February 20th, 2017


Christ and the Philosophers, Part I

I just published the last of this sermon series, by request. (Honest!) So, I thought it might be of interest to someone to see the whole four-part series. Here is the first sermon, then.

Christ and the Philosophers: the Good

Mark 10:17-31

Years ago, when my daughter, Anna, was in high school, she asked me to come talk to one of her school clubs about Philosophy and Religion. I prepared a talk and delivered it – and I came across the handout for that talk recently while cleaning out a closet. One of the major points I made in that talk given to high school youth was that everybody thinks philosophically. That doesn’t mean that everyone is wise – or even consistent in their logic – but the kinds of questions philosophy asks, using ten-dollar words, are the kinds of questions everybody asks, all day long.

Essentially, philosophy asks three questions: what is the Good? What is the True? And what is the Beautiful? The Good, the True, and the Beautiful (not the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – that’s an old Clint Eastwood film): Determining the good, the true, and the beautiful is ordinary stuff. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to determine any of those things, but it’s not something that takes an advanced degree. We do it from our earliest years.

“That’s just not right.” “That was very kind.” “Five Guys makes the best fries.” What is The Good? Or, in the words of a famous tabloid headline: "Doctors Discover: CHOCOLATE CAN CURE ANTHING!” What is The True? And then – we can start talking about art and fashion and landscapes and tattoos, and the question “What is The Beautiful?” will start an argument in five seconds flat. Life is full of instances where you are asked to make a determination between good and bad, between true and false, between beautiful and ugly – and we all do.

You could go so far as the say that Philosophy is the Operating System of the Mind. In order to run your brain, you must think in these categories. Meanwhile, Religion is merely an App – an add-on, a program you can run. And you can so configure your soul that everything goes through the Religion App; indeed, we recommend that you do. That’s the meaning of WWJD, that you see on all those little bracelets – not to mention Paul’s admonition that whatsoever you do, do it all to the glory of God. But there are plenty of people who only check their Religion App once in a while, and others who basically never use it - while everybody uses Philosophy, because everybody is constantly making one kind of choice or another. And choices – distinctions – value judgments – is what Philosophy is all about.

Now, there is no Official Christian Philosophy. People with all sorts of opinions and organizing principles become Christians; but still, the Bible and Church tradition has some things to say about how we should go about making the important choices life presents us with. And so, today, I want to talk about the first of those questions: What is The Good?
And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth."
Y’know, there’s a whole lot going on in that little interchange – more than we usually realize. Let’s start with the matter of Ethics. One of the major approaches to talking about the Good is to talk about Ethics: What is good behavior vs. bad behavior: What is fair, what is just, what is humane? When the rich young man asks him how to qualify for eternal life, Jesus mentions the commandments: Everybody knows the commandments; do those.

Now, when you get right down to it, an awful lot of people think that the commandments are just arbitrary. God makes up the rules just because he can, and then threatens people with hell and damnation if they step over his lines. And people who think that way often wind up arguing with the commandments, thinking, Surely God isn’t like that. As Charles II – he of the many mistresses – put it, “Surely God will never damn a man for allowing himself a little pleasure.” But if you listen to people argue about things when they don’t work out the way they want, you’ll notice an interesting thing: They’ll say: “that’s unfair!” And they expect to you to agree with them.

Amazing. Even people who claim that God – or Man – or Society – just makes up the Rules (in order to make up their own) will howl about how unfair some outcome is. And they expect to convince you, because after all, it’s not just that they wanted it to turn out their way – they expect you to know that it should have turned out their way. “You know the commandments” – don’t you?

The plain fact is, whatever one says one believes, everybody acts as if the standards of right and wrong – of fair vs. unfair – are not just my standards or your standards, but everybody’s standards; that, in fact, there is an authoritative code of the Good which exists outside all human society, and to which all humans are accountable. Otherwise, claiming “that’s unfair!” and expecting you to care, much less do anything about it, makes no sense.

And what do Christians believe? We believe that the definition of Good starts with the God of the Bible, who is an ethical God. “No one is good but God alone,” says Jesus. And so the Rules are not just made up: they reflect God’s nature, and they’re the same for everybody, and everybody is accountable to – God? Yes, God – for obeying them. Or else your complaint about unfairness, or injustice, or somebody’s evil behavior, is just a waste of breath.

