A Small Thing

March 31, 2005 | 50 comments
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When I was in graduate school, I had long hair and a beard. It was, after all, the early 70s. I often wore overalls to class, and Janice and I had a large garden, a large dog, and one small baby and then two. The State College, Pennsylvania, Branch of which we were members was small and very close. Janice and I continue to use our experience in that branch, where what was important was our membership and participation rather than how we looked, what politics we had, what kinds of work we did, how smart we were, or what social stratum we came from as our implicit measure for what our church experience should be like. I am sure that others with experiences in small branches or wards know that same measure.

Though I disliked missionary work when I was on my mission (and still do), the closeness of the State College Branch and the needs of the missionaries meant that I went on “splits” with the missionaries fairly regularly. I could not say no. And it seemed to both the missionaries and to me that we were able to get into homes that we might not have gotten into otherwise because I was with them. Slacks and a sport shirt didn’t hide my long hair and beard, so my presence at the door often eased people’s anxiety somewhat. I was neither narc nor salesman.

One Sunday, the second counselor in the district presidency–a friend and a fellow graduate student–took me aside after the morning block of meetings for an interview. (This was before the three-hour block, the arrival of which was a huge blessing–another post.) “We want to call you to be the ward mission leader,” he said.

I wasn’t happy about the call, but I was getting ready to tell him that I would accept it when he continued: “However, taking this position would require that you shave and cut your hair. We know that you are a grad student in philosophy and that requiring this of you might cause you problems, which we don’t want to do. So, if you tell us no, we will certainly understand. It is important to us that you do well in school, and we don’t want to require something of you that would interfere with that.”

I laughed. I was the only student in the philosophy program who had long hair or a beard. Everyone else was more or less clean-cut, and the most clean-cut of them were members of the National Caucus of Labor Committees, followers of Lyndon LaRouche, at that time a radical Marxist. If I recall correctly, his followers at Penn State spent a great deal of time and energy proselyting for Marxism in front of unionized steel plants in Pittsburgh, which made knocking on doors in Korea look very easy. I recall vividly that they looked forward to the impending collapse of the U.S. in class war, which they were sure would occur in 1976 (because LaRouche had told them it would)–and they had posted in the grad student common room a list of political offices to which they would be appointed “after the Revolution,” as well as a list of “enemies of the Revolution” who would be eliminated when the time came. My name was on the list, as one of the LaRouchites with whom I’d been friendly explained, because I was clearly a danger to the Revolution. I’m not sure why. He didn’t make that clear. Perhaps it was the fact that I looked like a hippie and had the reputation among the other students of belonging to some community that took a lot of my time. Today I wouldn’t, but then I laughed and ignored the list.

In response to the calling as ward mission leader, I said, “I don’t have a problem cutting my hair or shaving, but it seems to me that it is to the missionaries’ advantage if I don’t,” and I described my experience. Since that seemed reasonable to my friend, we agreed that I had accepted the call, but he suggested that before I shave I take up the question with the mission president, Hugh Pinnock (later of the Seventy, now deceased). I gave President Pinnock a call and made arrangements to meet him in his office in Harrisburg. At that meeting we talked briefly about missionary work and I described why I wanted to keep my beard and long hair. He concluded by saying, “I think that makes sense. I’ll ask President Kimball,” then president of the Church. I was shocked at that answer. I had never imagined anyone actually asking President Kimball something, and I had assumed President Pinnock would either tell me that I needed to cut my hair or not. “Perhaps I won’t have to,” I thought on the drive home. A few days later, President Pinnock called me: “President Kimball says to get a hair cut and a shave.” I did and didn’t really mind.

I don’t have any grand, general principles to draw from that experience, but it was formative of my relation to the Church. I had learned a great deal about what it means to be a brother in the Church from my membership in the branch. I had come to love the other members of the branch and to think of ourselves as as genuinely part of each other, as members in the literal sense. This experience added to what I had learned by teaching me that I owe the Church and its members. Though they only asked me to cut my hair and beard, I owe them my life, and I can give what I owe without grudging, something I do not always do, but now know can be done.

With age, my beard has grown too wiry for me to still have it and kiss Janice, so I wouldn’t grow it back even if BYU dropped the prohibition on them. But in the best of all possible worlds, I would have a beard, kiss Janice, and teach at BYU. So this experience didn’t teach me the importance of being close cut and clean shaven. I know that what happened could have happened in an offensive or oppressive way. But it didn’t. Perhaps I could have learned from this that my understanding is inferior to that of the Prophet (and I’m willing to grant that it is), but that isn’t really what I learned. Instead, I learned that I can be asked to do things that I do not want to do and then do them happily.

