html 4.0 transitional//en"> Tonsorial artistry and remembering a pioneer

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Tonsorial artistry and remembering a pioneer

Being the son of a barber I was intrigued when I read some of the papers of Baptist pioneer missionary to China, Edgar L. Morgan of Missouri. One short piece he wrote was titled "Tonsorial artistry" and appeared in Stateside papers about 1910.

Morgan wrote, "On the Chinese street of our interior towns the barbers for Chinese pate were not to be thought of [as barbers for Westerners].

"They operated in public in view of all passers by. The hair was softened by hot towels, no lather was used, and the scraping with a crude razor, which some blacksmith had hammered out, bared the scalp completely, with the exception of a tuft on the top, from which the queue was suspended."

Morgan along with his wife, Lelah May, went to China in 1905. Their son, Carter Morgan, was born to them in Laichow, China, in 1913, and was a colleague of ours in Hong Kong.

Early missionaries had to depend upon their wives to cut their hair and their son's hair. The style for Western men, a hundred years ago, was a tad longer than worn today. Also the wives frowned on their husbands having a tuft on top for a queue.

In the early 19th century some missionaries did have their hair shaved and wore a queue in hopes of being more acceptable to the Chinese of the time. So it was up to the wives and mothers to learn the art of tonsorial care so the men and boys of the mission were presentable.

We identify the queue with the Chinese, but it is actually not a Chinese custom. The custom of wearing such a hair style, sometimes called a "pigtail" down the back, was brought to China by the Manchus. The Manchus and Chinese all look alike to us Westerners. The Manchus are a distinct race from northeast China. They overran the Ming dynasty in 1644 and brought all their customs and manners with them.

They were great horsemen and conquered the Mongols before taking China. From 1644 until 1911 this Manchu minority governed the Chinese majority. The Morgans first six years in China were under the rule of the Manchus. In 1911 the revolution came and the Republic of China was born. The Republic of China is now the government of Taiwan.

There are many reasons I appreciate Edgar Morgan. One is that he had such a fine son who worked in Hawaii and in Hong Kong where we knew him.

Another reason I liked the old pioneer I never met, was when I read this remark of his: "For me, being called `Reverend,' has always been distasteful."

I certainly agree with him on that unpleasant term. He said he always introduced himself as `Mister' as he "hoped to escape the publicity which is sometimes given `religious' folk." He preferred to belong to the common humanity and not some elevated clergy or like those who "advertised themselves as such by collar and dress."

When I was pastor in the Arizona mining town of San Manuel I was always greeted by the bank clerk as "Hello, Reverend." One day I decided to tell the kind lady not to call me that. She could not imagine why. What would she call me. I said, "Britt will be fine, or if you want to be formal try Brother Britt."

I found a kindred spirit in this connection years later when I was the Associate Pastor of the great Trinity Baptist Church of San Antonio. Buckner Fannin has been pastor there since 1959 and also disliked special terms for the clergy. He said on plane trips he would not tell those seated near him he was a preacher. They were more normal if they thought he was just another traveler. When some folks know you are a preacher, walls and barriers are thrown up. They get on the defensive. It is harder to be helpful and relate to people when the masks go on.

God is the only one we should hold with reverence. Do not revere men. Do not call anyone `Reverend.' Somehow through the centuries men of the cloth, pastors and preachers have encroach a bit too much on the reverence that should be reserved only for God. Hence the title evolved "Rev. So and So." The other day I got a letter from an English minister who called himself: "The Right Reverend So and So." Does that mean there are `Wrong Reverends.' Or `Left Reverends'? Personally, most TV preachers are `wrong' and ought to be `left.' ------ July, 2000


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