Today’s controversial topic? The summer beard.
Among all the difficult and complex issues I’ve tackled since I started this blog, the summer beard just has to rank … yes, close to the bottom.
Still, let’s think it through.
For years summer vacation has been a good time for me to grow my whiskers. Like most of what happens on vacation, a beard requires little work. Just the way I like it. Give me two weeks – or so – and there it is. As easy as floating in the cool, fresh water of Lake Michigan.
So, that’s what I did most summers. I let it grow. Until about mid-September, or even early October, when I remembered that beards actually require more upkeep and maintenance than the clean-shaven look. And that’s when I typically shaved the thing off.
Trust me on this: it’s easier just to shave every morning.
What was interesting all those years, though, was coming back to church on Sunday morning and looking like Jeremiah Johnson, fresh from hunting grizzlies in the north woods. I didn’t keep records, but my clear sense is that more women than men objected to the look. I didn’t ask for their opinions, of course, but that didn’t stop church members (especially the women) from letting me know how much they didn’t like the beard.
One Sunday morning – this was a long time ago at my New Jersey church – a woman even handed me a brand-new disposable razor at the door after worship.
“You should use this,” she said.
But things started to change about 10 years ago. My beard still came in – with absolutely no effort on my part – but the thing was clearly changing color. First it was a couple of white patches on my chin, and then, well, the whole thing went white. I had turned into Santa Claus.
And that ended the fun.
Until this summer when I spent some time in the Dominican Republic – without running water or a mirror. And – you guessed it – the thing reappeared just like that.
I wasn’t disappointed by the reaction at church either. I discovered that women still don’t like beards. (My wife would be an exception to this rule, by the way.) But beards at my church are more common than you might think. Every year on Maundy Thursday my church presents a moving drama which ends with a re-enactment of Leonardo daVinci’s “The Last Supper.” It’s always one of the best-attended services of the year.
So, around the beginning of Lent, a few men start learning their lines and growing their beards. Here’s the thing: No one says anything about it. They wear their beards proudly. I suppose everyone knows that they’ll all be clean shaven by Easter.
I’ve been asking the director to write a role for me – Caiaphas, the high priest, seems like a good fit – but so far nothing has happened. Maybe now that I’ve demonstrated what I can do in the facial hair department, he’ll change his mind.
Even though I’ll be shaving soon, I want to point out what the Bible says. Mostly the Bible assumes that men will be bearded which – to me – ought to settle the matter. However, scripture often has a way of offering another, opposing point of view. In Genesis 41:14, the story clearly tells us that Joseph shaved before going to meet with Pharaoh. A sign of respect? I don’t know. Hard to tell.
A better story, I think, is found earlier in Genesis where Esau (Jacob’s fraternal twin) is described as a hairy man. Jacob, in contrast, is smooth.
What can we conclude from this story? Not as much as I would like. Even though Jacob was probably clean shaven, he was a scoundrel. And Esau, who probably had a big bushy red beard, was not terribly bright.
Facial hair – or the lack of it – doesn’t seem to be a factor in God’s plans.
I’m glad I was able to shed some light on that difficult subject.
(Photo credit: No, that’s not me. That’s actually George Clooney, though we’re frequently mistaken for each other.)