Archive for the ‘1 Corinthians’ Tag

WHAT DO I LOOK LIKE?

I WORE NO HAIR GEL TO SCHOOL YESTERDAY!! ‘So what’ I hear you ask. Well read on dear reader, and realise the scale of my achievement! I wrote this a few weeks back and was, frankly, embarrassed to publish it. Which is normally the best reason for publishing…

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So, there I am. That’s a blurry depiction of what I look like – as recorded by my mobile phone. I’ve had times when I would have given a great deal to have looked different. Now, I’ve got to a point, having just passed my 30th birthday, where I will at least admit it could be worse, as well as plenty better! But how should we, as Christians, regard our appearance? Moreover, how are we coping within an ever more image obsessed culture, where we’ll often be judged more by our looks than our character? As my wife faces the particular risks associated with considering removing a tumour attached to her facial nerve, I consider this issue of our relationship with our ‘looks’ particularly worth discussing.

 

I generally challenge myself on here to maintain honesty, even if it makes me look foolish. Well, there’s no subject more likely to fulfil that aim than me analysing the relationship I have with my own appearance. It’s just not the done thing! In churches we are happy for our women to have self-image issues but, for blokes… with my mates I may talk about my thought life, my prayer life, my sex life even, but the statement ‘I don’t feel very attractive’?! Well it would surely provoke the most awkward of silences. What are they supposed to say, after all? Even so, this is the fact I want to face. I have grown up within a supremely image-fixated society, and I sometimes believe the issues I’ve had with what I see in my mirror have done more than I’d ever like to credit to shape the person I’ve become. Now, following my 30th I can no longer pretend to be a young man… it’s all downhill from here physically-speaking! I think, therefore, it’s probably time to make peace with my appearance, and to consider how to do such a thing from a Christian perspective.

 

I was always short, skinny and ‘kinda funny-looking’ (still am!), to quote the movie Fargo. Ah, let’s get more honest than that… I was a big head on a puny body – my nose, ears, big eyes… I sometimes felt like every single feature God gave me lent itself to playground taunts. I wasn’t unpopular and I was able to treat most banter as intended, developing a nice line in self-depreciation. However, following a lifetime of nicknames based on fictional non-human characters, I did genuinely believe myself to look somehow less than human. I did absolutely presume that any laughter I heard in public was at the expense of my appearance. And, whilst I’m aware I have ‘normalised’ slightly as adolescence has become but a (now distant!) memory, my self-image has been complicated further by the fact I have an improbably attractive wife – years of assuming everyone’s first reaction to be wondering quite how I managed to bat so far ‘above my average’ and what’s in it for her.

 

What effect has it had on me? Well, ironically, I’m guilty of vanity. I’m far more vain than I should be as a Christian man with a keen sense of this world’s futility. I’m subconsciously desperate to make the best of what I see as a bad lot; being honest, I’d rather miss church than attend it without wearing hair gel! Don’t worry, I’m well aware of how ridiculous that is… It has also led to me over-compensating in terms of my personality. If the first impression is made with the eyes then you’d better bet the second impression, the one I can control, will try and make up for it. In addition, I may not have angry short-man syndrome, but I definitely am more competitive than is good for me. I have a burning desire to outdo those whose default setting may be to look down their nose at me.

 

And how does my desire to be godly impact upon all this? Well, I am a loved, valued, planned part of God’s creation. I am made in His image and chosen by Him for salvation. It is not for me to deem His efforts unsatisfactory! ‘God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple’ Paul says in 1 Corinthans 3. Regarding vanity, 2 Timothy 3 places ‘lovers of self’ among the ranks of ‘detestable’ sinners. Our eyes should be focused on Christ, not on ourselves – in Matthew 16:24 he said that ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’. So yes I need to get over it. Especially as I am not particularly accursed – sure, the modelling contract is unlikely to be in the post, but neither am I deformed… indeed my beautiful wife considers me attractive, for reasons I will never grasp but remain grateful for nonetheless. The sin I’m actually most guilty of is covetousness. Envying another man’s height, physique or looks is no different in effect to envying his house or car. It is to place my hopes in false idols; it is me expressing a lack of faith and dissatisfaction for the blessings God has bestowed upon me. And he knows best. It would clearly do me no favours were I required to suppose every woman I encountered was tempted to throw herself my way!

 

So, as I have said on a number of occasions through this forum, enough already! Time to grow up. Time to take the events of this strange week as a decisive reminder that the standards and values of this world are not all important or even close to it. It is better that I am more righteous than that I am more attractive. It is better that I am saved than… well anything! If you see me at church with fluffy bowl-head hair, then I really have come of age!          

