The Relational Economy: Currency - Part 3
- Thursday, April 07, 2011
Some folks suffer in sorrow
Thinking they're just no good
They don't match the magazine model
As close as they think they should
If I could shape the English language I would leave in the word beautiful but excise the word ugly. I would remove from the language the words to paint any person as less lacking in visual worth. I would so order things that we had only words to build each other up. Then, if I could, I would make it my goal to so shape ALL world languages so that there would be no unkind word but only those that are “helpful for building others up according to their needs ...” (Eph. 4:29). It is that world in which I want to live.
But we live in a world where words build AND destroy souls. We live in a world and participate in a relational economy in which physical appearance is a valued commodity. We live in a world where singles judge one another on their marketability, a world in which “ugliness,” real or perceived, can feel like punishment.
God has no ugly children. God plays no favorites. We don’t need to impress him. As Rich Mullins said, “He’s already knocked out about you. He already loves you more than you could imagine.” And yet, there are many poor souls convinced that ugliness is the reason for their singleness. I cannot deny it. I also cannot confirm it. The whole issue of singleness is both simpler and vastly more complex than that.
There will ALWAYS be someone prettier, someone more handsome, or someone with more charm. There will always be someone with a smaller waist, firmer breasts, less body fat, or some other agreed upon trait of “beauty.”
If what we pursue is some arbitrary standard, there is no end to the search. There is no person who lives up to the title of perfect man or perfect woman. We are more than the sum of our parts. I am valued beyond my looks and so are you—or we should be.
I avoid saying just plainly “those who ARE beautiful” and “those who ARE ugly” because I just don’t believe in the full reality of those categories. Something in me accepts the “beautiful,” but cannot stomach “ugly.” To declare someone ugly is to speak of more than their looks. To call someone ugly is to make a pronouncement of their relational worth.
Let’s face it, we rarely bother to comment on a person’s ugliness outside the realm of their “dateability.” In most cases we do not even notice a person’s looks unless we are considering dating them. For the most part they are people until they stumble across our relational radar. Then we feel compelled to decide whether what they have to offer is enough—whether they are attractive or not.
If they please US—they are beautiful.
If they do not please US—they are ugly.
This is ruthlessness. We are here for more than marriage and thus here for more than dating. We possess value beyond our relational appeal. Thank God! If the feet of those who bring Good News are beautiful, then we who are the temple of the Holy Spirit are beautiful—EVERY ONE OF US. If the ground near the burning bush was sacred, then we should remove our shoes in approaching a daughter or son of Heaven’s King. Who of us would DARE speak the world ugly in addressing the King’s daughter—the princess? Who would dare call a heaven’s prince ugly?
And yet I have thought and at times said that someone was ugly. I spoke in ignorance. I spoke from my own limited perspective and for my own benefit—not theirs. I repent of that judgment. “Ugly,” for what it’s worth, is ethereal—ghostlike—it is neither real nor tangible. But then again, so is beauty. The “Maker of Noses” made them all to HIS specs, and I dishonor the maker if I call ANYONE ugly.
We sometimes treat relational currency as an objective standard of observable facts. Anyone who sees themselves as ugly grants another person the power to determine the standard of beauty. This is madness given the fallen state of EVERYONE we encounter. Not only do the makers of beauty not have our best interests at heart, they quite often do not have God’s heart. The world constructs social ideas of beauty in order to draw boundaries. This is why we might wonder, “what she is doing with him.” Or we might wonder, “what he is doing with her.” There is nothing more scandalous than beauty joined to that which appears to us—ugly.
It is for this very reason that the gospel is scandalous. That beautiful God of all ages is willing to be seen with us. He is willing to be loved by us and to be known as ours. He is willing to have people stare, willing to have them talk. And if for a moment we feel the rush of embarrassment, he does no more than take our hand and squeeze.
He did not come because we were beautiful, but he did not disdain the disfiguring horror of our sins. He did not choose us because we would improve his reputation, but because he wanted us to know we were loved. He does not care that some people think him a fool for condescending to our poverty. He has come to make us rich, and he has come to make us beautiful. He makes all things beautiful.
Thank God we are more than the swing of our hips, the cut of our pecs, more than the length and color of our hair. If it were not so, I am not sure who would fit in. We are more than blue eyes, grey eyes, brown eyes, or green eyes, and yet all the stars MUST have green or blue eyes. Have you noticed?
It is wonderful if someone else finds you beautiful but it is more important that YOU find yourself beautiful. You may look in the mirror and be disturbed, so don’t look with your eyes alone. You share in Christ’s beauty even as you share in his suffering. This is the beauty of the Christian life. We are being “transformed into his likeness” (2 Cor. 3:18). This means that, although in our sin we resemble his homeliness, in his righteousness we reflect his beauty.
The Ugliest Dog Contest should help us recognize a different wisdom. Those dogs are called ugly but LOVED as though they were beautiful. But if they are loved as though they were beautiful are they not beautiful? The reason ANY of us think we are ugly is because someone somewhere convinced us that we do not measure up to some standard. The label of ugly rarely comes from an unbiased source. In dating, it comes from a person who cannot picture bringing this or that “ugly” person home.
I may not mind being called ugly if love thought me beautiful. Then I would spend all I had to love in return. I would bring my Lek knowing that anyone with a Pula would still accept me. After all, surely love appreciates Yuan Renminbis as much as Birrs. Surely love is in the business of MAKING things beautiful and not just taking things beautiful. Surely a relational currency based on his love between us makes better sense than the volatile economy in which we live.
Hudson Russell Davis is a Ph.D. candidate and adjunct professor of theology at Saint Louis University.
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