Is beauty skin deep?

Beauty and the beast

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle.  Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind.  But then, one winter’s night, an old beggar woman came to the castle and offered him a single rose in return for shelter from the bitter cold. Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the prince sneered at the gift and turned the old woman away, but she warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within. And when he dismissed her again, the old woman’s ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress.  The prince tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart, and as punishment, she transformed him into a hideous beast (- Narration that introduces the film Beauty and the beast)

Conversations

1) Media primarily informs our notions of what is beautiful. Our idea of beauty is (re)defined by what is (re)presented and promoted in the Media. How is beauty understood in our contemporary world? What do you think about these?

2) Would you agree that beauty is to be truly found in the inner self? Why?

3) Would you agree that we are increasingly being defined by our looks? Why do you think so many girls and boys are undergoing cosmetic surgery to improve their looks?

4) There are many people who are not happy about themselves, particularly about the way they look. In what ways do we contribute to their low self-image?

5 ) The prince was turned into a beast because there was no love in his heart.  It symbolizes his loss of humanity. Why do you think ‘love’ is such a key aspect of being human?

6) What do you think makes us ‘repulsive’ to the idea of good, true and beautiful? Why can’t we see ‘the good’, ‘the true’ and ‘the beautiful’ when it stares us in the eye?

7) How do we (re)capture the idea of ‘beauty’ in a world that (mis)understands it purely in physical terms – ‘good looks’, ‘great body’ and ‘winsome persona’? How do we grow love in our hearts so as to reach out to those who don’t make it to our ‘bold and beautiful’ list?

8) What is the one thing that you don’t like about yourself? What is the one thing you wish you had?

9) What is the one thing you learnt about what is true, good and the beautiful from our conversations ?

Personal Reflection

God has a radically different idea about what is ‘beautiful’.  For God, beauty is not skin deep. He looks deep into  our hearts.  The LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7).  We must challenge the ‘look-good, feel-good’ understanding of beauty.

We must let love grow in our hearts so that we would embrace those who don’t make it to our ‘bold and beautiful’ list. To challenge popular notions of beauty is easier said than done. It is really a formidable challenge.

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Who am I?

It’s a close of another year.  This year we have about 17 students graduating from the seminary. These young men and women will be (re) awarded with a Bachelor degree or a Masters degree for their study at our seminary. But… what we truly desire is that they go with a B.A, M.A and a PhD.  B.A – Born Again! M.A – Masters Assistant. PhD – Passed having doubts. I guess this is the need of those wanting to enter ministry.

What did I miss?

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Theology must help increase our passion, compassion and action. Theology must cease to be verbal gymnastics. A play of words that mean nothing to most people. Rather, it must be a reflection of faith. It must flow out of deep devotion to God. It must find creative expression so that it helps ordinary believers in their everyday faith.  You  could enroll at the seminary and study theology. But, reading books, writing assignments and passing exams is not everything. You could be A+ and still be hopeless. How do we get PASSION? How do we get COMPASSION? What would fire our ACTION? Well… all of this is caught not taught! You could be finishing this year and still be saying, ” I went to seminary and all I got was a degree”. Faith is made, it cannot be ready-made. You could be so near and yet so far. Being in the garage doesn’t make you a car. Does it?

Professional Jealousy – How to fight it?

We are going to look at the very same passage of Scripture that we looked yesterday – 1 Samuel 18:6ff. Yesterday, we dwelt on the theme of professional jealousy. We saw how King Saul grew jealous of David’s rising popularity. We saw how this professional jealousy was due to deep seated insecurity, spiritual deficiency and crisis of purpose. We also saw how professional jealousy usually expresses itself in bouts of anger, indiscriminate violence and even lifelong animosity. King Saul was greatly displeased when the crowds went gaga over David’s victory over Goliath. He was furious (v8) when he heard the women sing, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands”. He kept a close watch on David (v9), physically attacked him (at least twice), wished his death in the battle field at the hands of the enemies, publicly humiliated him and even tried hard to ensnare him so as to finish him off. Worse, King Saul remained an enemy throughout his life (v29).

Today, we will continue to look at the same theme – professional jealousy – albeit with a slightly different focus. Our focus this morning will be to learn how to face the heat and more importantly learn how not to be consumed by it. It must have been extremely difficult, if not suffocating for David to face such rabid personal vendetta. I am sure you’d agree with me that it is not easy to face such open animosity. Such an experience is not all that uncommon. It happens all the time. People with skills, gifts and talents are often perceived as threats and therefore are to be sidelined or eliminated.

How do we as young people face such a situation? This morning we are going to draw principles from David’s response to rabid professional jealousy. How did David respond to King Saul’s displeasure, anger and violence? To me it looks like there were at least five different options available to him. But, I wonder why David did not opt for any one of them.