But wait! There’s more! Everyone acts as if there’s a universal code of Good, and everyone acts as if it’s universally known, but the odd thing is, Nobody manages to obey it. We expect them to, but they don’t. For that matter, while we’re complaining about the outrage that’s been done to us, we act as if we know the code of the Good, and that we at least live up to its demands - when in fact, if we’re honest, we have to admit that we do no such thing.

We are all alike guilty of the very same acts we complain about when done to us. Which is a very odd thing. Cats never fail to live up to the ideals of cat-ness. Cows are never known to disappoint other cows in their behavior. Elephants never lose a night’s sleep worrying over whether they did the right thing today. But human beings, despite our complaints about others, find it impossible to live up to even the most minimal standards ourselves – even those accepted by ourselves beforehand. Why, just keeping a diet going more than a day is a severe trial for us, let alone treating others as we should wish to be treated.

This universal failure to live up to our own acknowledged standards is called sin – and as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, it’s as common as potatoes. We all do it. Every one of us, the rich young man who told Jesus he had kept all the commandments from his youth notwithstanding. And we didn’t just start falling short. We have always fallen short. We have an inborn tendency to not quite get it right. Which is why G.K. Chesterton, again, said that Original Sin was the only dogma of Christianity which could actually be proved.

So, the situation we find ourselves in, is that we have an inborn sense that there is a right and a wrong, and we are responsible for doing the one and avoiding the other, but none of us manages to do so. And if the definition of the Good comes from God, who is the Good, then we find ourselves on the outs with him, and that affects how our lives turn out now – and how they will turn out hereafter, yea, even eternally. Which is why we are told that we need to repent, to turn away from the bad, and embrace the good.

And, we are told that Jesus has sacrificed himself for us, dying on the cross in order to pay for all our misdeeds, to take away our reproach before God and make it possible for us to have a right relationship with God – and therefore, the Good -- again. This is why we say that Jesus makes us right with God. He gives effect to our repentance, so that the evil we have done can be repaired, not merely rejected.

Back again to Jesus and the rich young man for a moment: And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." “Are you calling me God?” There’s a challenge there. For there’s another angle to the Good. If God is the Good, then he communicates goodness to his creation.

Being is an essential property of God, and he causes the universe to Be. Being is better than Not-being. God is Life. He breathed into Man and he became a living soul. Being alive is better than being dead. God is Spirit. “And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Being free is better than being a slave. God is Love. God is Joy. God is Glory. Everything we could desire in this life derives its goodness from its imitation of God.

The Good is not only good actions: it is also things that are Good to have. And so when those political philosophers who created our country said “that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” they were saying just what I’ve been saying here. We desire not only to be good, but to possess the good, to take it into our souls and enjoy it.

Now, when Jesus died for our sins, he made it possible for us to be reconciled to God, to be (as they say) justified – to be righteous. But it is only when he rose from the dead that he could communicate to us the good things that we most desire, "for Christ being risen from the dead, will never die again" – and the life he now has, he shares with those who have repented of their sin and turned to him. He communicates the Goodness of God to us, he breathes into us the new life – the eternal life – which makes all good things possible.

"Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" What must I do in order to have the Good: the abundant life, the freedom of the soul, the hope of glory? Well, do all the right things, sure – but then, “come, follow me.”

You know, if you only open up your Religion App once in a while, all the talk of commandments and salvation and Jesus and the cross and mysteries and so on can look pretty confusing – which is why a lot of folks don’t open it very often. They just keep muddling through on their own – even though things never quite work out like they think they’re supposed to. But then, what can you do?

But for those who will turn their lives over to Jesus – for those who will expand their Religion App into a new Operating System for their souls – then all this makes perfect sense. It’s not about satisfying arbitrary demands, or looking for the get-out-of-hell-free card, or trying to wheedle someone into letting you keep your pet sins in the kingdom of heaven. We have found the Good – for we have found God - in Jesus Christ. And he has unsnarled the whole tangle of our wrongs, forgiven them, wiped them out, and made us new again, clean and right before God.

