The Way We Appear

A couple of weeks ago, in a Highland Shepherds meeting, Jerry Taylor came by to give us a vision that he had. It was a vision of a day when churches everywhere were not some of the most segregated places in the world. It was a passionate and compelling vision, but what I thought was interesting was why he said this is something that we needed to do. He said it was Gospel work.

So right now we are in a Disney phase in the Storment house. It’s princess this and princess that (Eden is even starting to get involved). Last week,  I was watching Beauty and the Beast with Eden. It was great watching her eyes light up when the dishes sang and danced, and as I remembered, it was a Disney movie with a story. The pretty, young Belle learns that it’s not what’s on the outside that matters, it what is on the inside that counts. She learns to look past the cosmetic differences and finds beauty under the Beast.

Sometime ago, I met a person who was severely handicapped. They had a life-threatening medical condition they developed as a child, and now it was obvious that this person would never have what most people consider a normal life again. This person had severe and irreparable damage to their eyes and mouth. The brain damage made it to where her speech was slurred and her thoughts jumbled.

As we visited, I began to understand that she had undergone over a dozen brain surgeries from the time that she was a little girl to remove a tumor and with each surgery, a normal life just slipped further and further away. And that’s when I started to wonder, if Eden was one day in this situation, how would I want someone to treat her? How would I want someone to see her?

There is a story in 1st Samuel that a lot of us already know. The reigning King Saul, is being replaced, and the prophet Samuel is headed to the family of Jesse to anoint the new guy. The problem is that Jesse has got plenty of sons, so Samuel’s not quite sure who he’s supposed to douse with oil. But, he is quite sure, who he’s not.

But that’s before God speaks some of the most significant words in the Scriptures. He tells Samuel that the very guy that he’s assumed doesn’t need to be King because of his appearance is the one who will rule next. But then God says,

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Now chances are, you’ve heard that verse before, but think about the implications of this verse. Because the truth is that God is spot on. That’s exactly how we see and gauge people. We look at the outside. But this isn’t just a verse about how to choose the right King to ordain. It’s a verse about how to be fully human.

Think about Jesus for a second. Most of us are compelled by the way he was able to interact and treat people, especially those who the Bible calls, “The Least of These.” But take the romanticism out of that concept for a second. Jesus was interacting with lepers, I’ve been to a leper colony and I have an idea of what that looks like. People are disfigured, there was a smell. But this is one of the greatest ways that Jesus shows us what God looks like. Because Jesus doesn’t see that. He sees them.

Which brings me back to Beauty and the Beast, I’m watching that movie with Eden and all of a sudden it dawns on me. This movie isn’t really that great of a moral after all. Think about the end of it. The princess loves the Beast, and he transforms into a handsome prince. The moral of the story isn’t that it’s not what is on the outside that counts. But look past the outside long enough and it will transform into something more appealing.

Which explains why Leslie keeps trying to make me work out.

Now this isn’t to knock Disney, it’s just to reinforce what God already said, We look at the outside appearance. But unfortunately we just don’t see that well into the future. Because, and here’s where Beauty and Beast gets it right, we will one day be transformed. Maybe not into the handsome prince, but into the perfect reflection of God that is imbedded in each person right now.

I like the way C.S. Lewis talks about this, “”It is a serious thing, to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

And maybe that’s why Jerry Taylor calls fighting racism Gospel work. Because central to the Gospel is the realization that we are not so easily summarized by the way we appear. Beneath our cosmetic differences, beats a heart, one that God is extremely interested in. And in the new Heavens and the New Earth we will see that way too.

About jonathanstorment

My family and I love reading, traveling, daddy/daughter dates, playing hide and seek, good music, and long meals with friends. We still miss LOST, and all four of us have Superman uniforms. We are passionate about bringing Heaven to Earth and want to follow Jesus while repainting discipleship for those around us. We are followers of Jesus and I preach at the Highland Church of Christ. We participate in something called A Restoration Movement, and we've come to realize that might be larger than we thought.

12 thoughts on “The Way We Appear

  1. “Shrek” doesn’t get it any better. Fiona is beautiful to another ogre, which is to be expected. (Otherwise, would there ever be any little ogres?)

    Maybe Disney gets it better than we realize. Inside, as Lewis says, we look like gods and godesses. Maybe that’s the deeper meaning. But I don’t really expect Disney to give us a terribly deep meaning.

    The disabled person you met was a she, not a “they.” You started getting that right in the second paragraph about her.

    Are our churches racist? Is yours? Are you looking beyond the externals (how many of each race are in attendance) to the reasons behind that? Is a church racist because most of the people who choose to attend are of one race?

  2. Hey Bro. Danny, I don’t think most churches are racists, in fact, I don’t know any that are driven by overt racism. I’m sure that they’re are churches that might be, but I don’t know any. What I was trying to communicate was what you picked up in your sentence about looking past externals. You’ve heard what Dr. King and Billy Graham observed about Sunday morning being the most segregated time of the week.

    I don’t think that’s racism as much as it is the implications from long standing systems (hopefully from the past) that supported racism. As we’ve spoken about in the past, I think it’s sad that the government lead the way in a lot of places toward integration. I think it’s the churches job. That’s what I was getting at. Thanks Bro. Danny!