What happened was a small thing, probably something that only I remember. But in that small thing I learned about consecration existentially; I received a measure for my life, a standard to which I far too often do not measure up, but that stands as a testimony of the possibility of a different way of being in the world.

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50 Responses to A Small Thing

  1. Rusty on March 31, 2005 at 1:44 am

    Jim,
    Thank you for not telling us “…then our branch doubled in baptisms…” It’s nice to see that this decision may or may not have had an effect on the missionary work, but rather it was a personal experience between you and the Lord.

  2. quinn mccoy hansen on March 31, 2005 at 3:27 am

    well, i am a graduate student, and i do have long hair, although no beard (i dont like ´em). However, my hair isnt really that long. But the thing that always interests me is beards. Here in Portugal it is quite normal for men to have beards.

    I had a bishop in Coimbra who had a huge moustache. Once he went to the Madrid temple and the temple president(an american) said that if he wanted to continue as a veil worker he would need to shave off his moustache. I thought that it was kinda weird. He is a respected man, probably the best bishop in the stake, and he had to shave his moustache, something that he has had for nearly 30 years. Well he did.

    I understand that im some cultures a bearded man might mean one thing, but in Portugal and Spain it is very natural and part of the cultural history. I just cant see any connection between beardless men and righteousness, or beardless men and obeying the commandments. If beards and long hair are not what is wanted, why are god and jesus always shown with beards?

    This world-wide church needs to understand that some cultural ideas are purely american and not mormon. It reminds me of the ecuadorians that have long hair and still serve missions. It is part of their culture, and it doesnt get in the way of their spirituality. I think that we need to understand where american culture starts and ends and were mormon culture starts.

  3. Derek on March 31, 2005 at 4:07 am

    Way back when, you had to have a long beard and eat bugs if you wanted to be a Prophet. Today, it appears to be the opposite.

  4. ukann on March 31, 2005 at 4:41 am

    I remember back in England in the 70′s when a visiting authority instructed the variously-bearded and mustachiod priesthood leaders to shave off the facial hair. Most did, some did not – what is interesting is the ones who obeyed are still active and faithful, the ones who protested are no longer active. I’m grateful to be in a Ward that is so accepting and tolerant, no matter how people dress or how long their hair is (for the males). Some of our young people are drifting back with long hair, dressed in jeans, etc. and new members come in casual wear and smelling sometimes of cigarettes, but they’re all welcome. It’s just great to see them in the fold. As my son-in-law often comments in his downright Yorkshire way – “if sin smelled, we’d all stink”. By great love, gentle tolerance, and example, they’ll make progress in their own way and time, as we all do.

  5. quinn mccoy hansen on March 31, 2005 at 4:50 am

    I agree with ukann when you imply that not obeying priesthood leaders is not the right path to follow, and it is most certain that it is one path that leads to falling away. However, my problem is with the idea that american members have surrounding beards. Is the instruction to shave the beard “inspired” by god or is it “inspired” by cultural ideas?

  6. Eric Russell on March 31, 2005 at 7:15 am

    Quinn,

    I think most people will agree that being clean-shaven is a culturally based idea and that it doesn’t always translate perfectly in other cultures.

    However, I think you’re still missing the point to Jim’s post.

  7. Lamonte on March 31, 2005 at 7:55 am

    Jim,

    Thanks for that great story about a small issue in your life that has evolved into a larger principle. My wife and I work in the Washington DC Temple as ordinance workers. In the temple (I think it is the rule in all temples) the male workers are asked to be clean shaven, unless there is a compelling reason not to be. I know of an older church member in another city who was called to be a temple ordinance worker and when he was informed that he would have to shave his beard, he declined the calling. Because I know this individual to be a good man I have wondered why he would let such a small thing stand in his way of obtaining wonderful experiences and blessings while working at the temple. I have wondered if it is an attitude of thinking that our church services is a burden more than it is a blessing in our lives. I wish I could say that I whole heartedly accept and carry out every calling I have in the church. Unfortunately that is not the case. But like you Jim, I have “learned that I can be asked to do things that I do not want to do and then do them happily.”

