Hi Olympiada,
Yep, I think everyone has their own brand of insanity going on in their lives. The insanity is always greener on the other side... :) I've seen the canons about hair. Of course all those were written before Sasson and Paul Mitchell etc. Inter-racial stuff is interesting for sure. The fact that my father was born and raised in a small Arkansas town in the 30's-40's and married a Chinese woman still astounds me.
But here I seems a lot easier today, but then again, I'm not in a "relationship" defined by race exacerbated by human dysfunctions. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

History Distilled: monastics and civilians both offer balance to each other.

Use the "tool-belt rule": practical for you, professional for the customer.

olympiada said...

Hi Sp - today I have moved farther along the path of "Let Go and Let God". I have resisted the urge to pick up the phone and remind my ex he has an overnight visit tomorrow. The divorce has not made it to court yet. It feels good to resist the urge and to gain awareness about the true state of the situation.
I had no idea I would become dependent on a poor, uneducated black man. So. Race. A whole subject in and of it self.