Thursday, May 31, 2007

Through The Looking Glass

Elizabeth awoke one morning to discover a nightmare. It began as an ordinary day. She stumbled out of bed, pulled on some clothes and sped to the bathroom, hoping to arrive before Krissy, her little sister awoke and demanded they take turns.

Elizabeth grabbed her toothbrush and was about to put it to her teeth when she caught sight of herself in the mirror. The unearthly reflection caused her to blink, and with a clatter, her toothbrush fell to the floor. Folds of greenish skin wrinkled down her face. Her eyes, normally a light hazel, had become red bulbs bulging from her sockets. “Aah!” she shrieked.

As her fingers cautiously met the scaly folds of her face, a sensation of horror ran through her body. Her face had turned into a Halloween mask overnight, only a hundred times worse. Her long, wavy brown hair had shrunk to only a few spiky strands on her head and a few hairs protruded from her ears. On her arms were pussy white sores that hurt, now that she thought of them.

A knock sounded at the door. “Lizzy, let me in! I need the bathroom too, you know!” It was Krissy. Elizabeth froze. There was no way her sister could see her like this! Throwing a towel over her head, she opened the door, rushed past her little sister and into her own room.

What was happening? What had she done to cause this…this…monster to take over her body? Was it something she ate the night before? She prayed it would not be permanent, whatever it was.

Then, a terrible, sinking feeling came over her. She knew exactly what was going on. This was no monster. At least, this monster was not something new to who she was. This was her Self. The contents of her heart had spilled over to her body. She had now become on the outside what she always was on the inside.

Much to my relief, this is a far-fetched story. Chances are that we will never wake up to find that our faces have turned green or that we resemble a villain from a comic book, but I do wonder what would see if we had a morning like Elizabeth’s. What if we lived in a world where we were inside-out, where our souls were in plain view? What if how beautiful we were depended not upon the shape of our face or our weight, but how much love was in our hearts?
Would we be beautiful?

And yet, we do live in a world where our insides are shown outwardly. Proverbs 4:23 says that the heart is the “wellspring of life.” Our lives and our actions all spring from the stuff we allow to grow in our hearts. And is this stuff beautiful? The answer is “no.”

With the amount of arrogance, boastfulness, meanness, lies, and self-satisfaction stored up in my heart, I doubt I would appear any different from Elizabeth’s monster. Jeremiah 17:9 speaks of the state of the human condition: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah continues on to say that although the heart is deceitful, it is not hidden. “’I the Lord search the heart, and test the mind, to give each man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

To say God’s beauty stands in contrast with our ugliness would be an understatement. Comparing Him to us would be like comparing a rainbow with mud. There is no comparison. Christ—who is God in human form—is so inwardly beautiful that we would fall to our knees at a glimpse of His heart.

He doesn’t flatter us. Christ knows exactly how ugly we are. Yet, in His death for us, the wickedness that formerly covered us like pussy, oozing sores is healed the very moment we repent and place our faith in Christ. We become beautiful in the eyes of God. Not just kind-of-pretty-but-in-need-of-work; we become radiantly stunning. When God looks at us, He sees the glowing purity of His Son. We may bury our head in shame at all of our faults—but no matter what we do, God sees utter perfection.

And what does He now call us? No longer are we inner monsters. With Christ shining through us, we are given a new name: His Bride.


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Monday, May 28, 2007

More Than Your Average Miss Universe


What defines physical beauty? Is it a certain eye color, skin type or chin length? What factors cause one person to bear taunts from classmates while another is crowned Miss Universe? And why have human beings been created so differently? Philosophers, scientists, and a certain missionary have each asked a form of this question.
One proposed answer is the scientific theory of "Averageness," founded by Sir Francis Galton in 1883. At the time, it was thought there may be certain facial characteristics common for criminals. For instance, all criminals might share large noses or crooked grins, or squinty eyes and cleft chins. Sir Francis was determined to find out once and for all. His hypothesis had possibilities; if it were true, we could judge if a person engaged in illegal activities simply by looking at him. Although nowadays we may call this "stereotyping" and a scary thought, in 1883 it was considered plausible.

After piecing together the noses and eyes of many a male criminal into a composite photograph, the result was a face that was surprisingly...handsome. Though Sir Francis could never provide evidence for a specific criminal stereotype, he did spark an idea:

What if it is the most average men and women that are considered the most beautiful? What if people are considered "ugly" simply because they look different? Thus, the theory of averageness was born.