Firstly, he could have easily retaliated to Saul’s open animosity. After all, sometimes offence is the best defence. Probably, it was easiest thing to do. King Saul was not that invincible. David had personally seen King Saul knock his knees in the battle field. King Saul was no match for David. In any case, David, having won the champion of Gath, had the psychological advantage. Some of us don’t understand why David had to go through all of this particularly when he was strong enough to give it back and get even! I wonder why David did not retaliate!

Secondly, David could have packed his bags and gone home. It’s so easy to give up. Pack your bags and leave, particularly when you are caught in the crossfire of power-politics, when you are put down, insulted and repeatedly targeted. It is probably the best thing to do. David could have easily packed his bags and gone home to tend his sheep. David did not need King Saul, as much as King Saul and the entire nation of Israel needed David. But, interestingly David stays put and does what the Lord requires him to do. I wonder why he did not pack his bags and go home!

Thirdly, David could have chosen to be a silent killer. Well…even if you assume that David was powerless against the King/system, David could still have taken revenge. He could have simply refused to play the lyre and made life a little difficult of King Saul. Most people resort to such passive aggressiveness even if they don’t have the resolve to fight openly. Interestingly, we find David playing the lyre and helping King Saul escape the occasional bouts of torment. I wonder why David did not make Saul’s life a little difficult.

Fourthly, David could have turned the entire army against King Saul. After all, he enjoyed the support of all the high ranking officials. And more importantly, he enjoyed the support of all Israel and Judah (v16). Most people would have garnered support and tried to pull the rug under King Saul’s feet. I wonder why David didn’t!

Fifthly, David could have manipulated Michal’s affection towards him to redraw the power equations. Michal – King Saul’s daughter – had fallen head over heels for David. David could have easily used and misused Michal to rein in Saul. Interestingly, even Saul wanted to use Michal as a trump card. But, I wonder why David didn’t do this? It is not that David was naive, clueless and stupid. David could have engaged in a fight-back or at least in some kind of shadow boxing. But, he doesn’t do that? Why? It is here that we can draw precious lessons. Agreed, that there is professional jealousy and worst kind of partisan politics in the Church that the Church has become a graveyard of talent. But, what we can learn from David is that we don’t have to fight evil with evil. We can still overcome evil with good. How does David respond to professional jealousy, hatred and personal vendetta?

Firstly, he remained faithful. David was playing the lyre as he usually did (1Sam 18:10), leading the army into battle and winning victories. David was being himself and being faithful to what God has called him to do despite the odds. He knew God was with him and those around him also recognized that God was with him. Even King Saul recognized that God was with David. There was nothing King Saul could do about it. If God be for us no one can stand against us. David remained faithful and never got distracted from God’s plans and purposes for his life. David remained faithful for he knew God was with him. We don’t have to be really worried about who’s pulling us down, pushing us out, trashing our ideas, dampening our zeal and puncturing our resolve to make a difference. God is with us and all we need to do is to remain faithful even in little things – the mundane everyday things we are asked to do.
Secondly, he stayed available. David knew God was going to use him – at the right time. David knew he was anointed by Prophet Samuel. He didn’t have to rush things. There was no clamouring to be at the centre stage. He continued to be available to God as he usually did – just like how he was available to God when he was tending the sheep, available to God when he fought against Goliath, available to God as he was playing the lyre, available to God as he was King Saul’s armour bearer and available to God as he fought the many battles of the Lord on Saul’s command. We don’t have to do anything extraordinary. We just need to be available to God – even in the midst of personal vendetta and power-politics.

Thirdly, he believed in God’s promise – that God will fulfil His plans and purposes. God’s plans and purposes are eternal. They can never be thwarted. Prophet Samuel had anointed him as King (1 Samuel 16:13) and David knew that God will bring this to pass. It took a while for Saul to realize this. But eventually, he tells David, “I know that you will surely be king and that the Kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands” (1 Sam. 24:20). We don’t really have to worry about the evil schemes that are done to harm us. We must believe in God’s promises. He who has called us his faithful and he will fulfil His plans and purposes for our lives.
I am not condoning King Saul’s jealously, personal vendetta and use of violence against David. They are definitely wrong and need to be condemned. They do not rightfully belong to those who profess to follow Christ, let alone serve Him. I am just drawing lessons from the experience of David in dealing with professional jealousy.

Let us not be sidetracked and distracted from the plans and purposes that God has in store for us all because of the jealousy, anger and vengeful attitude of some people who are hurt by what God is doing in and through us. Let them do whatever – pull us down, push us out, trash our ideas, dampen our zeal and puncture our resolve to make a difference. But, we will remain faithful (For God continues to be with us), stay available (For God is going to use us) and believe His promises (for he will fulfil His plans and purposes).

