2009 is now over and were already having arguments if were actually in a new decade or not, but for me 2009 was a interesting year…
In 2008 I had become frustrated in the way God hadn’t followed through on many of the promises I had thought he had made about life and work. Living in a place of frustration I knew that there must be more and that there must be a deeper rhythm of spirituality that until now I hadn’t experienced. Mid November 2008 during a night of prayer with Soul Survivor I sat on my laptop and wrote freely about God, and what seemed his inability to follow up on his promises. This out burst became several pages of lament, naming people and places that I just didn’t see God’s healing spirit at work. This frustration and outburst had left me desperate to experience far more than I had previously seen. It had been around this time that I was studying for some of the teaching at Soul Survivor. Most sermons for me have to come from a place of experience and a place of having the scripture become real to me. I imagine it like the fermentation process of a fine wine, not that I see my preaching as fine. Because we were studying Acts over the academic year I had been reading ahead and thinking about what was going to come up half a year down the line. In this time of reading I had come across once again the idea of the Nazarite vow.
The Nazarite vow is found in Numbers 6 and was made famous because of Samson who actually wasn’t the greatest Nazarite. The reality is that the Nazarite vow was practiced by many Jews right up to the days of Jesus and beyond. Some would argue that Jesus himself was a Nazarite. It is certainly true that John the Baptist followed the vow and so did Paul in the book of Acts. The vow for some was a vow for life, born at birth some were offered to YHVH as Nazarites whilst others did so for periods of time.
Numbers 6:1 reads…
“Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and tell them: When either man or woman shall make a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to Yahweh, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of fermented drink, neither shall he drink any juice of grapes, nor eat fresh grapes or dried.
All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is made of the grapevine, from the seeds even to the skins. “All the days of his vow of separation there shall no razor come on his head, until the days are fulfilled, in which he separates himself to Yahweh. He shall be holy. He shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow long. “All the days that he separates himself to Yahweh he shall not go near a dead body. He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die; because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he is holy to Yahweh. He shall separate to Yahweh the days of his separation… This is the law of the Nazirite: when the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the Tent of Meeting”.
The principle of the Nazarite dates right back to the dawn of Israel where people recognised that the rhythm of life often was far from that which God required. It was also a time that they realised that the rhythm of life stopped them from being able to connect with the God through creation because most of the time they were absent, their minds were elsewhere. People would choose to spend time living the vow not because it was a better way of life but because it was an outward sign of what they were vowing on the inside.
Lets break down the vow into the three simple areas…
Don’t drink anything of the grape, i.e. alcohol
Do not cut your hair
The vows purpose was relatively simple; by cutting out on the pulls of certain things it allows the Nazarite to focus more on God. In the same way we practice lent by giving something up, which opens us up to hearing from God for a extended periods of time this vow opens people up to freeing themselves for a extended period to hear too from God. In the lent period the idea is that by freeing yourself from objects or items that take your attention God can draw you back to places in your life that he needs to work. Often in lent when someone gives up chocolate it brings to the surface issues of addiction, need, longing and even the running away from something else, some bigger issue. Often in life we avoid wounds and deeper issues by filling our minds with other things. The Nazarite vow was about being totally committed to hearing from God, receiving his often painful healing but also to slip into a place of deeper connection with him. Lets unpack this a little more.
Why would God want someone to give up fermented grape drinks? The Nazarite should not eat or drink anything of the grape, be it the seeds or the skin. The purpose was about taking the person away from what is often thought of as worldly enjoyment. In the culture of the Nazarite wine was a significant thing, it represented Gods blessing but also the pleasures of the flesh. Often people ask what do you mean by ‘worldly pleasures’ or ‘pleasures of the flesh’, it is at the end of the day Christian jargon. The reality is don’t ask me; ask yourself what it means for you. You can’t ever say you don’t know. It’s the things that keep you from focusing clearly on God. For some its food, others drink and others it’s the desire for fame, maybe lust and sexual desires or even wealth.