And he has filled us with himself, and so we find ourselves experiencing the Good – really experiencing it – fresh from the hands of the Good himself. He has promised to give us abundant life – indeed, eternal life – and so he has.

Blessed be his Name for ever. Amen.

Christ and the Philosophers, Part II

Christ and the Philosophers: the True

John 18:28-38a

The title of this little series of sermons is “Christ and the Philosophers” – meaning, not the big names in Philosophy, such as Plato, or Kant, or Descartes, but, well – you and me. We are all philosophers, because all of us every day think and act on the great philosophical questions, namely: what is the Good, the True, and the Beautiful? And while Christianity has no official philosophy – there are Idealist Christians and Realist Christians and Existentialist Christians and what-not; nevertheless, the Bible has a fair amount to say about what constitutes the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

Which brings us to the story of Jesus before Pilate. The High Priest Caiaphas & Co. have presented the Roman Governor with a ready-made sentence of death against Jesus of Nazareth, based upon a mixed bag of charges that Pilate can’t make heads or tails of. So Pilate turns to the prisoner, Jesus, to ask if he’s really claiming to be some sort of king – which would make him guilty of rebellion or sedition or something.

Jesus then asks Pilate if he's making the accusation or if he’s just repeating what he’s been told. Pilate says, “Am I a Jew?” meaning, "How do you expect me to understand all this? Your own people have asked for the death penalty. What did you do?"

Jesus realizes that Pilate is sincerely asking, so he tells him what he has refused to ever say to the likes of Caiaphas: “My kingship is not of this world,” and I’m no threat to Rome. Pilate asks then, “So you are a king?” And Jesus responds, “You call me that. I say that I came into the world as a witness to the truth.” To which Pilate responds, Phfft -- “What is truth?”

You gotta understand that for Pilate – and for many, many other people in this world, truth is whatever lets you keep your job – or your head. And he is trying, as best he can, to get Jesus to say something that will allow him to let Jesus off – but Jesus won’t say the magic words. Jesus won’t go along to get along. He has his own understanding of what is true, and he is willing to die rather than buy into what everyone else has agreed to call true. In the end, Pilate and Jesus just wind up talking past each other – but we don’t have to do the same.

So, what is truth? Well, first of all, truth is that which conforms to the facts, to reality. It’s the opposite of error, but also the opposite of fantasy. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday would say. If we’re talking about history, then truth is wie es wirklich war – the way it really happened. And if we’re talking about religion . . . Or if we’re talking about the Bible . . .

Is the Bible true? Every bit of it? Are some things true in one sense and some true in another? What are we to make of all the miracles in the Bible? How do we reconcile what the Bible says with what we learn via the Scientific Method? Oh, these are deep waters, indeed. And I have always appreciated J.R.R. Tolkiens’s epilogue to his great essay, “On Fairy-Stories,” where he says,
The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. . . . But this story has entered History and the primary world . . . There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. . . . To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.
Just to be clear: I believe that the story is true. I note especially that the New Testament is the best attested document of antiquity, and that the persons and events and customs mentioned in it are all according to Hoyle, and that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is as provable as any miracle ever could be. Being a Gentile, I’ll take the Old Testament on Jesus’s word and give it a presumption of truth, and then investigate its odd corners to see what’s in it. And there, too, I find all sorts of confirmations of its testimony.

But when Tolkien talked about “sceptical men” accepting the Gospel story as “true on its own merits,” he was saying something important. I don’t spend a lot of time preaching on the evidence for our faith, because, generally speaking, you have to really be open to the evidence for the evidence to convince you. The professional skeptics – the atheists, science-mongers, and modernists - are all like W.C. Fields. Fields was reading the Bible one day, and an astonished friend asked him what he was doing. “Looking for loopholes,” is what he said.

"Looking for loopholes" – and the atheists, science-mongers, and modernists are not alone in that. There are also all the progressive Christian leaders, who set out to explain Christianity and the Bible and in trying to make it acceptable to today’s taste, wind up explaining it away. Meanwhile, there are other people, who believe in the Bible, but who think that means you gotta believe their crazy and distorted interpretations of it – that if their weirdness ain’t so, then you can’t trust God’s word. Which is bunk.