    I love beards although my only experience in growing one was twenty years ago and it was mostly an unsuccessful attempt. I am glad that we have grown as a church society that accepts people of many different appearance types but I am even more grateful for those fellow church members who see the big picture and accept guidance from their leasders in the small things, even when it might run counter to their personal feelings. Thanks again for sharing your story.

  8. danithew on March 31, 2005 at 8:44 am

    Nice post Jim. I especially enjoyed that line about the best world being one where you could grow a beard, kiss your wife teach at BYU. There’s a sort of simplicity and humility to these desires that elicits a good soul chuckle. I also enjoy the idea that a request for a beard would be transmitted through official channels all the way to the President of the Church. Not many people can say they’ve received that kind of personal instruction from the prophet.

    Let me just add that I suffer from beard envy. I couldn’t grow a bushy beard in any reasonable period of time and possibly even during an indefinite period of time. Once two friends of mine and I had a facial-hair competition (just letting it go and grow) for awhile and then took a picture. I don’t think I have it anymore. But I definitely came in third.

  9. Hans Hansen on March 31, 2005 at 8:58 am

    Since I am a member of AORBS (The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas) and my beard is registered with the National Beard Registry, I guess that I will never be called as a General Authority anytime soon!

    http://www.aorbsantas.com/pages/1/index.htm

    http://www.nationalbeardregistry.org/beards/Beard-details.asp?ID=1413

  10. Eric Russell on March 31, 2005 at 9:11 am

    Hans,

    I think those two links are among the awesomest things I have ever seen in my life.

  11. danithew on March 31, 2005 at 9:12 am

    But in the best of all possible worlds, I would have a beard, kiss Janice, and teach at BYU.

    When I read the title of this post “Small Things” and then above-quoted line, I couldn’t help but think of a story titled “Bontshe the Silent” by a Yiddish writer named Isaac Loeb Peretz. Here’s a little summary of the story I found online:

    Bontshe is a worker who has led a bleak life, exploited and abused by his employers and his family, but who never complains. When he dies, however, he is immediately received into heaven, and even the Devil’s Advocate is reduced to silence by the example of Bontshe’s life. Bontshe is asked by the divine powers to name his reward, and all he asks for is a warm buttered roll to be provided every morning. Was Bontshe the holy fool, saintly Jewish martyr, uncorrupted even when faced with the delights of the next world? Or is he a revolutionary worker who knows that even the demand for the most basic needs will upset the prevailing order? Is he the oppressed human being who failed to articulate his needs during his life and is therefore unable to do so after his death? In that case there is no reward in the hereafter for the suffering in this life, and all should not be accepted as ’God’s will.’

    Here’s the link for those who might want to read more about the writer and this story:

    http://www.myjewishlearning.com/culture/literature/EuropeanLit/Ashkenazi_Literature/ILPeretz.htm

    It is interesting that what Jim F. would like (if his beard were not so wiry) is rather simple and reasonable — but right now he can’t have it. It isn’t a huge injustice and he’s willing to tolerate it — but there is the idea that in the ideal world even that small concession might go away. It is interesting also how the easiest, simplest and most natural pleasures can bring us a measure of happiness at times.

    And now I am craving a hot buttered roll.

  12. annegb on March 31, 2005 at 9:14 am

    If theprophet told me personally to shave my head, I would. I’d wonder, but I’d do it.

    My friend’s husband was called into the bishopric and he shaved his beard and mustache and she went bonkers. She wrote a letter to the stake president protesting. Her husband and stake president ignored her. I don’t see how she was any better for it. She bellyached for three years about it. She just would not let that go.

    I don’t really have an opinion one way or another, but I have noticed that those who refuse to shave when asked to do so don’t seem to be happy. Their focus is on themselves and the injustice they are suffering. They go around trying to make their point and totally lose sight of gospel principles.

  13. quinn mccoy hansen on March 31, 2005 at 9:16 am

    Eric,

    most of the time i miss the point that people are trying to make, and i understand that i perhaps didnt comprehend what jim was writing, or atleast what he was wanting to express. however, my question stems from this:

    “I had learned a great deal about what it means to be a brother in the Church from my membership in the branch. I had come to love the other members of the branch and to think of ourselves as as genuinely part of each other, as members in the literal sense.”

    the brotherhood of the church is a definition that depends upon the brothers of the churchs. who are these people, these brothers?

    what i meant to say is that few brothers from a branch in portugal or spain would have a problem with bearded men being the stake presidents or temple workers, with forming part of their brotherhood. therefore, i often times dont understand when an american leader comes and instructs the portuguese to cut their breads, when the brothers here are so very confortable with it.

