How we look

So, Renee Zellweger has been in the news in the last day because she emerged from her chosen seclusion to attend an event.  She does not look like she used to; had I not read the photo caption, I would not have thought it was her.  There’s been a lot of ink spilled about all of that, about how aging women are not allowed to be saggy AND gray AND beautiful, about why someone would undergo the knife, etc. etc.

photo (6)I read the story yesterday, after I woke up and looking like this first thing in the  morning.   I had fallen asleep early the night before and not taken off my mascara, and I use this awesome paste in my hair that creates hair sculptures while I sleep.  I texted the photo to my best friend who told me I am a good person.  Not a word about how I look, which is why I consider her my best friend.

Why does our appearance matter?  What does it matter if our facial features are perfectly symmetrical, or if we have a unibrow and moustache, if we’re rail thin or cellulite-dappled?  What does it matter if our hair is perfectly coiffed and colored or happily messy and silver streaked?

I know the answer.  Society says our looks matter; God says they don’t.  We live caught somewhere between those competing sentiments. In last week’s sermon I said this: “Maybe we will be a church that sees the face of Christ in everyone we meet. We belong to God because we look like Christ. We are created in God’s image.”

It never occurred to me to look for the face of Christ in Renee Zellweger.  I have no idea if she is a person of faith, but that’s not the point.  I think the point is to look beyond the surface to the humanity and the holiness.  Maybe Renee is a woman struggling with her professional life and her mortality.  Maybe she doesn’t give a damn.  Maybe her looks are none of our business.

I will admit that some people make it hard to see the face of Christ, and it has nothing to do with appearance. We hate their attitude or their actions, or we judge them, or we belittle them.  Why would the spirit of Christ reside in such an ugly person?  That’s the challenge – where is this person’s holiness or humanity?  How might God be speaking to us through them?

Head-of-ChristThen I think about the images of Christ that have been created over the millenia which look nothing like what a first century semitic male would have looked like.  I might make fun of a golden haired, peachy skinned Jesus, but I wouldn’t make fun of a Jesus with Asian features or African features.  I would respect that the artist in a different culture was trying to express that Jesus was theirs, too.  I hesitate at the blonde white Jesuses because of the assumption that if Jesus could have chosen, he really would have wanted to be an American.  Maybe that’s not what Warner Sallman and his like were getting at.  But still.

I don’t know what Jesus looked like.  I don’t know what Renee Zellweger would look like if she hadn’t, presumably, had work done.  I do know that over the years I’ve done a little plucking here and there to change my appearance, and as I’ve lived with this face for fifty years, I know how I look and accept it.

But do others struggle to see the face of Christ in mine?

On replacing refrigerators and turning ocean liners

On replacing refrigerators and turning ocean liners

50kelvinatorrefrigeratorWe had to replace our refrigerator this year.  Serving the ice cream semi-soft is one thing, but pouring ice cream into a bowl and not a milkshake glass is something else all together.  The dearly departed fridge lasted all of nine years.  We bought it when we bought our first house together; it resided in two houses in Wisconsin and one in Portland, and then it died a fairly painless but noisy death.  When one’s refrigerator dies suddenly, one really cannot spend weeks researching a new model.  A quick look at Consumer Reports and a visit to Sears and three days later, a new fridge.

Here’s something we learned from the experience: they no longer make refrigerators that last twenty years, at least not any that are affordable.  We anticipate our new one will last another eight to ten years, and then we will fork over a grand or two for a new one.  I am not pleased about that.  Nor am I pleased that things like cell phones and computers don’t last more than three to five years.  Short-lived appliances are a new trend and if Jesus were around today he might say it’s a sign of the impending apocalypse.

There’s talk in church and other circles these days about nimbleness – nimble leaders who can change hats quickly, congregations that adapt to 21st church, nimble decision-making processes that are not subject to arduous months of meetings and Robert’s Rules of Order.  I am all for nimbleness.  I said to my husband the other day, “After twenty-one years of committee meetings, I would be happy if I never had to go to another one.”  Committee meetings, board meetings, session and presbytery and synod and General Assembly meetings can be productive, but rarely have I seen them exhibit nimbleness.

