Friday, February 12, 2010

My Beard & BYU: Part Three

This is the latest installment in a long story about my struggles with BYU's administration after finding out that although I'd been allowed a beard in order to act in Church films (despite a rule BYU has had against beards since the late 1960s), a Sikh friends of mine had been denied permission to keep a beard in accordance with Khalsa Sikh religious practice. If you're interested in this story, you should probably start reading at the beginning.

Part Three: Instant Carma

After finishing my paper on Sikh-Mormon parallels, I spent most of my December 2005 Utah trip cooking for my sister and helping out with move prep and odd jobs while she put the finishing touches on her BFA Photography project (which, incidentally, was about family history, included a huge bearded picture of me, and was put on display in the same library I'd been kicked off computers in).

This is the picture from my sister's project, taken in
the summer of 2005. Image courtesy of Vilo Photo.

One day, while I was shopping at Day's Market for dinner ingredients, an elderly but unusually energetic woman stopped at the end of the aisle and unabashedly stared at me. I noticed, but pretended to stay focused on my search for Garbanzo Beans. She walked down the aisle toward me.

"You have a beautiful profile," she told me.

"Um...thanks," I said.

"Have you ever been in the movies? I feel like I've seen you before..."

I explained that no, I hadn't and then that no, I wasn't from around here, but had family in the area, and then that actually, I would be living here soon, and then she was telling me that she was a costumer for several local Biblical painters and I really had to give her my phone number and would I be willing to model for them?

Sure, I said. But it would have to be soon, since I would be starting at BYU in a few weeks and would need to shave then.

"Oh, no!" Carma DeJong Anderson said. "That would be criminal."

She told me she would contact the University at once and get me a beard card.

"OK" I said.

Over the next few weeks I'd see Carma periodically and wear different costumes while she took pictures and told stories. She'd call painters and leave messages saying things like "I found a new model and you'd be a fool not to use him" and then she'd send them pictures of me. One day, she handed me her keys and got into the passenger side of her car while explaining to me that she'd been feeling light-headed, so I should drive us down to the LDS Motion Picture Studio, where she'd show me off to the Casting Director, who would be a fool not to use me. Not knowing quite how to disobey anyone with Carma's dizzying energy, I drove ahead, even past authorized personnel only signs, until we were stopped at the security gate, where some poor young man had to spend several minutes explaining to Carma that she couldn't simply drive in without authorization and an appointment.

Carma made an appointment. Before long, we got in.

By the time school started, three painters and the Motion Picture Studio all wanted to use me. I had strict instructions from all of them not to even trim beard or hair--but still no beard card. As it turned out, this particular waiver was complicated for two reasons: the artists weren't on campus and needed to be checked out first, and the request was for an untrimmed beard, rather than the closely-trimmed one allowed in medical and most artistic cases.

This put me in an awkward situation: I couldn't exactly cut a year's worth of beard to keep the rule, and then instantly grow it back once I had permission. I also didn't want to let down the numerous projects which were now counting on me, though. But I couldn't register, get a student ID, use library computers, print on campus, or take tests in the testing center with an as-yet-unauthorized, highly conspicuous, year's-length beard.

Sigh. At least I was living off campus with extended family, so I wouldn't have to spend a few weeks being homeless while waiting for beard clearance as well.

We managed to work around the situation's constraints fairly effectively. My roommate, Michael, went and registered in my name. No one asked him to confirm his identity, so that went fine. I avoided activities that required a student ID. I made sure to do all my word processing and printing at home. Luckily, none of my professors asked questions. A test in the testing center was coming around the end of the first month, though, and I couldn't think of any way around that.

A day or two before my first test, an official "beard waiver" finished being processed based on a request from someone in the Art Department on behalf of the painters. The terms of the request, though, were that the painters had two weeks to take pictures of me for painting reference, and then the beard had to go. I took my test.

By the time the two weeks were up, the second request, from the Motion Picture Studio, had finally gone through. Because the Motion Picture Studio is an official church entity, the terms were much more generous on that. Permission for me to have an uncut beard had been granted through the filming of an Old Testament visual resources project in late May, and for a month or so after that in case re-shooting of any sequences became necessary during the editing process.

The timing worked particularly well for me--I would graduate about a week or two before my "beard card" expired.

In Mormonism, we believe in what's called "the Spirit of Elijah," a force that turns our hearts back towards our ancestors. I'd grown and kept a beard largely out of that feeling, as a tribute to my ancestors' faith.

I couldn't help but think, after all the worry and last-minute saves as far as timing, that God had saved my beard. That I had been almost miraculously allowed to keep it because He was pleased with this particular way I chose to remember and honor Him and my family's long and often costly sense of connection to Him.

Next up: in Part Four, joy turns to sadness.


  1. The beard saga has been a good commentary about the spirit (in this case, the spirit of Elijah) and the letter of the law in Mormon life. A friend and I decided in high school in Provo that another friend, considered unorthodox, would probably flourish in the Church in a less culturally Mormon setting. Indeed, he ended up in a bishopric at UCLA. And years later, he married me.


  2. This series was one of my favorites that you have written, dear friend. Kudos.

  3. This saga is going to become my lunch-break treat!


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