  14. Brett McKay on March 31, 2005 at 9:34 am

    Every couple of months here in my student ward the Elder’s quoram president gives a lesson on personal gromming. I understand the intention, but do you have to devote a whole preisthood lesson to it? I have kind of long hair, so I always wonder if the lessons are directed at me. I don’t plan on cutting my hair anytime soon. I get too many compliments about my thick lushious frop.

  15. Eric Russell on March 31, 2005 at 9:39 am

    “i often times dont understand when an american leader comes and instructs the portuguese to cut their breads”

    That’s just the thing. Most Americans don’t understand it fully either. It’s a small, insignificant, probably unnecessary thing. In some cases, as Jim mentioned, it can even be counter-productive.

    The rules about beards have been lamented in the bloggernacle before, and they probably will be hundred times more in the future. What is inspiring about Jim’s post is the humble response. I think many will agree to reservations about the necessity of being clean-shaven. But revisiting such concerns is exactly the opposite of the theme and tone of Jim’s post. It’s not that such concerns aren’t warranted, it’s just that it’s unfortunate to miss the breath of fresh air that Jim’s post offers.

  16. quinn mccoy hansen on March 31, 2005 at 9:49 am

    Eric,

    you make a good point, and i agree. i suppose that my response is related to the story that i initially told, which happened recently, thus producing my questioning.

  17. Wilfried on March 31, 2005 at 10:37 am

    Great message, Jim. There are interesting aspects to the story. You did not obey blindly, you presented your arguments, you listened. But then you drew the right conclusion. A small and simple thing, indeed. It still requires a fundamental attitude. Thanks also, Eric, for reminding us what this post is about.

  18. john fowles on March 31, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    danithew, I love the story of Bontshe the Silent! But remind me, how does it relate to Jim’s experience? In Bontshe’s case, even the devil’s advocate had to drop his case against Bontshe, so oppressed had been his life. Bontshe was then offered his choice of anything in the heavens above. The irony of the story is that Bontshe just wanted that piece of bread. Remember how the story ends: the devil’s advocate laughs heartily. Maybe I’m nit-picking, but I don’t think it’s apposite to Jim’s best of all possible worlds.

  19. Geoff B on March 31, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    annegb, I agree with you. I really enjoy your comments, both here and at M*. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  20. Seth Rogers on March 31, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    I’m more interested in Jim’s discoveries about himself than I am about the shaving issue. The real point seems to be that we can make sacrifices for our beliefs, even if they seem really stupid.

    March around the walls of Jericho several times while shouting? No way! We’d look like a bunch of morons!

    The Israelites probably did look like a bunch of morons. But the walls did fall down as promised.

    I believe Joseph Smith stated that a religion that does not have the power to require the sacrifice of ALL things does not have the power to save anybody. I suppose that applies to stupid things too.

  21. Mark B. on March 31, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    In the best of all possible worlds, my face would go bald and my head would grow hair.

  22. Matt Jacobsen on March 31, 2005 at 1:38 pm

    I’ll second Wilfried’s reaction to Jim’s post. In the end Jim obeyed, but not before expressing his concerns and alternatives openly to his leaders. Jim learned from the experience, and I’d like to think that his leaders did too. If everyone is the same position did the same thing, I could imagine the cultural underpinnings of the policy being softened somewhat. The problem now is when those who refuse to shave do it in a confrontational manner it only proves to the leaders that the refusers have even more need to learn humility and repent. The existence of the cultural rule fulfills the stereotype that all long-haired, bearded men are rebels (if they weren’t, they would shave).

    Which leads me to the question, At what point do these rules cease to be calls to sacrifice and become stumbling blocks to some saints’ progress? Or can they at all? Interesting that a couple people have stated that everyone they’ve known who refused to shave has become inactive. Of course, we can claim that the refusal is only cover for deeper, darker sins. Still, I would not want it on my conscience that someone left the church because I made them feel inadequate about such a small thing, regardless of what else they might be struggling with. Commandments in small things are a double-edged sword — they give use yet another reason to feel good about ourselves because we keep commandments, and yet they introduce yet another way in which to commit sin.