Is there a connection between nimbleness and short-lived-ness?  One could say we made our refrigerator-buying decision nimbly, and in eight to ten years we will be nimble again.  But will a decision that is made nimbly prove to be long-lived?  Is there merit in taking our time about some things, or is the deliberate pace merely an excuse for how very long it takes to turn an ocean liner around?

If manufacturers took more time to make appliances, would they last longer?  Has technology become our master, and are we subject to the almost daily innovations that lead to faster connection speeds, more apps, and a greater variety of bells and whistles?

I have no answers today, but I am glad the fridge is working.oceean liner

 

Some things take a long time to heal

Some things take a long time to heal

hip_labral_tear_avulsionWe were talking about health and mental health the other day in staff meeting, and I asked why mental health issues couldn’t just be called health  issues.  After all, many of the diseases that affect one’s emotional life are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, a physical thing.   And then I commented that physical health issues take their mental toll too, and confessed, I think for the first time, that I have been in pain every day for the last year.  That takes a toll.  I get down about it, I get frustrated and angry and discouraged.

We were talking about health because a member of our congregation – a beloved, vivacious woman – committed suicide a few weeks ago, and we are all pretty wrecked about it.  She lived for years with a bi-polar disorder that she chose to hide from many who knew her, and so her choice to end her life came as a shock to most of the congregation.

To say she was vivacious only begins to describe her: vivacious, hilarious, organized, fun, friendly, kind, thoughtful of so many.  That was what she chose to show the world, and that was her authentic self.  But I want to honor the fullness of who she was, and say that the withdrawn, sad parts were her authentic self too, but a part that she chose not to show most of the world.  When she went into the valley of the shadow, she stayed home and hunkered down.  A few of us knew that, and tried to support her as best we could.  She left a note – organized person that she was, of course she left a note – and her sister read part of it at the memorial service.  She assured us that there was nothing any of us could have done to stop her, that her decision had been made, that she knew how much we loved her and how much her death would hurt us.

Some things take a long time to heal.  I still have moments of utter disbelief that she is gone, that next year on July 3 we won’t celebrate our birthdays which were exactly two weeks apart.  I keep expecting to walk into the office and hear her ask what we have for her to organize.  But deeper, I am still so very bereaved that she took her own life.  I do wonder what I could have done.  I do doubt that I told her often enough how much I loved her.  There is a hurt there, a wound of sorrow and guilt and profound loss, and the scar that is left some day will not be subtle.

Sometime about eighteen months ago, I tore the labrum tissue in my right hip – it’s the tissue that lines the hip and is like the meniscus of the hip.  It’s been eighteen months of pain, x-rays, an MRI (aided by lots of Valium), conversations with surgeons who tell me surgery is not an option for me, physical therapy, chiropractic help, and exercises.  I limp and I cannot hide the limp.  On Sunday mornings when I walk down the aisle, everyone sees me limp.  They comment that I’m still limping, a year later, and I say yes I am.  They ask if it’s getting better, and I say yes, it is healing and it is healing slowly.

People like to hear that I’m healing, but they don’t like the slowly part.  Maybe it’s hard for them to see me in pain, although I try to hide it.  Maybe it reminds them that their pastor is not a spry thirty-year-old.  Maybe they’re being empathetic, because I’m not the only one around church who walks with a little wobble.

It has been an interesting journey these last eighteen months, one of the body-mind-soul journeys that contains lessons about patience and honesty and good humor, about frustration and hope, about pain and tiredness.  In the last two months I have made peace with the fact that this will take a long time to heal, that some wounds – however invisible to the naked eye – are not easily mended.

Broken hearts and spirits don’t mend easily or quickly.  It is possible that some never mend.  But some will, over time, over months and years and decades.

May we be patient with each other in the mending.

 

mended-heart