There’s plenty of evidence, if evidence is really what you’re looking for. If you really want to know the truth, then the Holy Spirit will lead you to it – and you will find Jesus there when you find what is true. Yes. It really happened. He really did what he did, and he meant what he said.

And I’ll tell you another thing Jesus said. When he was arguing with the Pharisees, he said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” But here, truth is something more than just facts, more than just the way it really happened. Truth is not merely the opposite of fantasy – it is also the opposite of lies. And so many, many people are chained up in a prison of lies.

Sometimes, lies can take over a whole society, such as the old Soviet Union, where everybody had to say what everybody knew wasn’t true, so that they wouldn’t be punished for contradicting the State. The USSR even published falsified maps for their own people. There were whole cities that didn’t officially exist – you couldn't find 'em on a map, even if you lived there. People earned doctorates in academic fields, writing dissertations on subjects that everybody knew was total horsefeathers.

But you don’t have to live in a prison-state like the Soviet Union to suffer in a dungeon of lies. There are all kinds of people who live in the prison of their own heads – unable to get away from the lies that they hear over and over – about themselves:
You’re no good.
It’s your fault.
You know what people are saying, don’t you?
How could you?
What makes you think anybody would love you?
What makes you think God would forgive you?
Sometimes, these lies come from others – from what we heard as children or even from our current relationships – and sometimes they come from what we tell ourselves:
I’m so ugly.
So fat.
I screw up everything.
I wish I were anything but what I am.
Yes, and sometimes the lies come from pop culture, that imprisons us within certain categories that we must fit within – or else we forfeit our coolness, our belonging, our identity:
You don’t wanna be one of THOSE people, do ya?
Ultimately, of course, we all find ourselves prisoners of sin – our own sin – and we spend enormous effort on self-justification, on excusing ourselves even as we condemn ourselves, telling ourselves comfortable lies to get through another night of alienation and despair.

Well, to know the truth is to refuse the lies we tell ourselves – as well as the lies we hear from others. To know the truth is to see with God’s eyes: to see the world with God’s eyes, and to know the deceit and the folly of it; and to see ourselves with God’s eyes, too, to see not a failure or a horror but a precious child that Jesus died for – a son or daughter to be raised to fulfill the beauty that he already sees in you.

Jesus told the Pharisees he was the true bread that came down from heaven, that before Abraham was, I am. And to be in the right relationship with him is to be restored to freedom, indeed. It means to be forgiven, to be at peace, to be able once again to value things properly, including yourself. Oh, whom the Son of God sets free is free, indeed – that’s another thing Jesus said. And you can depend on it – because he said it.

In Revelation 19, John says,
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
Jesus is called Faithful and True – and in this case, “true” means primarily, “dependable, the one who keeps his promises.” As ol’ Horton the Elephant put it, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.”

You can count on Jesus. People will disappoint you – even those who mean you well. Not everyone is two-faced or crazy or manipulative. There are many wonderful people in the world, and you are greatly loved by some of them, I’m sure. But they can’t always be there for you – sometimes through no fault of their own. I mean, people die, people move away, people sometimes fail to notice things or get busy with other stuff. And they can’t “fix” you – nor “fulfill” you, anyway – so depending upon people is an iffy thing.

Depending on things – on the right circumstances, on a job or the results of an election or not getting sick or making a deadline or having a nice house – will disappoint you, too. Satisfaction is not to be found in things. And you’ll find you can’t keep things, anyway.

Depending on yourself isn’t the answer, either. Your own power is just not enough. All of us have too much need and not enough strength, not enough wisdom, not enough time. But Jesus never fails – and he will not fail you.

He will be there when other people cannot. He will not fail you as things inevitably must. He has the power you lack. You can depend on him: he’s the dependable sort.

“What is truth?” I’ve looked at the evidence, and I believe the Gospel is true. By the grace of God, I have looked upon the world – and upon myself – with God’s eyes, and I am not bound in the prison of lies any more. And I know that my Redeemer lives, and I’m trusting in his faithfulness – in him who is called Faithful and True.

“What is truth?” Jesus is truth. His love for you is truth. His faithfulness is truth. And don’t let anybody ever tell you different.


