The ineffable black beard
The chaplain stared off, vexed by some distant interior. He had framed the problem, shorn off the bristles, but had done so in silence for the normal course of a sermon. We, the congregants, had no right to complain; the parking meters didn't work on Sundays, either. No right, but the silence was a terrible nuisance, because it had the effect of a pause, not just a stillness but a tension, and it is not fair to say that every stillness possesses, or could even be characterized blatantly as, a tension. The church had just caught up to the Steady State model, and there's no use upsetting it now. For lack of anything better to do, we prayed.


THE CHAPLAIN [at last, in a fatherly voice]: Were this the beard of an absent god, desperate to be disentangled from antiquity and given shrift by an enlightened Other, I would put it to a vote, no question. That which is powerless to ask is entitled, even, to be told. But this is Doctrine, and I am here to tell you that, with respect to the true Father, his beard is most decidedly black, and we must change course without the pretense of a vote; it is not a democratic matter, not in the least.

[He rubbed his ear.]

THE CHAPLAIN: [continuing]: Just last night he came to me again in a dream and said, "Bishop" [he was no such thing], "do not doubt the consternation of the libertines. This is no way to win converts. The message should be a contemporary one; their music is not awful, if a few cents out of tune. Every absolute has its drawbacks, even me. Do not waste their attentions on perceived slights perceived only by you. I, too, can be flattered, but only so far." But his words are not what matters, it is what I saw: a heavyset Latin man with a black beard, decidedly black, like the wool of the worst child, an aqualine nose, and a small piercing in one ear. Appearances matter. His was magnificent, either way. But the common image is not one I can abide, not after what I've seen.

THE CHORUS: Let us vote! 

THE CHAPLAIN: We cannot go putting divine revelation to a vote; by definition, a revelation has but one viable constituent.

THE CHORUS: We can still vote on whether or not we believe you!

THE CHAPLAIN: But the doubts of the masses are one of the signatures of a revelation. In expressing doubt, you are further validating me, and the question becomes, what do we do about it? We'll have to repaint nearly everything. It's unavoidable.

THE CHORUS: We did not express doubt; the vote will be in secret!

THE CHAPLAIN: What it comes down to is that you do not want to do the work. That's fine, but say so. You've missed even an obvious case about the content of a revelation, what ancillary information can be contained within the packet known as a revelation, but then again none of you ever attended seminary...

THE CHORUS: We've decided nothing; it is you who have decided!

THE CHAPLAIN: You can either express doubt and validate me or vote entirely in my favor, but these are not democratic ends; they are a heretical grasping at straws. It is not from me that you attempt to seize power. We all know that.

THE CHORUS: If we vote to believe you, we will establish hereby the Church of the Ineffable Black Beard!

THE CHAPLAIN: Idiots. I have no changes to make to the Doctrine.  Forget what I said. The Doctrine remains unchanged. He may have suggested some, even, but in my opinion they only muddy the waters. Eschatology is the quickest way to miscreant groupuscules.

THE CHORUS: The icons will be correct! They will be correct!

THE CHAPLAIN: This is a simple matter of resolve. You either have it or you don't.

THE CHORUS: We will vote, tomorrow, on the color of God's beard! It will all be decided then!


The chorus descended once more into a chaotic salvo of mutual congratulation. The Chaplain, ever the cynic, slinked off with his brush and paint to beat traffic.

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