ADVENTURES IN THE BLOGOSPHERE

UPDATE 6/2: This is a post about evangelism. I didn’t, until today, realise that this was a sackable offence! Unbelievable…

 

typingI had a bit of a spiritual slump in the latter part of last year. You can read about it here. I’m not sure I was entirely accurate in that post however. I wrote that my ‘year’ had been characterised by a lack of passion/enthusiasm etc. In reality, looking back, it was the second half of the year; the period following my dalliance with the atheist fraternity – in particular the atheist friend named on this site as ‘Bob’. Truth is I got burned – it wasn’t so much on account of the published conversation, but more the ill-fated attempt to subsequently set up a joint blog whereby we’d argue the toss and put forward our two sides of various issues. The concept has legs, I’m sure, but at this time, Bob had more time, more friends on board and, much as I hate to say it, is generally better read, better informed and very talented in the field of debate. In short, I was getting my ass kicked – the truth may have been on my side, but it was very much struggling to make its voice heard. The upshot was, not used to being made to feel a bit silly and bested, I got a little disheartened, maybe even flirted slightly around the edges of doubt and, as James 1 warns, resultantly felt much like a ‘double-minded man’.

 

So, fast forward to January… it was with some reservation that I ventured once again into the atheist arena as part of my rehab schedule. My wounds still raw, and my schedule just as busy, it was perhaps a foolish thing to do. I am determined, however, to demonstrate the sturdiness of the Word by not conceding defeat to worldly wisdom. And, just in case, I was taking very much on board that ‘the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing’ (1 Cor 1:18). Different from last time, I was also taking with me a wingman! Phil is ideal in this context – intellectually sturdy, intelligent, a professional writer and with a real heart for the lost and the debate. He came on board the project, albeit with reservations relating to how profitable it is to evangelise by blog, it being so removed from the real business of relationship. We also discussed the inevitable reality that these atheists would most likely treat us with intellectual disdain, maintaining focus upon those ‘unproveable’ suppositions that aim to keep us on the defensive.

 

And so into battle we went. And so many many thousands of words were written by the both of us throughout the comments section of Bob’s website – covering a whole range of topics and feeling somewhat like a second job for a while there. Phil’s offerings tended to be more calculated, reflecting the fact he is indeed again better read (and probably cleverer too), whilst mine tended to be of the characteristically ‘heart on sleeve’ variety, and strongly influenced by the Tim Keller book I was reading at the time! And did we win?? Well, I’m not sure anyone got converted along the way… so was it worthwhile?? Well I suppose that depends upon what we were trying to achieve:

 

I wanted to dispel the notion that Christians are scared to think, and are perhaps even anti-thought. This I believe we achieved. The tone we met began characterised by scorn (less from Bob, who is a friend after all, but more from those other atheists, often American, who frequent his site) but certainly evolved to treating us as proffering arguments and ideas worth discussing. The more we came back at them and their ‘open and shut’ assumptions, the less willing they seemed to plumb the old line of our mental delusion or ‘brainwashing’. It was clear that we too had thought things through. Their language is often of putting Christians in their place and fatally slashing their feeble arguments to pieces. I feel we may have helped reveal that this is not always so easily done.

 

I wanted to give them the gospel. Lest we forget, whilst we can’t make people believe (only the Spirit can do that), we are nonetheless called to tell them the good news of Jesus’s substitutionary death for their sins. Within a number of discussions, and often by way of clarification (particularly regarding what actually makes someone a Christian), we were able, more than once, to clearly state the gospel. How they respond to that is now their responsibility.

 

I wanted practise in apologetics. This was a tough crowd. I know no-one anywhere who has read more or studied more than ‘Bob’. He has read the Bible cover to cover more than once and quotes it extensively in his responses, along with a wide variety of other sources. He has the inside track on archaeology of the Old and New Testament period, his parents are both university scientists and he is funny to boot. And then there were others far more combative in their exchanges. These guys seem to spend all their time doing this! I wanted to get out alive knowing that others would be easier to butt heads with by comparison. And I was right. I finally asked a good (and Oxford-educated) friend yesterday where he stood on all this business. He said ‘atheist’ but had nothing whatsoever in return when challenged on questions of morality or the unlikeliness of universal origin. This is, to be honest, probably going to be the more common scenario than for us to be mowed down by well-drilled responses regarding the anthropic fallacy.

 

So where to end? Well I’m out of there for a while. I can’t give all my time to the atheists after all! My wife, job, church etc have to come first. Bob and his mates probably remember the affair as no more than a minor and inconsequential intrusion that temporarily drew an extra 100 hits a day to his site (slightly galling from one who more commonly receives 10!) but only time will tell whether our short-lived labours are destined to bear fruit.

It’s important to remember that it’s the Spirit who saves, and that whilst our best efforts are lame in of themselves, they are potentially life-altering in harness with Him. It’s never going to be about me and my ability, whether with or without a wing-man! There is, however, something to be said, I’m sure, for making visits to the front-line.