June 30, 2014

By Fred Koenig

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks, “Why the long face?” I walk into Annual Conference. A pastor asks, “Why the long hair?” I reply, “I’m growing my hair long to appear more relevant to a younger, more diverse population. It’s my own version of being edgy. I like to call it Fredgy. And when I decide it’s not working, it will be a lot easier to get rid of than a tattoo.”
    
Actually, my hair does have a story behind it. I usually get a haircut right before Annual Conference, so the people who only see me once a year have the illusion that I’m attentive to my personal grooming year round. But last year, two weeks before Annual Conference, I got a cancer diagnosis. My oncologist told me that the chemotherapy might cause all my hair to fall out, but it would probably take a few weeks. Well, I wasn’t about to waste $7 on a haircut if my hair was going to fall out anyway, so I decided to wait and see. 
    
Those few weeks came and went with no hair loss, at least no more than I’ve been experiencing in the past few years anyway. But my next MRI scan was scheduled for August 7. The results of that scan would determine if I needed more chemotherapy. So I decided to put the haircut off for another month or so. 
    
By the time my August 7 scan rolled around, my hair was longer than it has been since high school. That scan came back clear. My next scan wouldn’t be until February. I then hatched my plan – I would keep growing my hair, and then donate it to one of those “Locks of Love” types of organizations that make wigs for kids with cancer. It would be my way of being thankful for my own health, helping those who aren’t as fortunate, and feeling self-righteous and extravagantly generous without giving up one thin dime. Plus, unlike the people who only cut the end off of their long pony tails, I am willing to cut my hair down to the scalp, so it shouldn’t take that much longer to meet the required eight-inch length. 
    
I figured by this Annual Conference my hair would be very short rather than long, having learned via the internet that hair grows about ½ inch per month. But I failed to use basic geometry to calculate how, although you can add six inches to a single hair’s length in a year’s time, it takes much longer to pull those hairs together into an eight-inch pony tail. 
    
I knew my hair would cause a reaction at Annual Conference with people who hadn’t seen me since last year. On the plus side, I figured at least Annual Conference is one place I could go where having long hair doesn’t lead to a lot of people asking me if I know where they can buy some weed. 
    
Last year at Annual Conference I had a fresh incision several inches long at my waistline, this year it has healed to the point that it doesn’t look much different than the 35-year-old appendix scar that it mirrors on the other side. The effects of the chemotherapy have all but disappeared from my blood tests.  I’m in a better place. 
    
In a much broader sense, I think most of the Missouri Conference feels the same way. Annual Conference is a time that we look back on the past year, while making plans for the future. Some of us have encountered unexpected challenges, but as Rev. Mark Sheets put it in Sunday morning worship, we can take faith in the fact that the best is yet to come.