Christ and the Philosophers, Part III

And finally . . .

Christ and the Philosophers: the Beautiful

1 Samuel 16:1-13

I’ve been preaching a little series of sermons on “Christ and the Philosophers” – meaning people like you and me. For all of us wrestle as mightily as any academic over the daily questions of what is the good, the true, and the beautiful – and these are the great questions of philosophy. So I thought I’d talk about each of these.

Finding what the Bible has to say about what is good and what is true is fairly easy to do – but it’s a lot dicier when it comes to the Bible’s view on beauty. Perhaps it is because of the commandment to make no graven images that worked upon the ancient Israelites, to make them less likely to produce works of beauty or to comment on what makes something beautiful. I mean, they wore makeup and scent, as all peoples of the ancient Near East did – and occasionally we get reference to some ruler’s inventory of fabulous gowns. But we have almost no portraiture, no discussion of canons of proportion, in the Scriptures.

There are occasional descriptions of furniture and so on for the tabernacle – and later the temple – but the magnificence of all the stuff that went into God’s dwelling sometimes sounds like an inventory of Scrooge McDuck’s money bin: a laundry list of fabulous doo-dads made of gold, and another list of fabulous doo-dads made of silver, or of bronze. There’s no distinctive set of values for buildings or furnishings that typify the people of Israel.

Now, the ancient Egyptians had a distinctive set of standards for physical beauty, and they’d been using them to portray men and women for centuries by the time of David and Solomon. And by the time the exiles of Judah returned from Babylon, Classical Greek civilization was turning out its magnificent statuary, celebrating their ideal of human beauty. Likewise, both Egyptians and Greeks developed distinctive styles of architecture and decoration. The Greeks even discussed the mathematics of proportion that went into making a building beautiful. Meanwhile, the Bible is often downright negative about standards of physical beauty.

In the story we just read, Samuel is directed to the family of Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint a replacement for King Saul. Now, Samuel had an idea of what a king should look like; after all, he’d picked Saul out. Saul son of Kish was the tallest man in Israel. There was a king for you! Except Saul was a failure as a ruler, and God had rejected him.

Anyway, when Jesse assembles his seven sons, Samuel looks at the first one, Eliab, and he’s impressed. This guy looks like a king! Handsome, tall, imposing – just like Saul! And the Lord says No. In fact, what he says is, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; the for Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

God does not look upon the outward appearance; God looks upon, and judges, the heart. This idea is repeated several times in the Scriptures. In Proverbs, we are told that beauty is fleeting and deceptive, but a woman who fears the Lord is worth having! And let us not forget Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah, the suffering servant:
[H]e had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him . . .
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
I think the message is pretty clear: beauty of character is what God and the Bible are interested in, not beauty of appearance. The Lord looks upon the heart. So, there’s a kind of interiority to Biblical standards of beauty, of looking within rather than looking at surfaces. And this is carried on by the Christian Church, when it starts producing religious art and religious buildings later on.

In a traditional Christian icon or statue of a saint, or in stained glass there is very little attempt to portray the person depicted as he or she actually was. Saints are typically shown with high foreheads (because it’s a symbol of their great wisdom), and with flowing, well-groomed beards (an image of venerable age). They are shown wearing the appropriate clothing and bearing the appropriate symbols of the time the picture was made. No attempt is made to present them in historically accurate clothing, for instance.

In fact, the most realistic thing about traditional pictures of the saints are the animals some of them are associated with. St. Cuthbert always looks like your standard holy man of the middle ages, rather than one of the 7th Century – but the otters at his feet are really well-pictured otters. St. Hubert (patron saint of hunters) is usually depicted as a bishop of the 14th or 15th Century, rather than as a nobleman of the 8th Century (when he lived) – but his stag always looks like one you’d like to get a shot at.

The Renaissance did a better job of presenting saints as real people, but it wasn’t until the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the 19th Century that anybody ever made a picture of anyone like Jesus in an entirely natural, historically accurate way. And it shocked people: they thought it was sacrilegious.

Likewise, when the Church began designing buildings exclusively for public worship, they began encoding the space symbolically – wtih cross-shaped churches and eight-sided baptisteries (for the eighth day of creation, that is, the resurrection), and with colored hangings and so on that communicated the observance of sacred time. Even in plainer times, such as when the Puritans built their meeting-houses, they attempted to present the meaning of their worship in the things they built to house their worship.