  23. P. G. Karamesines on March 31, 2005 at 1:39 pm

    Jim F.,

    Sounds like we were in the same stake in PA in the early 70s (with Hugh Pinnock as M. P.)! But from the sound of things even if I had noticed you then at stake conferences I wouldn’t have recognized you later when I took your classes in the 80s.

  24. Kingsley on March 31, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    Hans Hasen, you handsome devil, you look like a GA should anyhow.

  25. Kingsley on March 31, 2005 at 3:10 pm

    You have to admit, though, that having an actual beard card in your wallet & solemnly showing it to the guardians of, say, the weight room, would be one of those rare moments when even the angels stop what they’re doing to giggle. When I was a child I would repeat eternity is forever silently to myself until I felt bonkers. It was too huge a concept to grasp. Today, thinking beard card–beard card–beard card over & over has the same effect. I have to say, however, that Dr. Faulconer’s post provides a Chestertonianly sane counterpart to all that “Tonsorial Jihad” nonsense.

  26. Jim F. on March 31, 2005 at 3:11 pm

    Patty, it is great to hear from you. I am sure we were in the same stake–a district at the time, however. I may even have spoken in your branch at some point, as I later served in the district mission presidency and spoke, I think, at most of the branches. By then you might have recognized me, for I had cut my hair and shaved. But you probably would not have remembered me. One speaker in Sacrament meeting is rarely all that memorable.

    By the way, congratulations on your novel, and the award.

    Drop me a note by e-mail, if you would: James_Faulconer at BYU dot edu. Ted Vaggalis would like to contact you by e-mail, and I hesitate to place e-mail addresses on the web to avoid their collection by spammers.

  27. danithew on March 31, 2005 at 3:12 pm

    John F. — The similarity I saw was between simple expressions of desire. Bontshe’s ideal of heaven simply consisted of a warm buttered roll to eat every morning. And Jim F. expressed a view of an ideal world where he could have a beard, kiss his wife and teach at BYU. That’s about it as far as similarity goes, I guess.

  28. seven bohanan on March 31, 2005 at 3:49 pm

    Great post. And I too agree with the conclusions you reach. That said, does anyone know why the hairless standard came into being? Was it simply a fruitless response to the 1960′s? I find it one of the most inane and indefensible rules in the church, though I willingly defer to it (most of the time) and am open to be persuaded otherwise.

    When I was in the MTC, I was shocked at the number and size of tattoos I saw on missionaries, some of which spanned the entire backs of elders. I found it odd then and find it odd now that those missionaries would be taken to task for failing to shave one morning but were not proscribed from missionary service so long as their tattoos were coverable. Sometimes I think we in the church fret more about the appearance of evil (or what we perceive the appearance of evil to be) than evil itself. The former is much easier to discern, requires no spiritual effort, and allows us to self-identify and self-select. But it is meaningless. The latter is very difficult to discern, mandates spiritual acuity, and is no respecter of persons. But we may not like what it means.

  29. Kingsley on March 31, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    Squeamishness over the appearance of evil is pretty typical of the world at large. There doesn’t seem to be a paradox between allowing coverable tattoos & disallowing uncoverable beards. You’d assume the Church would frown on shirtless elders, tattoos or no. & I’ve never once heard even a bishop or stake president, much less an Apostle, describe beards as “evil” — or paint them with a really black brush, for that matter. It’s always a kind of nerdy, solemn, 50′s-era homily on the importance of looking your best for that job interview. We gotta look sharp for the Gentiles. Silly? Probably. A sign of overt hypocrisy & a refusal to face Ivan Karamazov’s chamber of horrors? Probably not.

  30. seven bohanan on March 31, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    Kingsley, you would have a good point if there weren’t several sources that refute your point. I quote from one such source, a 1971 talk from Elder Oaks:

    Beards and Long Hair
    The rule against beards and long hair for men stands on a different footing. I am weary of having young people tell me how most of our Church leaders in earlier times wore beards and long hair, which shows that these are not inherently evil. Others argue that beards cannot be evil because they see bearded men enjoying the privileges of the temple. To me, this proposition seems so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning. Unlike modesty, which is an eternal value in the sense of rightness or wrongness in the eyes of God, our rules against beards and long hair are contemporary and pragmatic. They are responsive to conditions and attitudes in our own society at this particular point in time. Historical precedents are worthless in this area. The rules are subject to change, and I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future. But the rules are with us now, and it is therefore important to understand the reasoning behind them.

