On Saturday I went to the local Christian bookstore here in town, as I needed to buy some greeting cards and also some books that would be good for my second sister and her children. Across the intriguing titles and inspirational cover, I also spot smiling pictures of various authors. The authors are usually well-known names within Christian circles – the same people who are very active in cable television and early morning programmes on free-to-air television here in Australia. The photo on the cover tries very hard to convey somebody who is warm, sincere and caring – somebody who wants to take you, a potential reader, to take the same journey of discovery and growth that they took. Unfortunately the photos left me cold.
I have been a Christian for so many years – from somebody who is full-on gung-ho for Jesus without much thinking and wisdom, to somebody who is weathered by the years: a man who realises that he has fallen down so many times and cannot fully grasp the depth of God’s grace – why God continues to pick him up and push him to walk on. I used to go gaga when I heard that a certain Pastor, a Bishop, or a Reverend would be speaking here or there. I used to go along with the theatrics that usually accompany such Christian “celebrities”. I’ve learned my lessons not to judge, and by no means that the piece that you’re reading now means to be judgmental. I just want to put forward my thoughts and feelings into my blog page.
Back to the book covers again – it pains me when I see the smiling picture of the author, all beautifully botoxed with nicely flowing hair and great stylish clothes. They remind me of schmarmy car salesman rather than somebody who offers great spiritual lessons. It’s the same image that makes me cringe when I see televangelists on TV. They seem so schmarmy that I would change the channel right away rather than listen to what they have to say.
Why all this fixation with image?
I used to grapple with this as well when I was still a young upcoming executive in a large multinational bank in Jakarta – we used to invite a well-known Christian band to minister to our Christian fellowship from time to time. I used to wonder why the lead singer had to dye his hair, dress and act in a very casual way and present somebody who was in touch with the current style and trend, but with a vague spiritual state. “Well, he needs to reach out to the youth – they all dress like he does. You can’t reach them if you look like a fuddy duddy Christian pastor”, somebody would say. True, and we do need to look good and present ourselves well to the world – but when the licence to look good is further translated to actions that border with vanity, I get pretty uneasy.
There are books with the author on them that really grab you in a way that you can’t explain – and it’s pretty rare when it happens, because I suppose such people would prefer to have other images to be on the cover of their books. I much prefer a face of somebody who doesn’t look perfect, but with the wrinkles and lines etched by the years on the spiritual field. A sincere smile that acknowledges the tough battle out there, and yet warm enough to encourage you to walk on with God. The eyes that have seen painful events and glorious miracles, that beckon you to fix your eyes on Jesus. I am blessed by such faces – although not as handsome, as pretty, as well-coiffed, or with perfect teeth. Looking at people like Billy Graham, David Wilkerson, Brother Yun gives me a glimpse of the faith, the journey and the wisdom that they have – aesthetics become secondary.
This is my reflection for the Resurrection Sunday. In an age where people are getting cynical, sceptical and wary of religious teaching, they crave for somebody who they can trust. A face of somebody who has been down in the trenches and yet come out as a victor – not somebody who is perfectly spray-tanned, well-flowing hair, and perfectly straight-teeth. We have enough car salesmen and snake-oil sellers already.
But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 (Message)