Further scientific study showed that although averageness isn't the only deciding factor of a person's physical attractiveness, it is important. More composite images, such as those of the Miss Universe 2005 contestants, reveal those considered physically cream of the crop often possess similar characteristics. With narrow noses, high cheekbones and wide smiles, some of the Miss Universe composite images look like identical twins. According to the theory of Averageness, "Beautiful people" look alike.

What is the moral of this story? If you wish to be beautiful, science says, be born average. Or, if you don't have that luxury, try your best to conform.

And yet, science's answer to "the beauty question" seems a bit too simplistic. It explains what humans find attractive, but is that necessarily the same thing as true beauty? Given an answer that is only skin deep, we are still left scratching our heads.

One night, my friend, Daria and I stumbled upon an important clue to the true nature of beauty. In a moment of desperate boredom, we had decided upon the oh-so-nerdy "game" of "philosophizing." The point of the game is to argue philosophically about a topic you know nothing about. And win.
I came up with the first question. “Okay, Dar. Here it is: ‘What is beauty?’”

She rolled her eyes. “Great. You pick a hard question and I’m supposed to answer it?”

“Basically…yes.”

“Okay...do you want me to define beauty in people or in things?”

“Define it in....” I struggled for a challenging subject. My eyes caught the pencil holder on Daria’s desk, which gave me an idea. “Define beauty in a pair of scissors.”

“Scissors aren’t beautiful!” she cried indignantly.

“How do you know? What makes a pair of scissors beautiful?”

Daria grabbed the pair of scissors on her desk. “They’re…uh…scissors are beautiful because of how well they function.”

After a moment I asked, “So...if they work the way their maker wanted them to work, then they’re beautiful?”

Although most arguments-for-the-sake-of-arguing are without substance, I think my friend and I discovered a key idea that extends much deeper than a pair of scissors. Beauty isn't about the eye of the beholder. It's about the eye of the Creator.

Scissors are "beautiful" when they accomplish the purpose of its maker. If they cut well, they've done their job. In the same way, God has designed us specifically to carry out a certain purpose. The Psalmist expressed this when he sang,
"For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.”

It may be hard to believe at times, especially when we look in the mirror first thing in the morning, but our looks are not an accident. God created us with deliberate intricacy. He has not given everyone the body of a supermodel, because I doubt His purpose is for everyone to be a supermodel. However, every hair and freckle was given for a reason.

In her book, Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliot tells of Gladys, a young woman who realized this truth:
“You have heard me tell of Gladys Aylward…she told how when she was a child she had two great sorrows. One, that while all of her friends had beautiful golden hair, hers was black. The other, that while her friends were still growing, she stopped. She was about four feet ten inches tall. But when at last she reached the country to which God had called her to be a missionary, she stood on the wharf in Shanghai and looked around at the people to whom He called her.
‘Every single one of them,’ she said, ‘had black hair. And every single one of them had stopped growing when I did. And I said, ‘Lord God, You know what You’re doing!’”
We may never have a moment like Gladys Aylward's, in which we see clearly the reason for our design. But we may safely say that God has given our bodies as tools to accomplish His purpose; and when His purpose is fulfilled in us...it's a beautiful thing.

Sources:
  • Miss Universe composite images can be found here.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

You're Such a Doll


Barbie has been in the news for a long time, maintaining celebrity status for over fifty years. Yet in spite of her age, not a wrinkle has formed on her face. With her continual smile, glossy blond locks, sparkling blue eyes and size two waistline, it is no wonder she attracted such a boyfriend as Ken. The couple remained together for years; touring the United States in their various RV's, cruise ships, ponies and sports cars. (Of course, Barbie is also enormously wealthy.)

As the envy of many girls, Barbie has not only become a celebrity but an icon to which women have aspired. Saying a girl “looks like Barbie” is a compliment. However, a groundbreaking 1997 edition of Health magazine concluded that appeasing the Barbie image is impossible for most women. The magazine revealed the average woman as about 5'4" and weighing approximately 145 pounds. On the other hand, Barbie's thin figure consists of being a tall 6'0" and weighing in at only 101 pounds.

Above: Barbie vs. Average Woman (Click for larger image.)

It doesn't require a Ph.D to notice she is grossly underweight and possibly victim of an eating disorder. The same year Health published its article, Barbie experienced plastic surgery, resulting in a slightly expanded waist.

