Cabbage Hat Christians (Theology through the Eyes of Fiction Series)

There once was a man named Colonel Crane, and as his title may suggest, he was well respected in his community. He was well known and he could walk around in his hometown and people would see him and greet him. For a middle-aged man he was considered handsome and was widely regarded as a likeable man. This was the story of Colonel Crane, until one day he woke up and did something different. He got dressed, walked out the back of his house to the garden, took off his top hat, and set it on a scarecrow. Then he took a cabbage from his garden, and he put it on his head, and he began walking around town with a cabbage hat.

As Colonel Crane began walking around town, however, he was astonished that no one really made mention of his cabbage hat. He wore this cabbage hat for a week and still people said nothing except the usual good morning. When Colonel Crane was not around, his cabbage hat was the talk of the town, but never did anyone speak of his hat to his face, until one day a young woman remarked that something was “as mad as Colonel Crane’s hatter.” The townspeople are shocked, but Colonel Crane is overjoyed, for someone has finally made mention of his hat. The next day, Colonel Crane sits down to lunch with this young woman and tells her the secret of the cabbage hat.

I think this silly story, told by G. K. Chesterton in the opening story of The Tales of the Long Bow, speaks to a greater truth. I think sometimes as Christians we wear a cabbage hat—or at least, the culture thinks we wear a cabbage hat. To our culture, our views are antiquated at best, oppressive at worst, and weird and strange all the time. Like the townspeople in the story, the culture largely ignores us and simply talks behind our back. And yet sometimes we find ourselves confronted with the truth, and the culture calls for an explanation for our decisions, actions, and beliefs. And when we are confronted with these types of encounters, there are three types of responses.

One response is to get angry and tell the culture to mind their own business. We might get nervous and agitated by their comments. A second response is to take off our cabbage hat and decide to replace it with whatever hat our culture currently sees as acceptable. In an attempt to fit in, we fail to stand out—we put on our “acceptable cap” and start to look like everybody else. The third response, the one Colonel Crane took and we ought also to take, is to sit down and explain why we are different. We can tell the culture the secret behind our differentness, the secret of our cabbage hat.

I think God has called us to look different so we have this opportunity, but we must be prepared in such circumstances to explain what makes us different and why. There are an abundance of passages in Scripture that might help answer this distinction between Christians and the world, but I love the way that God states it so succinctly in Isaiah 66:2. In this passage Isaiah, recording the words of the Lord, writes: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Let’s look at these briefly in reverse order.

Trembles at my word. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with God’s Word. It is a pretty strange notion to the world that we receive our guidance, our purpose, and our understanding of the God of the universe through some words on pieces of paper. One thing that sets us apart from the rest of the world is that we believe that in the Scriptures we find truth.  The Scriptures are true and reveal to us the very nature of God. The Bible is also living and active, a two-edged sword, but we sometimes treat it like a toothpick, something that we use when needed and then discard. If the Bible is living, then God’s Word transcends cultures; it’s not dead, it’s not lifeless, it’s not archaic, it’s not irrelevant. Yet too often we “tame” Scripture; we “de-animate” it. Like The Monster Book of Monsters in Harry Potter,[1] we tickle the spine and put it to sleep. We take the living sword of God and put it in its sheath and set it down like a pile of empty, lifeless words. Instead, we need to be a people who so experience the pulsating life of Scripture that it causes us to tremble.

Contrite in Spirit. Contrition is not a word we use often, but it shows up often in Scripture. Contrition is a sincere remorse, a genuine repentance, a desire for atonement. Our genuine recognition of our own sin and a desire to remove it sets us apart from the world.

The one who is humble. We have a desire to look good in front of other people, to puff ourselves up, yet that is not the one to whom God will look. Instead, God calls us to lives of humility, modeled perfectly in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. Paul writes about this humility in Philippians 2, and he tells us to have this same mind.

We need to examine our lives. Are our lives marked by humility, contrition, and trembling at God’s Word, or are we taming God’s Word, excusing our sin, and living in pride so that we fit in with the world? Instead, let’s put on our cabbage hats, embrace our distinctive “strangeness,” and glorify God by living as citizens marked by His kingdom and not the “kingdom” of our culture.

[1]See my post, “Lectio Divina and the Monster Book of Monsters.”

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