Image Unconscious

Have you looked in the mirror today? What do you see when you do that? Handsome rugged good looks; a sweet, pretty face; or does a ghoul glare back at you? The answer is of course in your mind, not the mirror. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, and I have discovered that the beholder is more likely to criticise than offer a standing ovation!

We have an obsession in Britain today about image. You only have to flick through a magazine or watch a little television to realise that our culture is mesmerised by “good looks.” We might expect this to be the case in the showbiz world but I suspect that this permeates through every sphere of our society. While there are exceptions, the boss is more likely to give the new job to the pretty blonde in the foyer rather than a middle aged man. Even some Prime Minister’s careers may depend upon their face rather than their thoughts. A very familiar half scripture makes this promise: “Man looks upon the outward appearance” (1 Samuel 16:7), so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves living in the “pin up” world. Today, millions find their security in the social world of internet chatrooms where the face is not a factor.

We should all be grateful that the Lord completes this utterance to Samuel: “but God looks upon the heart.” Heavenly values are not shared on earth, except by the sons of the kingdom, the church. At least, that is how it should be. But I believe there is a huge temptation for the modern church, especially one looking to be more seeker-sensitive and to have a spirit of excellence, to fall into the same snare of worshipping the outward.

I want to ask a very bold question. Putting the example of local church life to one side for a moment, when was the last time that you attended a “cutting edge” high-tech conference and the meeting was being convened by a ‘less than attractive looking’ worship leader? Only the Lord knows how young, teenage men must internally battle as they try to worship Jesus the King of angels, only to have Charlie’s Angels, blonde and perfect, raised high on a platform in front of them. And lest we think that this is only a problem for the men in the crowd, the psychological impact upon young girls who feel inadequate could be just as real. If the models in magazines fill teenagers with low self-esteem, the models in church will do just the same.

Somehow men in public ministry can usually get away with this. A man can be the size of Geoff Capes, or have the most crooked nose in England, and he might still find himself in the Charismatic “Who’s Who”. That is, of course, if he is able to compensate for these other “failures” by having a wonderful personality and a truly enormous anointing.

Now we need to be very careful – it would be equally wrong for beauty to disqualify someone from a public ministry. No-one should seek to deliberately look terrible! But let’s be mindful of those things that God values. Speaking of Christ, Isaiah that “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Paul reminds women (though the principle applies just as strongly to men) to dress not with the finest or trendiest of clothes, but with “good deeds”; while Peter speaks of the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).

I love the new day in which we live. I love the projectors, the dancers, the multimedia, the graphics, even some of the lights! I appreciate that as a church we need to up our game. We all judge a book by its cover and I am all in favour of good presentation. Good riddance indeed to cold and dirty church buildings with unfriendly doormen and black and white tracts. But in all our efforts to borrow a little of the world’s marketing skills, let’s not swallow the whole tablet. If the spirit of excellence means we can’t put talented but ‘slightly frumpy Pippa’ in the choir, we just missed the Spirit. God puts his treasure in clay, not gold (2 Corinthians 4:7). Right?

JOY Magazine, November 2008

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