The second area to follow was not cutting your hair. This could be seen as quite an odd thing to ask of someone. Surely God wants tidy, well respected and well groomed people to lead his church. Strangely that’s the point. How often when you turn on the TV and have the pleasure of flicking to the God channel so many of the preachers and teachers are suit wearing, short haired older men. The way we look is important to us and is certainly important to me. But this vow is about separating yourself from self-glory and self-promotion. In 1 Corinthians 11:14 it says that it is a shameful thing for a man to have long hair and this was nothing new. Back as nomadic people long hair was seen as glory to a woman but shameful to a man. A Nazarite is a man who is willing to humble himself to be in the position of a woman. Not cutting your hair was about getting over the self glory, personal pride self consciousness and self glory and about putting that side of you to death. Its about not worrying about what you look like and what you are wearing because what your about isn’t about promoting yourself but the one which you worship - YHVH. It’s essentially about making others greater than yourself. In a world made up of people glory seeking, desiring fame and self-promotion. The vow to not cut your hair was a reminder that others are more powerful and than you and became about bearing the weight of humility, denying all self-glory for the sake of YHVH.
The final section of the vow was about avoiding death. This for our modern understanding of the world needs some translation. We don’t see death in the same way as a nomads did camping in the desert, for us its hidden and not experienced too often. The idea of the death was that someone else’s’ death was so poisonous it would cause the person to also die. By experiencing a loved one die, something within us also dies. We have to ask the question what is it that brings us death and that should be that we would choose to avoid.
I had been writing my lament during the prayer night and I knew that I wanted to spend more time seeking what God desired for me and for my church. Because of desire I started to ask what was it that God required of me. Hoping it would be something simple and straightforward I declared to God ‘whatever’ he wanted I would do. As the weeks passed I became challenged to live for a year in the rhythm of the Nazarite. My gut reaction was that it was a little weird, but on the other hand I felt quite relieved. I was aware that some of the vow would not directly affect me. I don’t particularly enjoy beer and can’t stand wine so that wasn’t going to be a big deal.
Often I get the impression that people think church leaders a sorted, perfect and a finished work of art. The reality is the church is made up of recovering sinners and leaders are nothing more than wounded healers. For me to live out the Nazarite vow would mean being honest about what brought Cris Rogers death, what was it that effected the way I saw my self and challenged the very DNA of what God had spoken over me. I grew up in a house where fashion and looking good was important but I guess clothes had become a way of projecting to the world who I wanted to be. I had also become aware that I was knocking on the door of being 30 and I desperately wanted to make sure I keep looking in my 20’s.
I guess that fashion was one way of firmly trying to stay in my 20’s and it was also something that told me that I was ok. Every time you walk into a clothes shop that world communicates the message that to be ‘in’ and to stay fashionable you needed to have what was on the shelves. Fashion tells us who we are, what we are into, it also tells you a false lie that you will fit in if you have this stuff. It also shows a strange level of status between the cool young things and the old out of date cronies.
In my free time I would take Daisy out for a walk. Often we would pop into Topman, round into River Island and then maybe some other shop selling the next big thing. The reality is I didn’t buy a great deal, yes I have draw full of Tshirts but don’t have much money to spend on clothes so it was more about window-shopping. This rhythm of walking round shops, buying the new skinny jeans communicated to me lots of things. Firstly I wouldn’t be ‘in’ if I didn’t have the new trend from Topman and secondly that my worth came from what was in fashion.
Topman, Next, H&M were my death and for the next year I would avoid it totally.
This meant for me not even stepping into a men’s clothe shop to see what was on the rack. Deciding to live out the Nazarite vow meant that there needed to be come rules to the game. What was I going to do about clothes if I isn’t going to buy anymore and what would happen if an emergency happened, ie all my smalls disintegrated.
Rule 1 was that I wasn’t to go in any men’s clothes shops for the full year.
Rule 2 I could only wear what I already owned, which meant digging out old unfashionable clothing.
Rule 3 was that if I needed a new pair of trousers, shoes or top I had to either, borrow, by 2nd hand or make my own.
Rule 4 the only sub clause to the rules was that I could by new as long as it was fair trade.
So that has been my last year, living on only the clothes I already had, or choosing to make my own, not cutting my hair and avoiding alcohol.
The question was how would I break this to people when they asked with out sounding a nutter and most of all how to I break this to my wife.
I decided to simply break the vow into sections. Clothing being one, hair another. I decided to treat the vow like that of fasting. The bible makes it quite clear that fasting should be kept private, it wasn’t anything to boast about so I would be the same. I would only talk about it when asked what was going on and when I preached about the Nazarite vow at church I was going to totally avoid mentioning my years plan.
It wasn’t until Easter that I broached the issue of my hair with Beki. Trying to explain why the hair wasn’t going to get cut. I think it was a little of a contentions subject because when I brought it up she said “Let me think about it” and then moved on.
