Friday, August 12, 2011

Bare Heads and Bears

Recently, a single female friend of mine made a joke about dating bald guys.

(BTW, she's dating a guy with a full head of hair.)

After realizing what she'd said - and acknowledging, well, the fact that I'm bald - my friend rushed to apologize, fearful she'd accidentally insulted me or something.

But no, she hadn't insulted me, and I assured her there was nothing for which to apologize. Quite frankly, I've gotten used to having very little hair. Yes, I know I'm bald. No, I'm not convinced I look better now than when I had hair. And yes, I realize baldness doesn't look compelling on most men.

Or women, for that matter.

But we cope, we victims of denuded scalps. There are bigger problems on this planet than a lack of hair, even though this particular one can bother some of us more than others.

And in the most peculiar ways.

Hair Apparent

For example, when I used to ride New York's subways, it never ceased to amaze me how desperate some men were to re-grow hair. Standing smushed in a packed subway car, holding on to the railing, and gazing down at the head of a guy seated below you, it became common to see neat rows of little red dots in the wake of mens' receding hairlines, where hair follicles had been transplanted. It looked like Farmer Jones was growing corn on the guy's forehead.

I'm not vain enough to have ever even considered hair transplants, but I'm reminded of my baldness whenever we recite, of all things, the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism and its answer. I always tend to grin with an acknowledgement of God's sovereignty - and humankind's attempt at quantifying it - as expressed by a particular line. See if you can pick it out:

Question: "What is your only comfort, in life and in death?"

Answer: "That I belong - body and soul, in life and in death - not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of His own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that He protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit His purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him."

Obviously, since God protects me so well, not one of my hairs has ever fallen from my head without His approval, and I can appreciate the theological significance of that fact. While that analogy portrays an incalculable comprehension and repository of knowledge and data on God's part, and helps describe how intimately familiar He is with all of His creation, since I'm bald, my mind has sometimes wandered into the far more trivial aspects of this truth.

For example, might the people who drafted the confession with this example about balding have been follicly- challenged themselves? Why didn't they pick some other fascinating factoid to describe God's attributes? And since God has ordained my personal baldness, is it wrong for me to wish that he kept count of changes in my life by some other method than my rapidly declining hair inventory? Or, might having less hair on my head for Him to count make up for all of the other benefits and graces He needs to bestow on my fragile, mortal existence?


After my friend's joke earlier this week, then, imagine my delight in finding this passage from 2 Kings in my devotions this morning, concerning the prophet Elisha after Elijah was taken to Heaven in a celestial chariot:

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!"  He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.  And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.  2 Kings 2:23-25

Good grief! I've read this account before, but it's certainly not one of the Bible's epic narratives, like Daniel in the lion's den or Christ's feeding of the multitudes. Have you ever heard a sermon on Elisha's retaliation against mockers of his baldness?

Actually, Elisha likely was less perturbed that the youths were making fun of his apparent lack of hair then he was their insolence at his position as a prophet of the living God. He'd just taken up the mantle of Elijah the prophet - literally, even - so maybe these kids still had no idea who he was. But it better fits the character of God for Him to zealously protect His prophet's status than to be so bothered when somebody taunts a believer's physical characteristics.

Nevertheless, it's one thing to "call down a curse" on malcontents, and then for bears to come out of the woods and kill them! Although the NIV takes a relatively wimpy stance on the translation of this account with the word "maul," other translations get far more graphic. What chaos must have ensued as two bears tore apart 42 teenagers!

Several years ago, walking down a lonely Maine road through some woods one evening, I saw several yards ahead of me, a roly-poly black ball trundle out into the roadway. This country lane was lined with tall trees, and this cub just rolled out of one wall of trees, scurried across the pavement, and into another thick bank of trees on the other side.

It was so cute, and regular readers of my blog know I don't say that tritely.

By that time, I had reached the spot at which the cub had crossed the road, and - unwisely, in retrospect - I crept to the tree I'd seen him dart in behind.

As I slowly approached, I could hear the little bear, likely frightened out of it little wits, start to instinctively climb the tree, whose bark was old and crusty. Displaying remarkable acumen for such a young animal, the bear scooched itself around the other side of the big, fat tree to keep itself out of my sight. Yet alas, the crusty old bark gave way in its claws, and the cub dropped from the tree, about three feet, to the leaf-cushioned ground below.

As adorable as ever, it let out a muffled, painless grunt when it hit the base of the tree. I could practically hear it go "oof!" After catching its breath, and figuring it was now or never, it picked itself up quickly and scampered into the thick forest, by now rapidly descending into dusk's deep darkness.

I stood there for a minute, reveling in what I'd just witnessed, and so impressed at the bear's dexterity and human-like grunt when it fell. Then I remembered something: There is no such thing as a cub on its own! Certainly not in this part of coastal Maine, at least. Wherever there's a young bear, its mama is somewhere close by.

I didn't run, but I turned around and walked very quickly back the way I'd come, glancing over my shoulder every other step to make sure I wasn't about to become dinner for a family of bears. Thankfully, mama bear knew I wasn't a threat, and was probably more interested in giving her offspring a lecture that went along the lines of, "See what happens when you don't follow me closely?"

I've been called worse things in my life than "baldy," and nobody has to worry about me cursing them to death if they use that term towards me. Still, I take some comfort in knowing that God responded aggressively to the sensitivities of His newly-christened prophet, Elisha, who lived in a time when long hair on men was culturally significant.

"I'm Also the President"

God could have sent a pack of wild dogs to scare away the kids who were mocking Elisha. But no; He sent two bears to kill 42 of them.

For making fun of His chosen prophet's apparent lack of hair.

God used Elisha's baldness to demonstrate His own power, as well as validate Elisha's holy mandate.

Hmm... I wonder if that means hair restoration remedies are unBiblical?

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