I used to say, "Show me your sacred space, and I will tell you what you really believe." But then, what are we to make of some of today's churches - they call them “worship centers” or some such – which are bare as a storage closet, beset with gantries of exposed lights and all kinds of cables taped to the floor, with risers that my old junior high school would call rickety. I've walked into these churches at times, and I’ve looked at the space around me and found myself saying, “This is the ugliest doggone room I’ve ever been in, and we’re going to worship God here just to show that we can.”

Just because God looks on the heart doesn’t mean that he has no use for beauty. Indeed, the Psalms are full of images of astounding beauty. The ancient Israelites had a real feel for the beauty of nature, and their poetry is as full of these beautiful images as anything from English or Russian nature-poets. But again, there is this focus upon the meaning of this beauty.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
– knowledge of the Lord, and of his law. The beauty of the creation is supposed to draw you to praise its creator. The appearance of a person is secondary to what is in that person’s heart. The heart is what counts.

Now, this lesson is often given to young people by their parents, when those same young people are at that stage when they are most obsessed by surfaces – by the right clothes, and the right hairstyle, and the right accessories, with jewelry and tattoos and designer labels and phones and cars, and so on. And young people do not believe their parents when they tell them this. They think they’re just trying to make them feel better, whereas they know that if they could just deck themselves out the way the cool kids do, why, then, they’d be beautiful, too.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. For despite what the entertainers and advertisers will tell you, all the ”right” accoutrements cannot make you beautiful. And tucking this body part in, or pushing that one out, or decorating yourself with whatever is hip or startling is a waste of time. I have occasionally told young people who had given me their confidence that the body parts they think so important are not, in fact, the body parts that have the most impact upon physical beauty. In fact, the two most import body parts in determining physical beauty may surprise you. And I’ll just take a little detour here to note them as a public service – no extra charge.

The first body part that determines physical beauty in all cultures and across the centuries is – your spine. For if you carry yourself properly, so that all your parts hang from your head and shoulders, they will all arrange themselves to their best advantage. No amount of cool clothes or makeup or tattoos or whatever can cover up what is out of place, nor does anything look good on a person who is slouching.

The other essential body part that determines phyical beauty is your mouth – specifically, your smile. For a person who is smiling enlarges one’s eyes and sets one’s face alight – and people are drawn to the face of a smiling person, and all that other stuff becomes of lesser importance. I told Deanne that I fell in love with her for her smile. She didn’t smile much when we first met. Life had been hard on her; but oh, when she did: my heart just flipped over – even before I really knew her well. Meanwhile, a scowling person is just pug-ugly, no matter how much makeup one is wearing or what kind of car one is driving. Ug-lee.

If all this sounds like I’m being more critical toward girls than boys, I should probably note that the third most important thing (beauty-wise) is not a body part at all, but just basic hygiene. And though boys may be less fashion-conscious than girls, but they also sometimes need to be told more directly about the virtues of soap.

So, does this mean that fashion is irrelevant? Well, no. Standards of beauty come and go, and fashion is ever changing, for, as Amanda Halley, the fashion historian says, “fashion is not an island, it’s a response” – a response to things going on in society and how people feel about them. But if the Bible is any guide, we ought to seek to make our inner self and our outer appearance reflect each other. And young people who feel awkward and insecure, who maybe don’t like themselves very much right now, will tend to slouch and scowl, but as they come to feel better about themselves on the inside, that will translate to confidence on the outside, and that changes how we present ourselves to others.

More importantly, the person who does good things, who puts others first, who is in the right relationship with God, who is kind and patient, will do things for and with others that are themselves beautiful, even if their personal appearance is not. And what people will remember them for are the things they saw them do – for that reveals their character far better than their mere appearance.

“Handsome is as handsome does,” as they say. The Christian standard for beauty is an inner standard. So we should learn to value what makes us beautiful on the inside and cultivate that. And the way to do that is to make ourselves as mirrors to reflect the character of our Savior in all we do, in all we say, and in all we make.

And may it be so.