Paul and Popular Culture

It is interesting to see St. Paul picking up ‘word-pictures’ from the world of sport and entertainment. Read these passages from Paul’s letters to the Church at Corinth and to Timothy:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.(1 Cor 9:24-27)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4 : 7-8)

Games (read blood sport) and Sports were  an important aspect of entertainment in the Roman Empire. The Ismithian Games were held at Corinth every two years, and apostle Paul drew from the world of sports and entertainment to speak to his audience (at Corinth and elsewhere). May be, he was a sport lover. May be, he himself was at the Ismithian games. Perhaps, may be not. But nonetheless, he uses sports to connect with his audience and help them grasp a spiritual truth.

Paul draws insights from important aspects of the games such as the race, atheletes, the prize, winning, training that goes along to make it a possiblity, the rules of the game, the skill and tact required etc to explain christian life. Apostle Paul does use the ordinary aspects of everyday life, perhaps the popular culture of his day to speak divine truths. What strikes me in this passage is Paul connecting with the ‘longing’ to win the prize that is present in the (not-so-spiritual) atheletic event (and in all of Corinth by extention) and uses it to speak about ‘be-longing’ to Christ.

The bible does offer us ways of connecting to the urban ‘longing and belonging’. Using aspects of popular culture is not something allien to the followers of Jesus, and definitely not to Apostle Paul. We must likewise pick up aspects of popular culture to speak to contemporary urban audience.

Getting past your failures

 By Samuel Thambusamy

Forget what happened long ago! Don’t think about the past. I am creating something new. There it is! Do you see it? I have put roads in deserts, streams in thirsty lands. I provide water in deserts– streams in thirsty lands for my chosen people – Isa. 43:18 – 20

The ability to remember

Have you ever wondered why we are able to recognize faces, facts and figures? Have you ever wondered why we are unable to forget at least some things – our names, telephone numbers, passwords and PIN etc. These seem to be permanently etched in our memory forever. We also remember a lot of our experiences with people – places and things. The powers of human memory are incomprehensible even with all the scientific and medical advancement that we have achieved today.

What I find really fascinating is our ability to remember, recall and recognize a wide range of data that we encounter daily almost instantaneously. It is remembrance that gives clarity, coherence and sanity to our everydayness of life And then, we don’t remember everything. Thank God, we are able to forget, lest our minds get cluttered with all the insurmountable data that we gather from our life experiences. The ability to forget is as important to us as the ability to remember.

Memory – both a blessing and curse

Like most human abilities, memory is both a blessing and a curse. We are unable to forget many things that happen to us. And even if we forget, we are able to recall past events either when we need them or at the behest of any trigger event. Worse, it brings back the pain, guilt and hurt associated with the experience and worse, makes us re-live those moments. We are unable to erase painful memories, shattered dreams and horrific experiences. Pain shrinks us on the inside and when we writhe in pain we mentally replay the sequence of the painful events.

How we wish we could just forget the painful memories once for all. We all try but they just don’t go away. Some part/s of it remain beyond the realms of immediate memory and they are sure to return to haunt you at the most unexpected time. Just about anything could trigger the recall of that painful moment. Who or what can heal the hurt and the pain? Who or what can help us resolve the painful memories that constantly remind us of those painful moment?

Handling memories

Handling bitter memories is easier said than done. Hope is perhaps the best antidote to resolve those painful experiences. When despair surrounds us, hope breathes relief as we begin to see the possibility of a better future. History records of events where God’s words to his people breathes hope into their “dead-end” situation and provide comfort to people crumbling under disappointment, despair and defeat. In Isaiah 43: 18 –20, God speaks to his people in exile and breathes hope into their situation. These are no empty words. These are no emotional tranquilizers to lower the threshold levels of pain. God has the power to make all things new. The desert wastelands that surround us are no challenge for him. He can provide a way and help us out of the wastelands. It is Him-possible and we can take him at his word.

The road ahead in the desert wastelands

The key is to “forget” what happened. When we meet the “dead-end” it is easier to re-live the past and enter the cycle of guilt and/or self-pity. This may guarantee temporary relief but nevertheless it entraps you in a self perpetuating downward cycle of guilt and self-pity. Moreover, the constant re-living of that experience brings it permanently into immediate memory and so it becomes difficult to forget. It becomes very difficult to move on. It is extremely helpful if we learn to forgive and forget the past – and let healing flow through the invisible hurts and scars. God has given us the ability to forget and the strength to forgive. It is not only the first step but also the right step to enter into the “newness” that God invites us to enter.

God creates to a new beginning to redeem our loss. God calls his people to see a new future – and more importantly against all odds – the desert. His presence helps us to move forward and faith gives us eyes to see the “road” ahead and “streams” in the desert. He will make the way through the wastelands. He leads us into a new beginning and a better tomorrow. He creates something new…something beautiful…and it takes only a little faith to see it. We don’t have to cringe and spent the rest of the days crying. God calls his people to enjoy the “newness” he creates and sing a “new’ song of praise. We can move on for God has put roads and even provided us means of refreshment to move forward. The key is to look forward and move forward. But, make sure you leave the past behind…