    There is nothing inherently wrong about long hair or beards, any more than there is anything inherently wrong with possessing an empty liquor bottle. But a person with a beard or an empty liquor bottle is susceptible of being misunderstood. Either of these articles may reduce a person’s effectiveness and promote misunderstanding because of what people may reasonably conclude when they view them in proximity to what these articles stand for in our society today.

    In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture. Persons who wear beards or long hair, whether they desire it or not, may identify themselves with or emulate and honor the drug culture or the extreme practices of those who have made slovenly appearance a badge of protest and dissent. In addition, unkemptness—which is often (though not always) associated with beards and long hair—is a mark of indifference toward the best in life.

  31. Shawn Bailey on March 31, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    I recall a law professor at BYU observing that it is fairly easy to determine whether opposing counsel is truly evil: did they bring coffee to the deposition, negotiation, whatever? We could insert facial hair, tatoo, or any number of other things here.

    Of course, the professor was joking about not being obsessed with what we consider the appearance of evil. About not judging unwisely. But I am almost certain that some present thought that he was quite serious.

    I fully agree with the form of consecration, submitting to simple requirements, Jim discusses. But it is interesting that the charity imperative probably requires us not to use “appearance” rules and even commandments as a basis to unwisely judge others.

  32. Shawn Bailey on March 31, 2005 at 4:33 pm

    Seven (nos. 28 & 30): is appearance meaningless when it comes to prostelytizing? Some “appearances” may truly be more conducive to the spirit than others. If so, the distinction between things visible (facial hair) and covered (tatoos) makes perfect sense in the MTC.

    Anyway, you seem to be saying that matters of appearance (facial hair and tatoos) have absolutely no spiritual significance. If so, this statement seems to rely on a dichotomy between the spiritual and material that is generally absent in Mormon thought. However, also implicit in your comment is a conclusion that matters of appearance have profound spiritual significance (i.e., even though covered, the tatoos under the elders’ shirts went beyond appearance; their unseen presence should have subjected their bearers to censure or even disqualified them from missionary service).

  33. Ben Huff on March 31, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    easy for you to say, anngb
    : )
    i only regret that i have but one beard to shave for my prophet. well, and i regret that i’ve already shaved it, so now he can’t ask me to!

  34. Marc D. on March 31, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    My districtpresident in Belgium asked me to shave my beard and I did and so did many others. The question was asked to our Regional representative why we had to shave our beards. He said it had something to do with our American leaders did not want us to look like Fidel Castro. I thought that was pretty funny but he was really serious about it.
    Anyway, I’ve seen people who did shave go inactive as well and I know somebody who refused to shave and became a branchpresident with a beard. But of course this is Belgium.

  35. seven bohanan on March 31, 2005 at 5:05 pm

    Shawn,

    Does appearance have meaning? Maybe. My question is whether the proxies we as a church have selected for determining personal worthiness and righteousness make sense. I submit that some, like facial hair, do not. To a large degree, we have turned one church and one baptism into hollow homogeny. We are more comfortable with an undisclosed yet budding Ted Bundy passing the sacrament than a pure-of-heart Bob Marley look-alike.
    In Ghana, white shirts and ties are not best apparel. Ornate tribal suits are. In parts of South America, women “dress up” in pants not skirts or dresses. And on and on…..

  36. Jim F. on March 31, 2005 at 5:32 pm

    I should have known that the example rather than the topic would generate most of the comments. It is disappointing, but not surprising. But why rehash what has already been beaten to death here and here and here and here–for starters?

  37. seven bohanan on March 31, 2005 at 5:56 pm

    Because there are only about 5-10 topics that get recycled under different titles on this board.

  38. Seth Rogers on March 31, 2005 at 7:04 pm

    I tried to redirect the conversation …

    I really did …

  39. Jim F. on March 31, 2005 at 8:24 pm

    Thanks, Seth. Like several others, you responded to the post at hand.

    Seven Bohanan: My complaint was intended only as a mild expression of frustration. I understand that people get exercised about the same 5-10 issues: beards, same-sex marriage, abortion, women’s issues, . . . I can’t come up with more than those four, but there must be more. I also understand that I didn’t post something that is, itself, much of a conversation starter. So I shouldn’t be too surprised if, rather than talking about my post–since there’s probably not much to say–people talk about the example used in it. I am, after all, the one who chose an example that is one of the four.

