Friday, December 4, 2009

Tall Pointy Hats ...

Have you ever wondered where the tradition of headwear came from? After all covering our heads in the cold seems like a good idea, but when practicality is no longer the goal, it seems being ornate takes over. You used to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys in a western by the color of their hats – good guys wore white, bad guys wore black. But color has long since lost any value in this regard; John Travolta made wearing black cowboy hats a fad after the movie Urban Cowboy; and as I recall the KKK prefers wearing white sheets on their heads. So color does not mean anything anymore.

In times of wars past, a helmet protected the head, and generally identified which side you were fighting for. Not anymore; these days it looks more like those in a uniform and those who are not. Berets were worn at one time by elite fighting forces, we even named one of them “Green Berets” but I am not certain the name has remained in effect, it seems to have been subsumed by the terms “Special Forces” or “Rangers” today. In any case headgear seems to have always had a role in military activities.

I guess the most identifiable place where “hats” make the biggest difference is related to royalty. Crowns and tiara’s are where the big money lies. The more ornate the crown of course, the more valuable. Crowns were meant to be rare, generally only the King ever wore a crown. Peasants would not dream of such a thing. But peasants were meant to take pride in the audacity and beauty of the crowns belonging to King and country where they were from. Adding jewels, adding artistic carvings, constructing them of complex design – all of these considerations go in to the making of a crown that is “fit for a king”. But then, who wears crowns anymore? Most are now found on display in Museums.

You could argue that due to the invention of democracy, people think differently about crowns now. No one would dare to wear a crown anymore, either for fear of it getting stolen, or for ridicule in implying they were somehow superior to their peers. As I stated above, it is not as though practicality is the goal of headwear anymore. But there is one trait in ornate headwear that seems to have survived the ages; it seems the taller the hat, the more regal, or more important must be its wearer. Look at the head-dress of American Indian tribes, the chief has many many feathers, the braves have a few depending on age, and skill. The crowns of the Pharoah’s of Eqypt were tall for the Royal couple, much less so for any other positions. Even the grand dragon of the KKK has a more ornate Sheet than his co-conspirators. And one last place I can think of off-hand, within the Catholic church, the Pope alone wears the most ornate of head-gear left on the planet. Do you ever wonder why this trait has endured?

I have a theory about it. I believe the premise was derived from Heaven itself. I imagine that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has a crown fit for His position in the Universe. I can imagine it is taller and more elaborate than any the world could ever imagine. I imagine that He sits at the right hand of His Father, who sits on the Throne at the highest pinnacle, or highest point within the city of Heaven itself. A brilliant shining beacon of light that emanates to the entire Universe. So if the most important guy gets the tallest most important hat, then it stands to reason that our God probably has the tallest, nicest one ever conceived.

My guess is that in an effort to foster vanity and inequality in our perceptions of our fellow man, Satan polluted the idea of crowns and introduced them into our various cultures with as much negative baggage as possible. Examine the contrast for a second; God our Father, despite whatever head-gear He prefers, is willing to give us any good thing at a moment’s notice – He spends His time trying to think of things to do FOR His creation, not what He can get FROM it. Yet when an earthly king puts on his elaborate crown, he very rarely puts it aside to do the work of a servant. More often, he gets caught up in the perceptions of superiority that accompany a crown, and does only the work he believes is worthy of him or his position. When we put on a crown, we become the object of service, not the instrument or the tool of it.

Yet the Old Testament of the Bible outlines very clearly the idea that NO man is superior to another in any way shape or form. Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, Elijah, and many others refused to bow themselves down in the presence of earthly kings or warlords. It was not the humility they were supposed to lose, but even the remote idea of worshipping anything other than God. To bow ONLY before God, was to show the proper respect to the proper source that alone deserved it. Bowing down before idols was considered a major affront to our Creator God. Sticks, stones, sculptures and our fellow man were not to warrant the same respect as that given to our Lord in Heaven. Many times Biblical patriarchs refused to bow themselves down to powerful earthly Kings, and risked their very lives in this seeming act of defiance. Not so with us.

When you consider the Bible’s view that indeed ALL men are created equal, and are equally flawed, it seems the teaching of bowing in submission only to God to be another reinforcement of the gospel itself. In order to be saved, we must humble ourselves only to God, accept only His gift, and submit our will ONLY to Him. It is God alone who can change us; not our pastor, or our parents, or our therapists. It is God alone who can redefine the creation of a man. It is in God alone we can be born again through the miracle of His redemptive power.

This should be a liberating concept particularly to our pastors and spiritual leaders. Those who take up the work of the Lord to spread His word, and His gospel, should be freed by not carrying the burden of undo respect or homage by their brothers in Christ. Pastors are NOT our role models, Christ alone can fulfill this calling. Pastors are NOT expected to be perfect anymore than the man in my mirror is. If I seek perfection, I should look to Christ, not to those who try to teach me. This is a liberating idea that maintains the equality of our humanity, no matter what role He chooses for us in fulfilling His good purposes and work. All the glory, all the honor, all the respect, can go to Christ – we can save the humility for each other.

As I thought about this, the concept of the pointy hat began to eat at me. Not only is the papal headwear ornate, taller than almost any other hat on planet earth, it is inscribed with the latin words – Vicarious Filii Dei – meaning ‘replacement for the Son of God’. Catholic tradition is built on the idea that the Apostle Peter was named the first Pope of the church. That Christ’s statement regarding building His church “upon a rock” was meant to mean Peter. Subsequent interpretations of this same scripture have alternate meanings, in that Peter was referred to as a Stone compared to Christ alone referred to as “the Rock” upon which the church would be built. This has been a point of contention between Catholics and Protestants for years.

But looking past which side of the interpretation you subscribe to, there is a much larger issue at hand. Where in the Bible anywhere does it recommend that any church leader should put on a tall, ornate, pointy hat? You see what happens to men in politics when they wear a crown, happens to men in religion as well. The idea of being servant of all, is replaced by becoming the object of all service. Men bow before the Pope, kiss a ring he wears on his hands. Men humble themselves before the Pope and the entire world covers him extensively in their news media. Why? ALL men are created equal, and are equally flawed. It occurs to me, the Pope must suffer much by carrying the undo burden of men bowing to his frailty. Yet I have never heard of a Pope asking believers to show homage only to Christ. Should not the greatest teacher of all direct all to the source of love, and true source of worship? Isn’t that what the original Christ did?

Throughout the life of Christ on earth He wore no kingly robes. He wore no crown, except one made of thorns to mock Him at His death. He who should have been King of all, was in fact, servant of all. Christ served us. He served the poor in person, with kindness, with healing, with truth taught in gentle humility and love. He did not command throngs to serve Him, but instead served them all Himself. Our example, was the Son of Man, the true leader of our faith, of our religion, who dressed modestly, who acted incessantly, and who loved as no other ever could or will. He wore no pointy hat in our world. He showed us what to aspire to. I wonder if there will ever be a Pope of the Catholic faith, who foregoes the pomp and circumstance, who casts down the hat in humility, and directs all those who follow him to follow Christ. I wonder if other Christians, and leaders of the faith in other churches, will ever cast aside their wealth, put aside their fame, and direct others to follow only Christ. The danger in our leaders is their belief that they in fact lead, when the truth is that only Christ can lead. We are ALL only His humble servants …

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