Nina Davulur, 24 years old.
You may have seen and read articles last week about how some people were disappointed or outright enraged that Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri, did not "look American" enough to win the coveted title. It was all over social media and traditional outlets gave time to the conversation, as I assume talk shows did as well. Her dark skin and not quite white (or African American) features seemed to contradict what some think Americans should and do look like (and it was awhile before a black American was accepted).
Emily Bloemker, 26 years old (at the time).
The other day, I came across "What Not to Wear" on TLC. A TV show I hadn't watched in some time but this one caught my eye. It was a rerun of the episode of the then 26 year old female Episcopal priest -- Emily Bloemker -- whose family, friends and parishioners wrote the show saying she was in need of being saved from her dull, frumpy wardrobe. They converted her style, while she kept her religious views intact, to a more "appealing" young woman.
Jonathan Ferrell, 24 years old.
Another story about a senseless killing. This time in Charlotte, NC, of a young African-American man, Jonathan Ferrell, who had been in a car accident. As he approached a home to get assistance, disoriented, the police were called and subsequently the young man was shoot at 12 times (with 10 bullets hitting him). He was unarmed. The attorney for the police say the shooting was justified.
What do these stories that surfaced this week have in common? Our society's opinion of what and how someone should look. Race, gender, attire have become the top three boxes on our judging card we check before getting to know someone. Still. In the 21st Century and 50 years after the leader of the Civil Right’s Movement, Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., gave his moving “I Have A Dream" speech. You know the one we quote and say has come true? But has it? Are we judged on the content of our character and not on the color of our skin?
As the Image of God
This isn't about race, really. It's about what God looks like...in us. If we, as Christians, are to change the world, what do we look like? To others and ourselves? Are there certain features we're looking for and should possess ourselves? Is there a certain style or image? Is it behavior we're judging? A combination of a number of things?
As Christians, our "look" isn't going to influence everyone to want to have a deeper relationship with Christ; but I believe we are to represent God, as we best know and understand Him/Her, in the best way though our inner and outer makeup (and I’m not talking cosmetics here). This doesn't mean wearing designer clothes no one can afford or dressing up to please someone. It means carrying ourselves in an authentic way -- one that expresses who we are in Christ (and yes, pink hair is allowed).
The face of Christianity is much deeper than outer appearances but it doesn't ignore that. It's both a smile on the face and joy in the heart. It's a look of compassion and a feeling of service. It's a helping hand when someone is in need and a whispered prayer in the middle of confusion. It's a shake of hands and respect of someone's religion and faith walk. It's a tear when in pain and a resolve to know it will get better.
There is no one look, no same way that each of us represents Christ. We are not the Stepford Wives programed to act a certain way on Sundays when we go to church, though some may think that. We are called into a daily, moment by moment relationship with God. We are called to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit, to be agents of the paradigm shift that Jesus' talked about. We are called to walk a higher path -- not in the sense of being "better than" someone else but in claiming truth and leading the way for other's deliverance from ego-based reality.
A Watchful Eye
If we want an authentic relationship with God and for others to be authentic with us, we must remove the facade we carry and allow our vulnerability to show. If our eyes are to hold the light that will bless others, we must first allow the spirit of God to fill us with light. If our actions are to speak of compassion and self-sacrifice, we must first know for ourselves that God is our strength and redeemer.
The world is watching us who confess to believe in a living God. God is watching and cheering for us to be about Kingdom business. You know, healing the sick, feeding those who are hunger, setting the captives free. This call and relationship are so much more than words and image, it is about action.
Every day, we have the opportunity, with family, friends and strangers to be the face of God as well as to experience the face of God through others. Ask yourself, do others see God when they look at you? What does that look like?