True justice begins with seeing and believing in the dignity of every human person. It begins with recognizing God’s image in each of our neighbors, and it proceeds with service that corresponds with that transcendent truth. When distortions manifest, the destruction varies. But it always begins with a failure to rightly relate to this simple reality.
Thus, transformation often begins with a basic shift in our perceptions about others; how we see transforms how we serve. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that this can begin with something as simple as a haircut.
Last Christmas, Ogden Rescue Mission offered an interesting holiday gift to the homeless community, welcoming local hair stylists from the surrounding area to donate their gifts by offering free haircuts.
It was a simple gesture, and it’s one that doesn’t fill a belly or meet what we might call an “immediate need.” A haircut is, in so many ways, “superficial.” Yet the response from these recipients demonstrates the importance of remembering our divine personhood, and how easy it can be to forget.
“It makes me feel like I’m respectable again,” says one man. “I look like, you know, an average person.”
“It makes me feel human again,” says another. “It’s awesome. Brings a little tear to my eye.”
That something as simple as a haircut can have this sort of impact, making someone “feel human again,” teaches us the power of personhood and the dangers of the lies surrounding it. When we seek to serve the homeless, how often do we approach them with these same perceptions? How often are we unknowingly reinforcing distortions about their identity, rather than encouraging them and prophetically lifting them up in prayer, affirming their dignity and value regardless of the circumstances?
As John Perkins puts it: “You don’t give people dignity. You affirm it.”
These hair stylists did something simple, but they struck at the very starting point of where true charity begins. Each person is beautiful and valuable and worthy — created in the image of a God who has a plan and purpose to redeem and restore.
Let us help others in seeing and embracing this truth, and when we encounter those in severe struggle and need, let us be not forget it ourselves.