Saturday, April 23, 2011

Beautiful Beauty and Not-so Beautiful Beauty

A few weeks ago, a man named Nick Vujičič came to town. Actually, he came to five towns in Slovenia. He is a motivational speaker. He is a planter of seeds. He is a lover of Jesus.

Those of us here in Koper that knew of Nick's gifts and faith were quite excited for his coming. To our knowledge, no person like Nick had ever come to the Slovenian coast. The few weeks before Nick came, my team stood outside of stores passing out fliers getting the word out as best we could about Nick's coming. For several of those days, we had a tv set-up in the mall. On the screen a 3minute promo video played in a perpetual loop. I watched that promo hundreds of times.

What makes Nick's message so potent is the immediate authenticity he brings to the table. Nick was born without arms or legs (well, he has two very small 'chicken-feet' as he calls them). In a society that promotes authenticity above all -- in a world that is quick to doubt the motivations of anyone bearing a message -- Nick levels the field. He has accomplished an incredible amount in his life. This is obvious. And he credits it all to Christ's work on the cross for him. Grace. Listen to him, and you'll believe him. He has no ulterior motive. He is as he says he is: a man made rich by God's love.

On the video we played continuously, one line caught my attention. Nick said, "You are beautiful just the way you are, no matter what you think."

Nick's point was getting at self-esteem/self-love. The line comes amidst a monologue about girls who struggle with anorexia and the destructive things young teens do for acceptance and the hope of love. God loves you and made you precious. You are beautiful whether you believe it or not. That is the point.

With that line repeating into my ears every three minutes, I couldn't help but compare it to a very similar statement.

In 2002 Christina Aguilera came out with a song and accompanying music video, "Beautiful". I remember at the time how the song was praised as a delightful vision and dream of the way things should be. In general, I have a toxic response to mainstream visions of perfection. John Lennon's "Imagine" makes my stomach roll. Why would I ever desire to dwell in a world with no hope of Heaven?

Christina's song has a peculiar 'us vs. them' mentality. This is most prominently on display in the chorus line, "You are beautiful no matter what they say..."

Nick's line: 
You are beautiful no matter what you think.

You are beautiful no matter what they say.

The difference is slight, but the contrast immense.

Both lines presuppose your beauty. Great. Huzzah! But then it also appears that both lines imply a problem. That's the kicker. They allude to entirely different problems. Christina implies that the problem is them. They are the ones that need to change. They are trying to bring your beauty down... whoever they are. Nick speaks differently. The implication is that we ourselves undersell our value. We distort our own beauty by thinking we are not highly prized. The problem starts with us. We, the beautiful, make a mockery of our own worth.

Today is the Saturday before Easter. I'm not sure if this day has a special name (I assume the high church denominations have some slick term for it). Historically speaking, I can't imagine a sadder day than the one experienced two thousand years ago in Palestine.

This is the day of dread. Our Savior was dead.

He died because we thought so little of ourselves, and so little of the One who made us beautiful.

I often try to envision what this day was like for the twelve. What did they do? I imagine it would have been too soon for out-an-out mourning. Shock would still be king.

The Long Day.  The day that beauty appeared dead.

You are beautiful because there was a Sunday. The next day came. Tomorrow comes.

He is risen indeed. You are beautiful because of it.

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