Barbershop Theology Pt. 1: Relationship Before Rules

1965 with my little brother and sister . . . age 9, a workin' man.

My first job was a great gig. I learned a lot about responsibility, customer service, work ethic and satisfaction in a job well done. I was a shoeshine boy.

In 1965 my dad gave me a corner of his barbershop and spotted me the money to buy Kiwi Shoe Polish, saddle soap and a few brushes.  The pool hall owner, George, gave me a couple of strips of pool table fabric. I used the green felt to finish each shoe shine with a brisk buff.

The cost for a shine was 2 bits (that’s a quarter). Often times I would get a ten cent tip. I could finish a long Saturday with a pocket full of change, black fingers and the swagger of a workin’ man. (Oh the stories I can tell you about my years in the barber shop. Lord willing, I shall do so in posts to come.)

Of course you are wondering, “Hmmm, and just how do I get a cool job like that?”

Well, you don’t have to go to college or anything. In fact, I got my start when I was nine years old. I don’t even remember interviewing for the job.
The “Privileged” Son
The elevated shoeshine-chair had been stored in the back of Dad’s shop amongst a hodge-podge of boxed and unboxed items. I think Dad had been waiting for me to get big enough to run the shoeshine business. I think I got the job because I was the barber’s son. Okay, I KNOW that’s why I got the job. Dad didn’t really need a shoe shine boy, but he had a son that needed to learn the value of work.

There were quite a few rules that came with the responsibility of shoe shine boy. The main duty was to keep the floor swept. That kept me busy.  I also cleaned the large store front windows and mirrors in the barber shop. I emptied ashtrays and kept the magazines in a semblance of order. Most important was to do a good job when people gave me their business and to always say “thank you.”

My dad brought me into his business, not because he needed me or for me to have a way to perform and be found worthy to be his son. In fact, the whole reason I was there was because I already had a father-son relationship. My dad had a lot of rules and expectations for me that didn’t apply to other kids.

A Thought and More – God Gives His Rules to His Children
You don’t perform and behave your way into a relationship with God; He delivers you into that relationship. You and I must see the significance of God’s people being led out of Egyptian slavery. Moses and company were in relationship with God before He gave them the Ten Commandments. We serve because He first served us. We love because He loved us first.  Apart from Jesus Christ we are slaves; we are in bondage to sin. Apart from Jesus we are still in “Egypt”.

Relationship before Rules
When my kids were small we had rules for the mall, the grocery store and at church. I gave my rules to MY kids, and they didn’t necessarily apply to all the kids (especially in restaurants). The parent relationship was firmly established before the rules were given.

And my shoe shine gig? That’s the son of a barber doing what a barber’s son does. The rules of the shop were given to me because of my relationship to my father not as a condition of relationship.

So, do you see that God gives guidance to his children? He has given us rules, laws, commandments because we are His, not as a system to earn his love and compassion. God doesn’t look upon our good deeds and say, “Wow, did you see that? I’m impressed!” In fact, even our best is compared a filthy discard.

In Gratitude Announce the Name of the Deliverer
Rules are not the means to enter His covenant.  God accepted an entire nation of slaves, not because they were getting it right but because HE, the Lord God Almighty, is MIGHTY TO SAVE.

Jesus gathered unto Himself the disciples before the crucifixion and He remembered with the Passover, the deliverance of God’s children.  Jesus has explained the Law and makes clear the way of the Lord. Yes, we have God’s commands and we know that Jesus summed up the Law for us. It’s about vertical and horizontal relationship – LOVE.

I grew up thinking that God’s rules were the conditions of my relationship with Him. I’ve learned that His rules are confirmation of relationship. Now I understand more completely Jesus’ word, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

*This post constitutes Part I of what will be a twelve part series I shall affectionately call, Barber Shop Theology.



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