“A razor’s-edge experience”
“After the age of forty, every man is responsible for his own face.”
“In the logic of high technology, the fundamental premise is our incapacity. We are tired, fuzzy (in mind and face), and in need of a simple, safe, efficient solution. Gillette’s army of engineers go to work, and place in our hand “the best a man can get.” But there is another kind of logic—call it the logic of the blade. The double-edged razor blade, of course, is technology too, of quite an advanced kind. But the blade does not exist to underwrite our fuzzy, lazy, half-asleep lives. It requires something of us—discipline, skill, patience. The fundamental premise of the blade is that we can learn to handle fearsome things in delicate ways.”
Andy Crouch wants Christians to change culture, and he explains what he means in his new book Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling (some of his ideas are summarized in this article). Crouch has written dozens of other articles which are available on his website.
This article on shaving
is worth reading more than once. In it Crouch reexamines the perceived
convenience afforded in the latest technologies from the shaving
industry and, in the end, settles on something much more “old
fashioned.” Along the way he draws conclusions about the nature of
human experience(“the home requires, in its own way, as much valor and
steadfastness from both husband and wife as the battlefield") and
redemption (“Our final redemption will be, I think, a razor’s-edge
experience…” in which the master barber provides the final, “terribly
close” shave that sends us “glistening and new” to the feast).
As Crouch explains, the so-called “safety razor” looks anything but
safe. It is clearly capable of doing a great deal of damage. So, it
demands our attention and care. “No one in his right mind can stay
half-asleep when he picks up a double-edged razor.”
The same sort of intrinsic quality (demanding our care and attention
without the need for anyone to tell us so) comes up in this Tom Vanderbilt post
about driving in Spain. The danger of the road spoke for itself,
rendering repeated warnings (virtually non-existent) pointless; and yet,
supposedly safe roads full of warning and protections so often prove
unable to elicit the same level of care.
“After the age of forty, every man is responsible for his own face.” Indeed, this may be true, though a man doesn’t have to wait until he’s forty to take responsibility.
Crouch makes a fascinating, intuitive parallel between wet shaving and the razor’s-edge experience we face at this life’s end. And it seems like his blog is both thoughtful and thought-provoking — worth returning to from time to time. But, perhaps the major omission in Mr. Crouch’s article is a stark neglect towards the portion of our population who shave their faces selectively — those who fashion beards. (You may note that both Crouch and his editor-in-chief are clean-shaven).
Some men sport mustaches, others have goatees, and still others wear full beards. Yet, no matter the pattern of a man’s beard, there may be a higher art in our culture than getting a clean shave from a double-edged razor — the art of a well-fashioned beard.
Now, as a beard-grower for merely a few years, I am of no expertise to speak definitively on the topic. But, allow me to point to a few people who would have no use for a double-edged razor:
1. Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.
2. American abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
3. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, and others after them.
4. Samson. You know the story (ref: Judges chapter 16).
5. Jesus. Have you ever seen a drawing of Jesus without a beard? Me neither.
The list goes on, but you get the idea. While clever, the idea of us getting a final shave before going to meet our Maker, may be a bit misplaced. Instead, perhaps for some of us, it is the ultimate trim, rather than a shave, that prepares us for our ultimate homecoming.
In fact, if we are paying attention, we will notice that no matter how hard we may try, a beard is never the same two days in a row. The beard grows little by little, day by day, until its length exceeds some prescribed limit and is, at last, shorn — not shorn completely off, but rather, trimmed. Further, man cannot escape the way a beard changes color, for how complex is the palette God uses for beards! Every day, the beard experiences change, whether growing longer or trimmed shorter, browner, redder, or grayer than the day before.
The occasional, most determined beard (usually among the more mature ones) left to grow as it may, can eventually achieve such a status that it seems its length is leveling off. However, it is a mirage; for while the beard appears to maintain its shape, hairs continue to grow and fall out. If you want to claim otherwise, be careful! “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”
So, while Andy Crouch may have been close, casting glorification and the close shave of a double-edged razor in the same light, consider another option for the bearded ones among us. The act of diligently maintaining one’s facial hair may be a picture of sanctification — of God sculpting us, day by day, to be made more holy — “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (ref: Shorter Catechism).
The Christian’s hope is that we are never the same person twice. Though we may struggle with the same sins, time after time, we trust that God is at work in us, trimming here, shearing there, or growing there. Our hope is that we are always being drawn unto Him — shaped according to His divine providence.