Monday, February 25, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 50: Numbers 4-6; Psalm 41; Mark 15

A Nazirite's Vow...
When I was a younger man, living in my home town between college and seminary, I got to know a reggae artist name Deighton Charlemagne. He was a Rasta, and over the course of several months we came across each other in social settings. Given that I was someone heading off to "God-school" as he put it, our conversations would often bend toward theology and philosophy. Most people see reggae culture and Rastas as simple bohemians who allow their hair to grow into dreadlocks as a way to make a counter-cultural statement, a rejection of dominant, white, European cultures that have too often oppressed Africans. Deighton taught me that his commitment to his way of life, and the exterior and visual sign of it in his dreadlocks was much more than that.

Deighton, from Google images...
Those dreadlocks were a sign of his connection to God, and to a way of life that set him apart from a world that too often walked apart from intimacy with God. It was like the vow of the Nazirite, he said. As we hear in Numbers, those folk would be set apart by vows of abstinence and purity. They were not to cut their hair as a sign of their ordination. They were totally dedicated to God, heart, body and soul. Sampson was a Nazirite, as was Samuel the was John the Baptist. It is a hard path to take, one of incredible devotion and dedication.

In the midst of our conversations, he urged me to consider growing my own hair into dreads. He had seen other white people attempt it, he said, but mine he maintained would make "good, almost-natty dreads." I balked at that, as much from fear of the challenge of wearing them out in the world (and facing the probity of other people) as being aware that my own path was not one that included those kinds of outward signs. I had another journey to undertake.

Still, sitting here and reminiscing about those Nazirites that we meet in scripture, I am humbled to think of how we experience God's call to be in the world, but not necessarily of it. Be it Sampson, Samuel or John the Baptist, Nazirites embody in their outward appearance and inward devotion to God. In the case of those dreadlocks, we see a choice in grooming that some may see as unhygienic  The reality is that those dreadlocks for Rastas or for biblical figures was a mark of devotion to purity. Deighton invited me to step back from judging by appearance and open myself to a way to walking in the world that offers a VERY visible and outward sign of devotion to God. His dreadlocks were a sign of his being set apart to walk in his way of life. It was, in a way, a sort of ordination.

Ordination comes in so many ways. Most Christians experience it in their Baptism. In that initiation into the Body of Christ, we are set apart as a sign and witness to actually being Jesus in the world, for the world. For some, ordination to be deacon, priest or bishop means narrowing that broad and open call to a more focused and particular role in tending to that Body, pastorally and vocationally.

As I prepare for the day ahead, I will eat, shower and dress. Dressing means putting on a clerical collar, a sign of my ordination as a priest and a witness to my role in the Church as a servant of Christ. In that I remember my friend from long ago, whose hair, those dreadlocks, was a sign and witness of his role as one who had been set apart to walk as a sign to people that he was dedicated to God in a particular way.

Ordination, a setting apart, comes in all shapes and sizes. Today, keep your eyes open for those who in their person have been set apart as a sign and witness of faith that God is active in our lives and present to us. For some, dreadlocks. For others, a collar or uniform...for others? For you? Is there some outward sign that you offer to the world as a mark of devotion to God? Could there be?

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