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February 21, 2008
In The Village
Parable: Acting part results in reflection
by Orson Scott Card

Sandy Brown was a keeper and maker of gardens. With his many workers he tended the lawns and shrubs and flowers of businesses and homes.

Sandy loved the feel of his hands plunging into loamy soil, the suppleness and strength of young wood and tender greens, so he was often out with his laborers, working as hard as any. No job was too hard or menial for him to do.

One of his customers, a rich man and a Christian, told him one day, "I'm paying for the making of a film about the Savior. I want you to play the part of the Lord."

"I'm no actor," Sandy said.

"It's a silent film," said the producer. "It's in black and white. You'll act out the things that Jesus did, and now and then a different actor will speak some of the words of Christ."

"Why me?" asked Sandy.

"When I see you tending the garden, feeling the leaves and stems to judge the strength of the plants, your face seems to me like Savior's face, looking at his fallen brothers and sisters with love and care, sorrow and hope."

"I'm not a man to portray the Lord," said Sandy.

"You'll play the Savior or no one will. I won't make this film without you."

Sandy went home and told with his wife. "I'd have to grow my hair and beard," he said.

"I've always wondered what your beard would look like," she said.

"If people know I'm playing Jesus in a film, they'll judge me unfit to do it."

"They're more likely to treat you like a movie star," she said.

"That would be worse," said Sandy. "A celebrity because I portray the Lord? Unbearable."

"I think this movie should exist," said his wife. "I know of no better man to stand in Jesus' place."

With her encouragement, and a promise from the producer that his name would not be given out and no one would be told, he gave consent.

For six months he let his hair and beard grow, uncut.

When he looked in the mirror, he searched for the face of Christ, but did not find him. Nor, behind the beard, did he see himself.

A strange thing happened at church. People no longer chose to sit on the same bench with Sandy and his family. They no longer let their children come over to the Browns' house to play with their children. Sandy was released from his calling as a Primary teacher, and no other calling was found for him.

"Today Sister Evans took my hand and told me she was praying for us," said Sandy's wife one day. "I think that she believes you're using drugs."

"No," said Sandy, "you may not tell her or anyone why my hair and beard are growing."

Many of Sandy's customers and many on his waiting list no longer wished him to tend their gardens.

"Tell them what you're doing," said his wife. "You have employees who depend on you."

"I'm tending gardens as well as I ever did," said Sandy. "There is nothing else to tell. And there's still work enough to keep us all."

When filming began, Sandy no longer tended gardens, and while some of the crews worked as hard as ever, others did not. Therefore he lost more customers, and, sadly, Sandy dismissed the workers who had not done well in his absence.

With his business shrinking and his family isolated in their neighborhood and ward, Sandy faced the days of filming full of worry. Each day he performed the actions of the Savior, lifting up the man with palsy, anointing with mud the eyes of the blind man, turning when the woman touched the hem of his robe and blessing her, raising Lazarus from the dead.

Finally he knelt in the garden and bore the scourges and hung upon the cross, then stepped forth from the tomb led by the hand of an angel. He stood before Mary in the garden and let his apostles touch the wounds in his hands and feet and side.

He went home at night and listened to his children, and taught them the words of Jesus, never telling them what he had done that day, but trying to fill them with the love that he had felt while acting as the Lord.

In the mirror he thought that now he saw himself, though still he did not see the Lord.

At last the filming ended, and Sandy went home and without a word cut off his beard. His wife wept as she cut his hair. "I will miss the presence of the Savior in our home," she said.

"It was always only me," said Sandy.

"You walked in his footsteps every day," she answered him, "and brought him home to us."

At church, people looked at him with surprise. Some were relieved, others still suspicious, but gradually the family's isolation ended. Sandy was made assistant financial clerk. Children once more visited their home.

The filmmakers added the computer effects that made the miracles look real. They recorded the words of Christ and added music and at last, two years later, the film was finished.

Sandy and his wife and children attended a private screening. She held his hand throughout, and at the end she wept. "Oh, Sandy," she said, "it was worth it."

Their oldest daughter looked at her father in awe. "Daddy, that was you," she whispered.

"I never did those things," he told her. "Jesus did."

The film did not do very well at the box office. In previews, people saw that it was black and white, and did not come. Many who came were bored when none of the actors spoke, and left.

Some stayed because they loved the things they saw and heard. Among these was Sandy's bishop. After he saw the film, he embraced Sandy, saying, "Why didn't you tell us?"

"I didn't want the way people would treat me if they knew what I was doing."

"We judged you wrongly," said the bishop, "but you judged us first, thinking we could not be trusted with the truth."

"I hope that you'll forgive me for not speaking up."

"Please forgive us for not trusting what we already knew of you, the man you were before the long hair and beard."

"I knew you didn't know what I was doing," said Sandy, "and I forgave you from the start."

And in that moment, with no mirror and only another man's face before him -- with no beard, and with close-cropped hair -- Sandy thought he caught a glimpse of the Savior, somewhere between forgivenesses.

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