Who's in Your Chair?

My son is a natural-born thief, an enchanted soul, who steals the hearts of all he meets. He was a striking baby, and as soon as he was able to smile, the charming began.

The elementary principal at the school where our older children attended imagined our adoption of him as a joint partnership and doted on him whenever possible. By the time he was walking he was hanging out in her office, napping on the beanbag chair or snacking from his private stash in her bottom drawer. When he started kindergarten, being sent to the principal’s office wasn’t much of a threat. When I pushed him in the stroller around the block, or in a grocery cart, he would call out to the ladies about their pretty flowers or dresses or hairstyles, while his older, less outgoing brothers would cringe.

I do not know another human being with more friends, and that’s not counting his followers on social media. I do not know another human being with more diverse friends— black, white, Hispanic, Asian, gay, straight, trans, drag queens, young, old, rich, poor, and everyone in between. I have had to share him since the day he arrived, because he loved everyone. And everyone loved him.

It really is a beautiful thing.

 I just finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book, Holy Envy, in which she discusses her experiences while teaching a course in world religions, and the ensuing wonder and riches she encountered in the faith of others. It is thought provoking and encouraging and beautiful. I was particularly moved by her words in the last chapter, appropriately titled, “The Final Exam.”

She says, “I asked God for religious certainty, and God gave me relationships instead. I asked for solid ground and God gave me human beings – strange, funny, compelling, complicated human beings – who keep puncturing my stereotypes, challenging my ideas, and upsetting my ideas about God, so that they are always under construction.”

She goes on to say that she may find the answers she seeks in churches or scripture or some spiritual practice, but she hopes God will keep coming to her in “authentically human beings.”

My favorite of her observations involves Matthew’s story of the sheep and goats. It is important to note that in the parable neither the sheep nor the goats knew they had done anything right or wrong. Not one of them had actually recognized Jesus when he had come to them. Both groups asked, “When did we see you …”

In the end, she continues, what actually separates them is that one group had simply treated everyone who came their way with kindness and respect regardless of how nice or clean or easy they were to love. “And,” she says, “that made all the difference.”

The principal’s pampered pet, the charming toddler, is now a newly licensed barber. Without a doubt, his artistic skills will wow those who want straight lines and perfect fades and unique designs in their hair. But he will flourish because he is a sheep. Yesterday he told me how much he loves being a barber because every time someone sits in his chair, it is an opportunity to have an interesting conversation with a new and different person.

Who is sitting in your barber chair? Are you making time for walk-ins? Or surrounding yourself with appointments only? Do you treat everyone with kindness and respect, as an opportunity for a great conversation?

In the end, it will make all the difference.