Saturday, June 8, 2013

Looking Good

Fabulous Sandals (photo by Sherry)
I was in a local art store today and ran into a couple that I haven't seen since the 90's. I spotted them first and introduced myself. The husband told me that he didn't recognize me because I look so young.  Both of them agreed that I looked younger than I did the last time they saw me. That means, according to their enthusiastic assessment, I look younger now than I did over 15 years ago.

Is it the hair, the expensive face creams I buy at Ulta, or the fabulous sandals with pedicure? I suspect it was the lighting in the store. Whatever the case, the encounter has me thinking.

First, it has never been my goal to look any particular age, especially younger than I am. I am very comfortable owning all of my 54 years. I have graying hair at my temples and I can already tell my aging, thinning hair will not come in snowy white, like billowing waves. I am fine with that. I have lines around my eyes and mouth and my chin(s) sags. It's the price of smiling daily (except for the chin). So, to be told I look younger is like achieving something without trying. Not bad for no work at all.

Second, I wonder if the meaning of "looking good" is to look younger? A youthful look is certainly what women are encouraged to strive for in this society, to the point of surgical modification. But is that all there is to looking good? I like looking at faces, and I have found "looking good" at all ages. I especially like men and women who have "grown" into their faces, faces that never quite fit on a child's body. I like the look of deep lines brought on by a lifetime of work outside and the powdered cheeks of a grandmother who still uses the same brand of makeup that she did when she was 40. I think "salt and pepper" hair looks as good as the tangled, springy mane of youth.

The third thing I'm thinking about has to do with self-awareness. When I look people over (and I do), and am looking for things like the amount of energy in their posture, the mood in their eyes, and what they do with their hands. I haven't considered how people are looking at me.

In fact, when I am having trouble deciding what to wear, I try to remember what everyone else I met the day before was wearing. Because I recall very little, I assume the same lack of attention applies to the clothes I choose.

I think that looking good doesn't have as much to do with how we adorn ourselves or care for our hair. The best kind of looking good is an activity; it is the way we look at others. If we "look good", we see what is important to others, where they are empty and where they are full. By looking good we see youthful hope and the experiences earned with age. And if we "look good" in this way, people who have achieved an arbritrary standard of beauty, are as striking as those who are far from it. People are lovely and amazing and wonderfully made when I am "looking good".

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


I visited a husband and wife this afternoon. They had asked if I would come to their home and talk with them about their funerals. They are both in their mid-eighties and were waiting at the door when I arrived. They had the coffee on and a fresh chocolate cake on the counter waiting for their pastor. So, we sat at the table with cups of coffee and plates of cake and talked about their lives. And we talked about death.

The hospitality was not only in the food, but in their openness to share the blessings and struggles of 63 years of married life. I accepted their hospitality completely.

I'll admit it was a challenge.

I have been counting my daily intake of calories since February. I am using an app called Lose It. This discipline is working for me. I set the app for how much weight I want to lose and how many pounds per week I would like to lose and the app tells me how many calories I get per day. I record the food I eat and the app totals the calories.

I have been losing the weight despite the challenges of pot luck meals, restaurant meetings and travel to conferences. I am faithfully keeping within my daily calorie count and rediscovering the blessing of fresh fruits and vegetables, with just a little bit of meat and dairy. Today, I was confronted by cake.

I could have left the lovely piece of chocolate cake on the plate and not felt any discomfort or craving (I am not a big chocolate fan). However, I knew that the cake and coffee had been prepared for their guest and so I enjoyed it with them.

After I left, I took my weight loss app out and added my piece of chocolate cake to the calorie count. I have 21 calories left for dinner, and I do not regret my choice to accept their hospitality.

Often we think of the Christian life as a call to be hospitable, to have an open door, a ready invitation, a compassionate heart. But Christian hospitality moves in both directions. We are called to both give and receive.

Years ago I would fight against compliments, offers of help, and words of encouragement. I wanted to be the one who offered. I've tried to set that behavior aside, because if I insist on staying in the position of helper, I am protecting my position of power.

True hospitality, authentic and deep giving, come when we are willing to be vulnerable, to be the helper and the one in need.

Our relationship with Jesus Christ depends on reciprocal hospitality. We hear a lot about welcoming Jesus into our hearts, as if Jesus is out in the cold and we choose whether he comes in or not. That is a step of a faith, but true connection comes when we enter the heart of Jesus in humility, stillness and need.

I cannot say that I am in full reciprocal hospitality with Christ, but I do know that practicing both gracious giving and receiving in my life prepare me everyday to be in deeper relationship with God.

I will take the cake when it comes my way and I will humbly thank my host.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Message for Graduates (and other people, too)

I could be mistaken. I will admit that. However, I heard a whole lot of "Jesus and me" theology at a recent high school baccalaureate service and I'm worried. Young adults stood and spoke earnestly of their faith and offered Bible verses. Their consistent message to the class: "Jesus has helped me through difficult times and Jesus will continue to help you and me."

I was one of three clergy who spoke. The other two offered great words of wisdom, using memorable images meant to encourage the graduates to find their strength in the faith and not to leave the church behind.

When it was my turn to offer my "wisdom", I'll admit that I was a bit agitated. I refrained from pounding the lovely Catholic pulpit at which I stood, but I did lean into the message, staring down at the black-robed graduates. I do not believe that one of them checked their phones while I spoke.

I gave them some advice from the 2013 University of Michigan commencement address of Richard Costolo, CEO of Twitter. Go bigger than what is expected of you and take courageous risks. Then I told the graduates that I wasn't going to talk about their future, but about the present.

I didn't pull out any Bible verses of comfort or reassurance. Instead, I went to Mark and Luke and talked about the Kingdom of God. Jesus declared that the reign of God was close when people were healed, when people loved God and neighbor, when they lived out the good news.

I told the young people, set to start out into the world for new adventure, that our soul is not "saved" to be set aside and preserved for a the future kingdom. We're not offered the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ so that someday we can simply exchange the black graduation robes for the white angelic robes of Heaven. We are saved to live out the reign of God today.

I agreed that the graduates have a lot of decisions ahead of them, but the decision to live in God's kingdom is one that they have to make everyday starting now. And they do not have to go to Live-Like-Jesus school or get a degree in Talking-Like-Jesus or read the Bible (like they've already tried and gotten as far as Deuteronomy). What they need to do right now is listen to the voices that go unheard and look to people who hold no power. Today is the time to commit to compassion and care for the least among us.

Yes, I was wound up. God's present in our past, present, and future. God does offer strength and comfort and guidance. And our response, right now, is commitment to kingdom living.

As I left the sanctuary, a young priest leaned over and said, "Your message was a nice counter-point to the other messages." I'm going to get to know that guy.