However noble the attempt to "reform" Barbie's body, a re-molding of the doll cannot change the way women think. It’s a fact: human beings are fools for beauty, especially women. We want the admiration that comes with being considered beautiful, no matter the cost. As mirrors look on tauntingly, some women have resorted to damaging their bodies with excessive diet pills, purging, and even starvation. Studies indicate that seven million American women have an eating disorder, and 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of twelve and twenty-five. Half of girls between the ages of eleven and thirteen consider themselves overweight, and 80% of thirteen year olds have tried to lose weight. Beauty is serious business.

And yet despite its influence on women, beauty is not a solid thing. America’s obsession with skinny is only a recent addition to a standard of beauty which has evolved throughout the decades. For example, actresses of the 1940's and 50's sported neon red lipstick. It was classy. It was sophisticated. The fad was given a decent burial in the 1960's as a new idea of "beauty" was pursued.


Above: A vintage magazine (featuring 1930's and 40's movie star, Claudette Colbert) contrasts to the perception of beauty featured on a modern magazine cover.

Our perception of beauty fluctuates. As a result, we will not be cured by a new Barbie. Our view of beauty cannot merely be given a makeover. It must be revolutionized. In order to discover lastly, timeless beauty, we must cut down to its very definition.


Sources:

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day


“There is no nobler career than that of motherhood at its best; there is no higher height to which humanity can attain than that occupied by a converted, heaven-inspired, praying mother.” Elizabeth Elliot

“There are certain old truths which will be true as long as this world endures. One of these is that into the [mother’s] keeping is committed the destiny of the generations to come after us. Her task is not easy—no task worth doing is easy—but when she has done it, there shall come to her the highest and holiest joy known to mankind, and she shall have the reward prophesied in Scripture, for her husband and her children shall rise up and call her blessed.” Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Teaching Young Dogs New Tricks


Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits;
habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny. –Tyron Edwards
Ring, ring. What was that horrible noise? Ring, ring, ring. I groaned and rolled over, still not quite awake. Still the ringing persisted. Ring, ring! Only one thought dominated my sleepy mind: The ringing must stop. Eyes shut, I groped for the thing that was making the disturbing sounds, and clutched it angrily. Must...make...ringing...stop... With that thought, I hurled the noisy object as far away from me as I could possibly throw, and jolted suddenly upright as it hit the wall with a resounding thump. Thoroughly awake, I looked mournfully at the unfortunate phone lying on the floor.

Unusual? Not for me. Mornings have never been a thing I have enjoyed, to say the least! After the incident with the phone, my parents became reluctant to give me an alarm clock... lest I destroy it accidentally. Instead, a sibling or parent was delegated the awful job of "waking up Lindsey". Although I cannot actually pick up my family members and throw them against the wall, my fierce glares and sharp words became both feared and expected before long. I came to expect it also: my grumpiness in the mornings is routine. I easily transferred the blame to the poor person who had to awaken me, and excused my behavior by reminding myself that I really was not "a morning person", after all. It became a habit, and yet I scarcely thought of it or recognized it as such.

Habits are the expression of our values, and the templates for our character. Samuel Johnson once commented, "The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken."Although habits may appear trivial at first, the longer a person continues in their habits, the longer they are impacted. An old saying declares that "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." While the saying may not be accurate in every situation, it is true that it is easier to teach a young dog tricks that he will still know when he's older.

The development of character cannot be prevented. You and I will develop character, whether or not we wish to. We cannot remain in the same state that we are in; it is impossible. We have only two options when it comes to character. We may either build strong character, through the development of godly habits, or we may develop weak character, through the development of ungodly habits. There are no options besides progression or regression. Our habits are vital aspects of our lives, for these are the things which will be most instrumental in shaping our future.

In my case, my reaction in the mornings is a habit which procures the unwholesome character traits of anger, lack of self-control, self-centeredness, and rudeness. The first step is recognizing this area of sin in my life. The second step is repentance. True repentance means turning from one way to another; replacing one old habit with a new one. That is easy enough to say, of course. I have found that it is an extraordinarily simple thing to fashion ungodly habits for myself, while it is a truly daunting task to continue to practice godly ones. This fight against our sinful natures is a constant, unrelenting battle, and we will find it easy to tire. However, remember that we cannot rest, for when we are not actively strengthening our character, we are doing precisely the opposite. Conquering ungodly habits takes great amounts of effort and discipline, and this battle cannot be won in our own power. Only through Christ can we successfully form habits pleasing to Him, and only through His strength can we destroy those which are sinful. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, and His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning: great is His faithfulness! (Lament. 3:22-23)

"Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." Galatians 6:7-9