When I arrived home from college, I had a new possession. It was a beard. Now, I grant you, it was then a rather feeble attempt at one but it has endured. It was in the beginning a mark of my rebellion. Perhaps it was in reality a mark of the ultimate rebellion -- the embrace of tradition. As Carlson quotes it, masculinity had its heyday when priests were celibate and Lutheran pastors were Herr Pastor (quoting Steven Ozment). Who knew that my youthful rebellion was anything more than an adolescent rant (and you can't make me!).
I have worn this beard now fifty years -- longer than I have ever lived in one place, longer than I have been married, and longer than I have been a pastor. It flew by in minutes in my mind but as I look around me the beard is, as Carlson says, making a comeback. Sure, the beard more popular now is the one my son wears with its wild and untamed look -- his a shock of red down from his checks to his chest. Not mine. Mine is trimmed (less so in winter and a bit more in summer). Plus mine is grayer now than brown. It began the change the hair on my head soon followed. But it was a beard and is and it was then and is now not simply facial hair. It is, in some way, a mark of identity.
When I would visit St. Vladimir's Seminary, beards were all around me -- far more than at my seminary then (although you find many more now). Maybe the East always knew how counter-cultural a beard truly was in a world that has become impossibly feminized. What else would you expect in a world that cannot voice what a woman is and, therefore, must be equally in the dark about a man? What else would you expect of a culture in which truth surrenders to feeling every time? The beard is back in where the clean shaven once ruled and it never left those who insisted the theological world should have been put on pause sometime right after the last of the seven ecumenical councils. Of course, that is an affront to those who insist that there is no real difference between a man and a woman but what they might feel about it. It surely does take a heap of testosterone to grow the manly beard and those who feel it seem destined not to see it on their faces.
So consider me unapologetic. It may not be youthful rebellion anymore but there is a rebel under that gray facial hair -- a rebel for the catholic identity that seems terribly old fashioned in a progressive world. I did not realize it at the time but the beard ended up making me seem out of step with the world around me and right now that is just fine.