Barbershop Theology – a lesson from a hot check

Barbershop Theology

I have attended college. I have attended four of them. I learned a lot at college. I have degrees that suggest, “Hey, this guy learned.” But I can never replace the lessons I learned as the shoe-shine boy in my dad’s barbershop.

Hundreds of people came through Caldwell’s Barber Shop over the years.  Between public school and the barber shop I received an education in Apache, Oklahoma. Here’s another story that has helped me understand a little more about the world, myself, and the truth to live by.

Salesmen and “Simpletons”

A unique sub-set of folks that came through Apache viewed us locals as rubes or hayseeds. I was always entertained when some of the locals would oblige the stereotype. They did it purposefully. Most of the people that visited our fair small town were gracious, winsome, and very kind. A few of them were condescending (a few salesmen) they “shore was high themselves.”

As a boy, I was maybe ten or eleven years old, I could be easily impressed by a smooth presentation and a new gizmo with an interesting name. The old timers who loitered in Dad’s barbershop weren’t so easily moved. My job was to observe from the sideline as the pitchman worked the crowd and then watch as one of the locals morphed into Gomer Pyle.

It wasn’t until after the pitchman left that that I was schooled on the finer arts of discernment and wisdom. Humorous conversation followed a few of these one-acts.

On the one hand I had watched the local characters become very impressed; a couple of guys would look at one another in utter amazement. They would even recommend a person up at the drug store or down at the Co-op who would just love to buy this or that thing. On the other hand there was a bit of cackling about stains on the pants of the guy selling stain remover. Lest I create my own stereo-type, I must say that most salesmen were honest men looking for directions or a country-priced haircut.

The Dandy

One fellow stood out amongst all others. He had all the markings of a guy who “wasn’t from around here.”  He was all duded up; he look like he was going to church, but he had a soft-looking kerchief in the pocket of his suit coat and a ring on his little finger. (Later I learned that it was a pinky-ring. In some places pinky-rings were cool … but not in this place, circa 1966.)

Boy was he a big talker. “What a day! How about that weather out there? Boy I need a good haircut and I hear this is just the place to get it! You must be Oscar, my name is blah blah blah and on and on.” I don’t think he ever stopped talking the entire time Dad cut his hair. After my dad pulled his barber’s sheet the fella jumped out of the chair and pulled on his fancy dress coat. He retrieved a check book out of the breast pocket and made quite a production of paying for “the best darned haircut I ever had.”

Well, a few days later Dad found out that the check was hot. It bounced; insufficient funds.

Fool Me Once, Shame on Me . . .

So, a little over a year later, guess who shows up in the barber shop? That right, Captain-Hot-Check of the Dandy Brigade . . . and his mouth is still running.

“Yessir, boy it’s a hot one out there. I’ve been busier than a bee. I need me one of them fine haircuts.” As he is talking he is taking his coat off and setting it carefully on a hook. “No doubt about it, I need my ears lowered, I’m starting to look like a shaggy dog. I been holding off until I could get me one of them Apache barber shop haircuts.”

And as he is stepping into the barber chair there were these famous words from Dad, “You can get you one of them Apache haircuts as soon as you pay for the last one.” At which time he magically produced the bad check from his previous visit.

The dude just turned, took his jacket and left the shop. I mean really, who did he think he was dealing with?

Lessons Learned

It’s funny what a young boy can learn about dealing with people, business, and the term non-sufficient funds (NSF). All you have to do is pay attention. An NSF check is often referred to as a bad check or dishonored check, or more colloquially, a bounced check. The bottom line is that someone doesn’t have the means to back their promise.

The apostle Paul makes the application to our spiritual goodness (a moral bank account from which to draw).

“And being found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9). Did you catch that? No self-righteousness. You can write a check on personal goodness account, but we are spiritually bankrupt.

Jesus addressed the condition of a self-righteous church in these words: ‘thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked’ (Revelation 3:17).

What Do We Owe God?

Wouldn’t it be great if we really had the means to write a check and pay our debts to God? I mean think about it, for every offense toward God or man, just reach into your purse or pocket, write out a check and everything would be alright. Appease all guilt, all shame, and every disgrace . . . and satisfy personal responsibility, just write a check. We owe God the full intent of our creation. We owe him a complete and sinless life.

The problem is — NSF

What do we lack? How serious is the offense of man? How unfit are we to enter God’s holy presence?

Man’s condition is more desperate than he dares to imagine. There is no glad submission to God; all we like sheep have gone astray, we are spiritually scattered; we are totally unable to save ourselves. We are spiritually and morally bankrupt. We need someone to pay our debt.

Gee, that’s the negative part of Christianity that I don’t like. Bad, bad, bad . . . this bludgeoning of mankind isn’t a very uplifting message. You call that good news?

“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued and that Jesus was glad to die for me.
This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time.”  Tim Keller

Jesus Paid it All, All to Him I Owe

Isaiah 53 surveys the weight of sin falling to the Lamb. He absorbs the iniquity of us all. That stroke, the debasement, humiliation and grief rips into the Messiah and is more painful than we can truly comprehend. Indeed, Christ takes our guilt into His very being; it is a burden beyond our comprehension.

Do you believe that? Do you believe that you are a debtor to God – a sinner who has sinned against God? Do you understand that you can never pay back God what you owe? Do you believe that your Only Hope is through the one sacrifice of Jesus?

Good News

This is the good news of the Gospel. You can distinguish the Gospel from religions by the news of Christ’s sacrifice and His righteousness imparted to our account.  Religion on the other hand is not news but advice. You receive instruction on how to build up one’s moral-goodness-account. It’s bad advice vs. good news.
About a year ago I read an article about Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, who had just appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Sarah confessed terrible choices and gross acts of stupidity. She and Oprah watched a tape in which showed the duchess selling access to royal secrets to a reporter. It was sad and embarrassing.

Finally Oprah said, “You on that tape – that is a spiritually and morally bankrupt person.”

And Sarah agreed.

I could only think, yes ladies, we are all spiritually and morally bankrupt without the grace of God. We all need a resource beyond ourselves.

Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession (II Cor 2:14)

  • “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)
  • “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)
  • “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25)




2 thoughts on “Barbershop Theology – a lesson from a hot check”

  1. Dallas – I remember walking into the locally owned stores in Tuttle and seeing hot checks taped by the cash register. Later in college, when I wrote a hot check for a couple of dollars over an amount (not ill-intent, but lack of doing what it takes to manage my own bookkeeping – thus “depraved indifference”) that one check set off probably ten other bounced checks for amounts of $1.25; $3.89, etc. These are the kinds of amounts one writes when in college. Anyway, that one bounced check for $75.00 ended up costing me about $200 which was my whole next paycheck, plus many phone calls to vendors, plus many trips to “go pick up the hot check and trade with cash.” Ugh. NSF…unfit to write checks, AND a huge amount of energy to overcome bad choices. P.S. Loved the post. The fact that your dad just kept the check and basically offered the guy a “test” to make up for his nsf was a special character-trait. – RDK

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