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A sorry story from the barber’s chair

As I left the barber’s shop that day I was inwardly fuming at those “Bible-bashers” who had behaved so appallingly, writes Colin Sedgwick. But then it occurred to me that there have no doubt been times when I have been guilty of pretty much the same thing. 


Barbers chair

The man who cuts my hair really gives me aggro. Not nasty aggro, please don’t think that, but aggro nonetheless. As soon as I enter his shop it’s “Hello, do you still believe all that religion rubbish, then?” (though rubbish probably isn’t the exact word he uses). “Your friend (that’s his way of talking about God) isn’t doing a very good job at the moment, is he?” That may be a complaint about the weather, the political situation, or any one of a number of things that happen to be on his mind.

As far as he is concerned I am a poor deluded sucker. The reason I became a Christian is that I was bored and just swallowed everything I was told by other poor deluded suckers. (Given that I became a Christian when I was fifteen, a long time ago, and I’ve only known him a couple of years, it’s not entirely clear how he came by this information.)

I tell him that he’s cynical, ignorant, unthinking and prejudiced (not necessarily in quite those words), that I’m going to go on praying for him, and that I want him to tell me when he decides to become a Christian. He thinks that’s very funny, and has a good laugh at my expense.

This summary will give you a flavour of my relationship with the man who shapes my venerable grey locks and snips my luxuriant eyebrows. Blunt to the point of rudeness, but all with a smile on our faces; good knockabout stuff. Oh yes, we get on pretty well really.

My friend has had a few “vicars” in his shop over the years (“some of them even worse than you”) and claims not to have been very impressed.

He’s also had a bad experience of “Bible-bashers” away from his shop. And his last example, I’m afraid, took most of the humour out of our chat…

“I’ve got a flat which I rent out, and it was taken by a group of blokes who really were nutters. They were always leaving post-it notes around the place telling me that God loved me. I was really good to them – I used to run them to their meetings when they didn’t have transport. Then one day they just cleared off – owing me a thousand pounds in unpaid rent. I never saw them again.”

Ah. That rather took the wind out of my sails, as they say. There really wasn’t an answer, except to assure him that, of course, I was very sorry to hear this, and that I deplored that kind of behaviour just as much as he did. “Is that what’s made you so cynical about religion?” I asked. To which he replied: “No, not really – I’ve always felt this way. But it didn’t help.”

No, I don’t imagine it would, do you?

The apostle Peter speaks of those who “bring the way of truth into disrepute”, or, as The Message puts it, “give the way of truth a bad name” (2 Peter 2:2) – an apt description, I think, of those people.

Sadly, this kind of thing isn’t unusual. I chatted recently with a man who was involved in renting out a community centre to a variety of organisations – drop-in groups, children’s nurseries, seniors’ lunches etc. It was sad to hear him say that the only group they had trouble with was an informal, pop-up church – they (the Christians!) were the only group that didn’t pay their rent on time, and who failed to leave the building in a good condition. The secular organisations were fine.

Other examples are not far to find: “committed Christians” caught out in dishonest dealings or sexual immorality, or just having a reputation for being bad neighbours.

The slightly frightening conclusion we have to draw is a simple one: the reputation of God himself lies in the hands of people like you and me. It’s amazing that God should be prepared to let this happen; but that, it seems, is the way it is.

As I left the barber’s shop that day I was inwardly fuming at those “Bible-bashers” who had behaved so appallingly. But then it occurred to me that there have no doubt been times when I have been guilty of pretty much the same thing.

No, I have never walked off with somebody else’s money, or otherwise acted in grossly inappropriate ways (I hope not, anyway!). But I have no doubt that over the years there have been times when I have acted or spoken in ways that might have left people thinking “Well, if that’s Christianity, include me out!” or “And I thought he was supposed to be a Christian!”

Quite likely I didn’t even realise it at the time. It needn’t take a lot, after all: just a flash of temper, perhaps; or a display of pettiness; or a touch of bigotry; or something that isn’t quite honest; or a sharing in gossip; or some unguarded language…

A simple question arises: Are you – am I – a good advertisement for Jesus?

Time to pause for thought…?

Father, please forgive me for those times when I have given the way of truth a bad name. If there are opportunities to make amends, give me the humility to do so. And if not, give me a new determination to be the very best I can be for your glory. Amen.

Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.

He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com


Image | Jason Leung | Unsplash


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