First let me say I love the frivolity of a good face mask and a pedicure. It really matters, and we should chase it, delight our soul as much as humanly possible. However, somebody recently tried to sell me wrinkle cream, and you know how those things often go, look at what a crepey faced gollum like creature you are going to be without this magic potion. Do you seriously want to slither around and frighten the children?
Cracked me up because youth and beauty were the farthest things from my mind at the time, but not allowing my very soul to be transformed and conformed to the world until it begins to resemble that crepey faced gollum like creature, really is my mission in life.
It takes some real work too, it doesn’t just happen naturally. Most of the work is done on the Lord’s end, but we still have to take the time, we have to turn to Him, allow Him to renew our minds. Look at ugly stuff all day long and you too will get ugly. We really ARE the company we keep.
Chuckling here, but Brian Zahnd recently wrote a post called, “Trying Hard Not To Be Ugly.”
It’s a good post. He and I actually disagree on many things, most of them probably political, but I so enjoy his faith, his honesty, and his heart for justice.
I enjoyed his blog post too, so I hate to sound like a critic and not a fan. It is just, look how his post begins, “We live in an ugly time. That’s how I see it anyway. Racism is on the rise, xenophobia is in vogue, and mercy walks the plank. Children are imprisoned, journalists are dismembered, and rage is all the rage. It’s an ugly time.”
Actually the bible tells us, “there is nothing new under the son.” So our world is ugly compared to what? When? The truth is, there never has been this magical time when the world wasn’t ugly. Trust me, life wasn’t better when the Romans were crucifying everyone or Nero was throwing Christians to the lions or everyone was dying of dysentery at 34 years old.
So why do we always insist we’re living in an ugly time? Media mostly, the communication age. We’re being fed a never-ending diet of doom, gloom, and anxiety that tries to convince us the end is near and “what is the world coming to?” Fear sells, probably even better than sex sells.
Did you know we’ve almost eradicated polio? There were only 22 cases in the entire world last year. Also, we’ve seen a dramatic decline in world famines and the number of people trying to live off less than a dollar a day has dropped some 300 percent. Clean water is now available to more people than any other time in history. It’s an ugly world, but in many ways the ugly is actually being made beautiful.
In light of the #Metoo movement, it’s very easy to say sexual abuse is on the rise. But what is really on the rise? The number of people actually talking about it. And I think that’s a good thing. Yes, it’s ugly, but is it uglier than toxic secrets and silence and the comfort of complete public denial? Racism too, it appears to be increasing, and racial conflict is at the forefront of the public narrative, but is it really on the rise or are we today simply less likely to sweep it under the rug and hide it these days?
So right off the bat Brian has bought into a lot of deception and the words he is speaking over his world are mostly lies. Don’t let those words of mine be infused with guilt or shame or something, because we all do it. I do it myself. Something as simple as saying, “I hate Mondays” is actually a lie. I really have no idea if I hate Monday or not. I have no idea what it will even bring. So I am totally speculating, making stuff up, and basically just lying about Mondays. I have gone and placed my faith in my own fears, rather than in the truth.
Fear is always a liar.
We also tend to get the world we actually think or believe we live in, a bit of Divine justice indeed. What we focus on also tends to multiply, it becomes our focus, we start finding more of it around us.
Brian speaks of rage, of wrestling with anger at the world, and he is so not alone. A staggering number of Christians on the internet struggle with rage. I bump into some of the worst of them, all the time. They’ll actually send you hate mail, call you a heretic, try revoke your salvation, threaten to call you pastor, hack your accounts, and basically just vent their spleen. It’s pretty ugly, a really terrible representation of Christ, a never-ending parade of spiritual immaturity.
What it is though, is actually fear. The roots of rage are always fear. We fear so many things, that the world has gone awry, that it’s our fault, that we have failed, that God is mad at us, that some lunkhead on the internet with his willful stupidity is totally responsible for the entire decline of mankind…..
Guys especially, can struggle with confronting fears, and can tend to jump right over to anger. Anger is a much more powerful emotion, more socially acceptable, and it tends to feel much better then admitting we are vulnerable.
There is a big difference between some righteous, protective anger and outright rage and offense. Rage is always rooted in fear, it is an emotional reaction to a perceived threat. As Christians we are not called to be ruled by our fear, so fear is a stronghold, it’s a deception that keeps us trapped. “Perfect love casts out fear.”
“Perfect love casts out fear,” but true too is how “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The Lord really has to become bigger and badder then our fears, more trustworthy, more sovereign, more powerful, more real than what we see and feel all around us.
I’ve often believed this mysterious time, this utopian vision we have of a “Not Ugly World,” is going to be made manifest the moment we all confront our own fears, ask the Lord to heal us, and proceed to go forth fearlessly, calmly, resting in His grace and power. We stand in the shadow of the Almighty, He is our resting place, and that is a place of great strength and power, that is a calm within us that can heal the whole world around us.
Our Lord actually said, “be of good cheer, I have over come the world.”
I use to call Christians “the Beautiful People,” still do sometimes, and it wasn’t a term of endearment, it was sheer frustration, because far too often Christians just become the Beautiful People, almost completely oblivious to the suffering of those around them. Saved, but saved for what purpose? Of what use are any of you to me or any other hurting person?
I actually once prayed the precise opposite of Brian’s prayer, Lord, make me ugly and broken and messy, and willing to roll about in my own muck, so I will know how to come alongside of others in theirs. Love is messy and dirty sometimes, it is painful and vulnerable and it cost you something.
Remember how we used to sing, “Show me how to love like you have loved me, Break my heart for what breaks yours.” I took those words seriously, sung them week after week, but looked around me and saw no broken hearts anywhere.
So all in good humor here, but literally Lord, don’t ever let me become one of the Beautiful People, all perfect and shiny, sitting complacently in their churches, completely unaware of how broken they really are.
Make me willing to be ugly and broken and vulnerable and bleeding out all over the world, because that’s actually what Jesus did for each of us.