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One of the small delights of Larry’s life is getting a haircut. At his age he still has enough to cut. It’s thinning, but visible and remote areas even curl.

The real delight comes with his monthly visit to the neighborhood Great Clips, hidden within a nearby megamarket. It’s a multiracial, multicultural mix of patrons and stylists gathered in an interior storefront, and a hubbub of lively conversation. It’s busiest and most engaging when the busload from a local retirement home comes for the retirees’ discount.

What Larry finds particularly engaging are the surprising conversations with the stylists.

The chats surround a question Larry routinely asks soon after the cloth is tucked around his neck and the opening pleasantries exchanged: “If you could have anyone in this chair other than me—someone from history, a celebrity, politician, you name it—who would it be?”

There are times when he doesn’t happen to recall that he’s already asked this of a stylist and the response is, “Oh, you’re the guy who asked me that a couple months ago!” Even then they proceed with a new answer to the same question.

Their answers are sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising. Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Taylor Swift, Barack Obama are frequent suggestions, along with other pop musicians or movie stars. Donald Trump shows up often. “I’d love to see what’s really under there!” Or “I don’t know where you stand on his politics, but if he’s in my chair, he leaves a bald man!”

Larry is no longer surprised when stylists say, “Jesus.” They describe his hair in terms of color and texture and length, shaped largely by religious art and Sunday School lessons. And then they dream of their revisions: creative dreads, a man-bun, perhaps a ponytail or a brush cut, all meant to bring a taste of contemporary culture. They always picture trimming his beard. Hair dye is never mentioned, and race or ethnicity often matches their own.

Such conversations bring Larry back to his Christian high school experience and the special assembly gathered to unveil and dedicate the recent donation of an enormous copy of Sallman’s “Head of Christ,” the 1940 portrait of Jesus later assailed by art critics as the male version of the Breck shampoo magazine ads. Like most art, as the principal pointed out, impressions and interpretations vary. Some thought they saw symbols of the Lord’s Supper—plain as day—with a chalice and host right there on his forehead. Some see a strong, manly Jesus with the firm, pointed jawline. Others see the approachable Jesus, the personal Savior, the one who died for you and me.

What Larry noticed most at the unveiling, after he wondered if Jesus might not have looked more like Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel fame, or Omar Sharif from Lawrence of Arabia, was why the portrait was hung with Jesus looking away from the stage—stage left—instead of toward it.

His gaze was clearly upward, almost other-worldly, looking at the EXIT sign above the side door. To Larry, it was if Jesus was asking along with everyone else in the assembly, “How long will this go on?”

Which seemed contrary to everything else he’d been taught in high school. Shouldn’t Jesus, with shoulder-length hair and deep in thought, be better positioned stage right, on the side looking toward the stage, a bit lower on the wall, so that he too would be an audience member, soaking up with appreciation the choir and band concerts, the presentations of the drama club, the chapel worship services? The stuff of culture and creativity. Where “The Head of Christ” was hung at the dedication assembly, and for years after, Jesus was stuck gazing heavenward, seemingly oblivious to everything and everyone around him.

After the donor was thanked and all joined in applauding this generous gift to the school, the parting hymn was “This is My Father’s World.” Right on. But by the mis-directed look on Jesus’ face, it should have been “This World is Not My Home.”

Larry was due for a haircut. He called ahead to see if the senior citizen bus was on the way. And he wondered if there might be a new stylist, a new conversation, and maybe another one about Jesus.

Dave Larsen

Dave Larsen, humorist and storyteller, is a member of Hope Christian Reformed Church in Oak Forest, Illinois, along with his wife Sally. He is the retired Director of the Bright Promise Fund for Urban Christian Education in Chicago.


  • Judie Zoerhof says:

    I love your take on this. I think about what Jesus looked like very often. We have sanitized his image to something so untouchable. We’d hate to mess up His hair! I love the first picture, a little bit neanderthal, a little concerned. That’s my Jesus!

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    Our Baptist home, small town/county seat W. Michigan in 1960s, included Sallman’s portrait placed centrally on the wall of the dining room, by which we had to pass in either direction to get to the kitchen/back door, or to the living room/upstairs/front door. His visage looked over Mom’s shoulder at the dinner table, staring at me–or was he looking past me, in that nearly-profile perspective? I’m not sure when the folks acquired the portrait—perhaps the same time they got the huge family Bible, the one with the family genealogy in the center pages between testaments? I imagine there was a time & emphasis (and a salesman!) when the portrait and the Bible were standard operating equipment for a fundy family. Sallman had other popular works—check the Sallman Art Gallery online—including the famous “I Stand at the Door and Knock” portrait, and “Jesus Praying in the Garden.” Both of those were in my United Brethren / Methodist grandmother’s farmhouse living room—one central over the living room couch, a feature of family holiday photos, with all my farming uncles seated and napping after dinner; the other placed over grandpa’s easy chair, a bit of grandma’s passive-aggressive prayer concern for his non-conformity.

  • Lois Roelofs says:

    That Jesus picture still haunts me from childhood. Happy to read some humor about it! Love the notion of a busload of retirees and discount day too. Can imagine!

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I am grateful for my parents. No toy guns were allowed in the house (of course we made them from sticks outside) and, without judging other people, no pictures of Jesus on the walls, thank youvery much.

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