    My complaint wasn’t meant to end the discussion of beards. In this case, the alternative to a thread about beards would probably a very short thread. So feel free to ignore my frustration with the small number of topics that generate discussion at T&S (which doesn’t mean that I think every post should generate lengthy discussion).

  40. Keith on March 31, 2005 at 8:42 pm

    I can’t help read this without thinking the small thing (and the particular instance here isn’t the issue) really isn’t so small after all, or, similarly, how the all-important thing almost always presents itself in a small thing. We are rarely asked to literally give our lives in martyrdom or respond to to God in some grand way. Simple things present themself and we are asked to act. (It reminds me of the point you make about Benjamin’s speech where things are put in grand terms, but he ends by telling us to return the rake we borrow from our neighbor.)

    Imagine if you hadn’t let be a small thing–if you had smarted under the situation and rebelled–refusing to comply. Or imagine if you had complied while inwardly smoldering. It could have become a big thing or at least have been the catalyst to big decisions and attitudes in the opposite direction.

    And what did you learn? Ony that small matter of consecration.

    Thanks for the post.

  41. gunner on March 31, 2005 at 10:33 pm

    The Arabic term islam literally means “surrender,” or “submission.”

    Have we been ordered to “surrender and submit”? I find that the church has instructed us to study and be individuals. Free agency is part of not submitting.

    So when someone brings up the subject of facial hair I am reminded of a saying that my mom used many times when I did something overly dumb as a youth.

    “If the other kids jumped off the bridge would you?”

    The basis of that quote is peer preasure. The church, as a social structure we live in, has a lot of peer preasure put on its members to conform and do what everyone else is doing “If you want to fit in and have a good calling then shave the beard”
    So the question should be. When did you succumb to peer preasure and jump off the bridge into the white shirt, clean shaven river below. It is hard to be a member and still try to be a individual in my view. So much preasure to have kids, a perfect job, a great calling, all geneology done, bringer in of converts.

    There is a small square hole in a board that members need to fit in. The trouble is that when you force someone to change to fit the hole it is like hammering a round peg into it. It may go in, but at what damage to the person and his faith?

  42. Jed on March 31, 2005 at 10:39 pm

    Consecration works because people are willing to consecrate. Jim F. was willing to make the offering and he made it. He calls it “a small thing,” and it is certainly this, because beards are a matter of preference, of style, and not of grand moral seriousness. Jim F. was not asked to give up a belief or a behavior he thought to be right or wrong. He was asked to give up a fashion. He was not asked to consecrate “a large thing.”

    I do not say this to minimize the importance of Jim F.’s action. In fact, I think it is a significant offering and I am not sure I would have had the humility to act as he did (I doubt I would have had the humility). But I am curious about the boundary between the small and large things and relationship of consecration to those things. What do we do when we are asked to consecrate something we believe we should not be asked to consecrate, something we believe is wrong to consecrate? What do we do when we honestly and prayerfully believe that we are right and an authority is wrong? Is submission always the right course?

    I will blame Jim F. for these questions for making me read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling as a junior in college.

  43. Jed on March 31, 2005 at 11:09 pm

    I am equating “small things” with preferences and “large things” with moral choice, but in making this equation, I am not suggesting that the small things are any easier to consecrate than the large things. They may in fact be harder. To couch a restriction as trivial or inane, as some on this thread of done with beards, may mean I am less likely to take seriously the authority asking me to consecrate. I may see him as one stepping beyond the bounds of his authority, or I may cling to my preference all the more because I see it as only a preference.

  44. Rosalynde Welch on March 31, 2005 at 11:32 pm

    Jim, I had a similar experience when President Hinckley announced the new regulation that women should wear only one set of earrings. My ears were already double pierced–I had worn two sets of earrings all through my mission (two rings in each ear; I’ve always had a thing about symmetry)–and at first I resisted a little. But then one day I took out the second set. I had no spiritual epiphany or crisis, and received no particular prompting. I just decided I could do it, and I would, so I did. And nothing much happened. I didn’t feel any particular spiritual reward, no poetic compensation, I’ve never been able to share the story to great effect, nothing like that. It was just a small thing. And I’m glad I did it.

  45. Jim F. on April 1, 2005 at 12:33 am

    Jed, I’m glad that reading Kierkegaard had good effect.