Early in 2009 I needed a new jumper so decided to give making my own a go. It wasn’t too hard and what came out, even though it wasn’t fashionable did the job. Its funny how when you do something a little different people are quick to try and tell you your copying someone else. Many young people jumped on the Shane Claiborne thing claiming I wanted to be him. The reality was to shrug off their comment was easier than telling them the real story.
As the year progressed it started to become quite painful. Like in lent when issues arise you have to sit for 40 days with the pain before resurrection Sunday comes around. The reality for me was it that it was like lent but permanently.
Early in the year wounds started to appear as I realised that I had filled so much of my time popping into clothes shops on days off trying to find something to do. Thursday’s is never a good day off and once you have done the cleaning what do you do with your time when you have little ones. Often we would have a walk into town, potter around the shops, grab a coffee and then walk home. I had started to come to terms with the amount of Affluensa in my life. How much time was wasted walking around shops. It also brought to the surface the pain of growing older and not having anything to mask now being in my 30’s.
Sitting with open wounds left me needing to hear about my identity in God and not the identity Topman had given me. Over time it felt like Jesus was making me own up to where my identity was coming from and if I am honest this process was painful. For many years through my teens I wasn’t the cool kid, I wasn’t in the in-crowd and this had left me feeling somehow second class. Over years of feeling second class, not as good as and less able, it had left me feeling deep down that I had little to offer. This process of stripping back, living out the Nazarite vow started the healing of seeing myself as not second-class and not as good. But now seeing myself as a wounded healer, I was coming to terms with being Gods son whom he was well pleased.
In a world that focus on the smart, fashionable, designer and a church which likes its well polished, clean cut church leaders this process started to free me from this. I never have had a desire to be the next big thing, or to build my own ministry, but this process of living on less, not worrying about how I looked made me even more aware of my reliance on God and not my own strength.
The year had kicked off with a trip to Masenco Kenya and seeing the poverty I had been inspired to take the vow as serious as I could. As the weeks turned into months and as I pin pointed my own failings in how I saw myself a deeper sense of spiritual awakening happened. I embraced the inner hippy and started to enjoy living on less in such a overcoming the deadness kind of way.
The reality was that the year didn’t start well, Beki had been taken into hospital and had to have an operation and other challenging things at work meant that I had to rely more than ever on Gods grace. We use that term ‘God’s grace’ lots in the church but often not really know what it means. I have come to realise what this means to live on his grace and not my strength.
The Nazarite vow for me became more than not doing a few things, but became about sitting with my self and God for a long, long while. It also became about looking at myself and my identity and acknowledging some of my dark side. I’m not a Sith, but there are bits of me that I am happy to avoid the light getting near. This year has been about sitting for prolonged periods of time in Gods presence as he pin points the dark corners and sheds light on them.
Its been interesting to hear roomers about what I have been doing this last year. Sometimes hearing people speak back to me sections of by vow they have heared others talking about has made it at times seam utterly weird, pointless and almost comic book but for me it has been deeply profound. I guess for the church as well as the world the vow in today’s society looks odd. What’s the big deal shopping, grooming and fashion. But for me I have found avoiding it utterly life giving.
I started out wanting to see God do more in others and ending the year having seen God do more in me. I preach a lot about being put back together by God but the reality is I speak about this from personal experience.
The last year for many looks like I’m taking this faith thing for too seriously but the reality is I think more of us need to take it seriously. I’m leaving 2009 with a increasing strength in God. I never wanted to be a church leader that led a large church and I am more determined than ever to be apart of a small resurrection community. More determined to be a leader who leads people to stripping away the fig leaves and help people to sit orquadly with their maker for a while.
I want to do away with the gloss, and professionalism and embrace the orquard redemptive gospel of being honest with the God that made us. I want to help people tap into the divine energy that formed them and can transform them.
There can’t be any going back for me now. I’m not sure I want the vow to end, I’m not sure where it will go but I am sure that I’m not stepping into Topman for a long time to come. The year is up but the vow will continue. What happens with the hair I’m not sure, we will have to see what Beki says about that, but I am sure Ive never been happier about the way I look. The reason is because my identity isn’t reliant on what I am wearing.
Anyone can take up the Nazarite vow, the only rule is that to become one you have to speak it out loud. Nazarites would need to have told someone, it sounds a odd rule but never the less it’s a rule. The most simplest way of doing it was as one Nazarite walk passed another they would said to each other ‘me too’.
I hope that more will embrace the ‘me too’.