  3. Unfortunately, in your last paragraph, you at least implied that the church was racist.

    I don’t think it’s the implications from long-standing systems that supported racism as much as it is simply choice. Churches are places of voluntary association. In other words, one chooses to go to a particular church. If Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week (not true in my experience), it is because people choose to behave in that fashion. It does not require a policy, or even an inadvertent attitude that makes some people feel unwelcome. I choose to go to the church I do because I am invested in it, because of people I know and love who go there, because I know the Gospel is taught there . . . you get the point. Others go to another particular church for similar reasons. Big among those reasons is the presence of family. It is cultural practice that makes churches look relatively homogenous (not segregated). I’d love to see that change, but people don’t change easily or quickly. Meanwhile, I’ll take comfort in the words of Paul . . . “neither slave nor free, Greek nor Jew, . . .”

  4. Jonathan, as long as wo/men of faith such as you and Dr.Taylor continue slogging away at eliminating racism, this most terrible of all human choices, I am convinced it will shortly be a terrible memory of a long ago past. Please, teach us LORD!

    May I express my gratitude for Highland. It’s 7-1/2 years since I first stepped into the building …. into an almost totally lily white congregation. However and PTL!! o/, Highland is daily becoming a congregation more representative of our city and neighborhood …. an amalgam of races and ethnicities …. more the norm than the exception, for which I am so very thankful.

    btw-Dr. Taylor is still another preacher I’m so honored to call friend and brother-in-the-LORD! Guess I just like having preacher friends. ~smile~

  5. I’ve been thinking even more about this issue lately, although not along the lines of race. My wife went to a meeting/breakfast with a women’s group last weekend and was basically ignored and made to feel like an unworthy outsider. It was a blow to her, and terribly, terribly wrong. Basically, anytime we adopt an Us-vs-Them mentality, we are erring. This incident really pointed out to me that it’s a pervasive problem whenever you get a group of people together. But it’s reflected in actions, not in how the group looks.

  6. I believe that race is still an issue within the church. There are major denominations that have only relatively recently apologized for their role in the American slave trade. I know many Christians a generation older than me who have been present when the church got to vote whether or not to allow African Americans. A friend told me of a church he was a part of in the 80s, the 1980s that is, that voted on a teenage black boy and by one vote was allowed to join. Some like to point out that this doesn’t happen anymore, but it DID happen and is alive in many peoples minds. Even if it’s not happening at that level or that blatantly, have the churches who were a part of this nonsense done anything to rectify this?

  7. Mrs. Kathy, that is great news to hear! I know that it is one of the core values of the leaders at HCC, it’s just good to know that it’s working. Thanks for that it was very encouraging.

    Bro. Keith, yes I am! I am from Benton (along with Cliff Lee and Billy Bob Thorton) where are you from?

    Maynard and Bro. Danny, it’s interesting to hear both of your perspectives on this. Maynard is from a small town in Arkansas and so it’s sounds like he’s got a different take on what has recently transpired there. Thanks for sharing that Maynard, I may tell that story sometime. Bro. Danny, I had lunch earlier this week (after this post) with a person of a different ethnicity…and he brought up to me that his biggest struggle with churches was when there wasn’t some diversity on the stage. His point, gently made, was that talking about wanting to be diverse is different than developing systems of showing that we mean it. I think RHCC does a good job of asking those questions, because I’ve heard them in most meetings I was in. HCC does too. I just wish all churches did. Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

  8. Jonathan- thanks for bringing this topic to our attention once again. It’s very important that we are constantly reminded that we must strive to be known as those who truly call all people to a relationship with God, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic class, etc. I think it would do us, the church, good to take an extra step and show the world that we truly are those who believe that we all are worth the same to God… 1 SOUL. I had the joy of interning at the Manhattan Church of Christ and experienced the unique diversity found there. I crave being there, sharing in worship with my brothers and sisters from so many nations, race groups, and socio-economic levels. For a long time I didn’t understand why taking the extra step in being concious about who is “up front” at our gatherings was important, but I learned that if we’re going to talk about our diversity, our gender inclusiveness, and our belief that all people are equal in God’s sight (Gal 3:28) then we’ve got to prove it. We’ve got to make sure that both men & women participate in our gatherings, educated & uneducated have the opportunity to testify- REGARDLESS of how eloquent their speech may be, rich & poor have the opportunity to give, and that all people feel welcome in our “church homes.” We should start building bridges between our predominately white, black and hispanic churches. We need to spend some extra time in giving the opportunity for ALL our brothers & sisters to share in the gathering of Christians each week. We should go out, teach ALL people, call ALL people to a relationship with God and spend extra time ensuring the world knows what we believe not only by what God’s word says, but also by what our actions show. Creating an environment that cultivates relationships with God for EVERYONE is truly Gospel work.

  9. Jonathan, very, very good post. (And good discussion in the comments that follow.) It seems that the questions that RHCC and HCC raise are all about being intentional in addressing this. I think that simply being intentional as we address problems like this would take us much farther down the road.

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