    Unfortunately, I can’t answer your question about the boundary between big and small things because I don’t think there is any principle for doing so. On the one hand, I have covenanted to consecrate everything, big and small. From that perspective there is no boundary between them. On the other, it isn’t difficult to imagine someone exercising unrighteous dominion since I’ve seen myself do it to others. I am sure there are things I ought not to do when called to do so, and I don’t think I would have to invent outrageous examples–like being asked to murder someone–to think of one. But it seems to me that if I were trying to decide which of these cases I was faced with, my covenant would generally weigh more heavily than my conscience because it is so easy to be self-deceived about the latter. In the end, however, if I were faced with a dilemma of the kind you describe (and I never have been), the only answer would be to depend on the Holy Ghost. That, of course, requires that I be able to distinguish between my desires and the promptings of the Holy Ghost, which is sometimes difficult. In other words, as I said, I can’t really answer your question because I don’t think it has an answer in the abstract, and the answers in the concrete can be difficult as well as variable.

  46. Jim F. on April 1, 2005 at 12:42 am

    Gunner: It is hard to be a member and still try to be a individual in my view.

    I agree, but I am not convinced that individuality is a fundamental good. In fact, I think that if, as Joseph Smith taught, one of the goals of the restoration of the Gospel is to weld us all together into a whole, if I cannot be saved alone, but only with others, then individuality is not, in and of itself, a fundamental goal. Neither is conformity. They are both false ways of understanding that we exist only as individuals-in-relation. Neither individuality nor relation is fundamental to the other.

  47. Hans Hansen on April 1, 2005 at 8:03 am

    “I think those two links are among the awesomest things I have ever seen in my life” – Eric Russell

    “Hans Hansen, you handsome devil, you look like a GA should anyhow”. – Kingsley

    Thank You. “I’m making a list and checkig it twice…” so both of you get Christmas presents this year!

  48. Todd Lundell on April 1, 2005 at 9:49 am

    Jim, thanks for the post. I am interested in the extent to which your ability to happily submit in this circumstance was based on the fact that the prophet had given you direct and personal instruction. What if your bishop had simply said, “we want to give you this call and you must shave”? Period, end of discussion. The act of shaving would be no less a “simple thing,” but I know I would find it much harder to submit to, let alone “happily” submit to.

    I suppose the example of being willing to sacrifice without grudge even when you don’t find the act itself necessary extends beyond simply obeying the words of a prophet. Yet there is certainly undertones of authority in your post. It seems unlikely that you would have shaved simply because a fellow member of your ward thought you needed to or even strenuously objected to your beard. Should our brotherhood extend that far? Perhaps it should. If we were all willing to happily make such sacrifices for each other (regardless of authority and regardless how silly the sacrifice may seem), many things in the church would probably run much smoother. More importantly, we would all be happier. That would certainly be a powerful principle in our lives.

  49. Jim F. on April 1, 2005 at 3:53 pm

    Todd Lundell: it is hard to answer your counterfactual question confidently, but I don’t think that I obeyed simply because the prophet said so. I was prepared to obey from the beginning and only took up the issue with the mission president at the suggestion of the member of the district presidency, nor was it my idea to raise the issue with the prophet.

    Your question about another member who might strenuously object to my beard is interesting. Again, I don’t know what I would have done, but Paul’s discussion of “meat offered to idols” is relevant (1 Corinthians 10:8-13):

    Food will not bring us closer to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, nor are we better off if we do. But make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. If someone sees you, with your knowledge, reclining at table in the temple of an idol, may not his conscience too, weak as it is, be “built up” [i.e., justified in] to eat the meat sacrificed to idols [i.e., doing what he believes to be wrong]? Thus through your knowledge, the weak person is brought to destruction, the brother for whom Christ died. When you sin in this way against your brothers and wound their consciences, weak as they are, you are sinning against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause my brother to sin. (New American Bible).

    Should our brotherhood extend that far? Certainly sometimes. My beard or blue shirt would be a small thing to give up for the soul of a brother or sister–assuming that was really an issue. If it wasn’t, and I assume that it usually is not, then whether I were to give it up would depend on other things, including its place in and relation to my covenant to be consecrated.

  50. Larry on April 2, 2005 at 2:30 am

    Jim,

    I wonder if the response would have been a liitle different when Pres. McKay was prophet re: the long hair. He seemed so dignified when his hair was over his ears and looking unlike anything we wear today.