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.
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?
Then 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?