One of my favorite things to do as I travel is to shed the shackles of political correctness and go hang out with some men. This is easier than you might think. I find this gathering of men at the local barbershop. All over the world barbershops are the same. One guy working, several guys hanging out, and always filled with spirited discussion of not so important matters. Hopefully, no offense at this point, but I would have to add, that women are not there telling a man how he should get his haircut. I have been to the barbershop in more countries than I can remember and they are all the same, both outside of the United States and Western Europe.
So, I headed out today for my traditional haircut and guy experience here in Antioch, Turkey. This barbershop experience rivaled the best one I have ever experienced. The best was in Ukraine but this one was a close second. True to form there where five guys sitting and one guy working. A unique feature of this barbershop that I particularly enjoyed was the presence of a young boy of fifteen who was there assisting his father and learning the craft. He handed over instruments and cream with the precision of a highly skilled surgical nurse.
The barber was a lighthearted man with a warmth in his eyes. He was a man who enjoyed his profession. He seemed to know that the giving of a haircut was an act of art rather than a mere job to be done. With great skill he trimmed my hair and then without discussion moved on to my beard. He was not in a hurry nor was he slow. After the main goal was accomplished he paid great attention to the details. He would not be satisfied with his final product until even my ears and nose were adequately attended to. Try and find a barber in the States who will do that!
This brings me to my favorite part. The final touch was heated shaving cream and a straight razor shave. See what I mean! The lawyers in America have made this part a distant memory. And by the way, lest you think I'm living to high on the hog as a missionary, all of this cost ten dollars, including a tip to the barber and a tip to his son that was more than generous.
It led me to a question as I climbed out of the barber chair. What in the name of Heaven has happened to the barbers in America? I can't find one!
And now, an even more serious question. What has happened to the church in Antioch? I am here to tell you that as of now the flame that once burned bright here is barely flickering. I'm not being critical. I just feel that I need to give an honest report.
Yesterday I climbed a mountain to look into a cave where Peter and Paul met to discuss the urgent matters of the early church. I felt as though I was on hallowed ground. I will never read the book of Acts quite the same. This vision is forever etched in my mind. The understanding of the courageous nature of these men was almost palpable. I can't imagine greeters or ushers or even checkbooks in this scenario. I could however, conjure up a picture of men who understood determination and sacrifice.
But, as the nearby Mosque blurted out the call to prayer, I was hammered with the question, "What happened to the church here?" How is it this special place has become a shrine controlled by Muslims who charge Christians five bucks to take a gander at their own heritage? A strange turn of events is it not. I must report to you that the current state of the body in Antioch is far from the history of this place.
Now, rather than a church whose trademark was courage, you find a body that is shaking with fear. This fear is interesting in that it's not a fear of a current reality but instead a fear of what could happen. I am reminded of the acronym for FEAR, False Evidence Appearing Real. No longer is the body here in Antioch characterized by men who come together allowing iron to sharpen iron, and then before the Lord come to unity in their differences. Instead, the body is marked by division as men worry about the health and financial viability of their own fiefdoms rather than together engaging in kingdom activity. The division and the fear here are all too familiar and have brought kingdom activity almost to a standstill.
Well there is the analysis. Does it make you feel as cheery as a brand new haircut in a mens barbershop? Don't despair. The final chapter has not been written in this place. As I was considering all this I received an email from a friend that was a simple Bible verse. It was Romans 15:1. It says in essence that we who are strong have the responsibility to help out those who are weak rather than to live life for ourselves. There it is. There is a response fit for a man. It is basically a call to humility and to consider, as Paul writing Philippians would suggest, that the needs of others are more important than our own needs. I am not discouraged by the state of the body here. I am well aware that God is not finished here. The grandeur of the movement that was once here will be again. In fact, I am sure that He will use the people He has called, this fearful and fractured body in this place to usher that glorious Bride into existence. He will be faithful to complete what He has started. Now, here is the interesting part. He may even allow some of us "stronger" brothers and sisters in the West to come alongside these "weaker" brothers and be a part of what He is doing rather than simply living toward our own interests. Wouldn't that be cool. I have already told the Lord I'm in if He so desires. I would love to go to that barbershop again.