x ray vision

i’ve spent some time, recently, with a few people who would fit into the category that our world calls “beautiful.” while i am personally connected to these particular individuals by blood, love, and history, it is shocking to me to witness how often it is their physical appearance that gains them recognition in the eyes of others. “you’re so beautiful,” literally spills from peoples’ mouths upon introduction. wide eyed stares mark awkward pauses. a few times people have actually commented to me about the gorgeousness of my companions as though: a) the “object of beauty” weren’t present and hearing the conversation or b) i somehow deserved credit for being associated with such stunning attractiveness. if it weren’t so surprising to me, i would have a comeback and if i did, it would sound something like this:

“i know! (insert name) is really beautiful. it’s shocking to me, however, that you saw it so quickly. typically graciousness and determination take time to uncover. honesty reveals itself in similarly slow and methodical ways. intelligence and character can’t be detected by the human eye and humility is rarely revealed upon simply learning ones’ name. to be honest, so little about beauty can be seen. at least beauty that is solid. and grounded. and deep. you are brilliant to be so perceptive! i’m amazed!”

beauty that resides in the external only is just a part of a persons’ story. i feel sad both for those who are seen as having this gift and for those who are seen as lacking it. the former leave encounters with the world feeling as though their externals are what matter most, fearing a loss of their most-important-to-the-world gift with each inevitable imperfection that comes with being human. the latter, however, feel marginalized, are often over (or at least under) “looked,” and feel compelled to find compensatory methods of making a positive first (that leads to lasting) impression.

in this system, everyone loses.

social psychology tells us that people tend to settle in friend groups and partnerships with individuals who they find similar in physical attractiveness to themselves. for example, individuals who perceive themselves a “7,” so to speak, on the american “1-10” scale of attractiveness, tend to associate with individuals they see as falling in the “5-8” range. they wouldn’t want to risk dipping too far down into the scale and losing some of their own attractiveness by being closely associated with someone too far “below” them and they don’t want any 10s around to reveal their lack.

does this bother anyone else?

while i’m sure that my blind spots are as big as anyone else’s, i see physical appearance as being only one small part of what makes a person beautiful and compelling to associate ones’ self with. scales that refer to externals only can do no justice to the intentions of the heart, the brilliance of the mind, the creativity of an individual, or the complexity that drives them.

i wish we all had x ray vision. not the kind that every teen age boy seeks with dime store glasses that promise to “see” through clothing. the kind, instead, that sees past the externals and into the being of those with whom we share space. the kind that waits to make judgements about beauty until there are substantive reasons to do so that don’t leave the externally beautiful feeling objectified and the externally less-than-beautiful feeling left out. vision that sees flaws (in ones’ self and others) as part of what makes a person unique and interesting. vision that tends toward noticing what makes a person “fun,” “loyal,” “brilliant,” “special,” “relational,” “generous,” and any other number of other traits in equal proportion (at least) to the ratings it makes about physical appearance.

and if we can’t have x ray vision i wish we could have x ray perception that would allow us a reality check about how the words we use about ourselves and others label, qualify (or disqualify), and shape the way we encounter. for, regardless of our physical appearance, our words, and even our thoughts/intentions, can contribute to a world wherein beauty is skin deep or further in...where only x ray vision can see.



"None of us gets to be competent, mature people without the help of others... people who have loved us all along the way. I'd like to give you a minute to think of those who have believed in you...those who have helped you live your life knowing what was good and real. A minute of silence to remember those who have cared about us through our lives..in our being who we are right now.”
(insert one minute of silence)
“Whomever you've been thinking about, whether they're here or far away or even in heaven, imagine how pleased they'd be to know that you recognize what a difference they've made in your becoming.” fred rogers
i receive a monthly email quote from the office of family communications, inc., the organization conceived of and nurtured by mr. rogers. the quote you just read is the one i received today. if my memory serves me (and it usually does with all things mr. rogers), he delivered these words on live television when presented with a prestigious life time achievement award. i remember him at the microphone, in a tuxedo, speaking to a room full of celebrities and standing there for a full minute in complete silence. he didn’t just suggest finding a time to consider the important people in one’s life. he actually created the time. right then and there. i have always wondered how many teachers, neighbors, mentors, doctors, and parents received phone calls from those assembled that night and i’ve considered how many hallmark cards were sent the following day to those who were thought of in that minute of pause. 
last week i had the humbling honor of hanging out at biola university where i was participating in a campus wide conversation about faith and technology. before i arrived i ordered 4000 pipe cleaners to be handed out during my first talk. as many folks know, i always bring something for people to play with while i talk. it keeps them engaged and gives them something to do if they find me utterly boring. my bringing toys is nothing new. what happened after that first talk at biola, however, was utterly unique. i was brought offerings. pipe cleaner creations in the shapes of shooting stars and thumb braces (to help protect against the effects of over zealous texting) and magic carpets and genie lamps, cards with original art work and meaningful words, and tomes scribbled on the back of notes being studied for a test following my talk. later in the week more offerings were made. words, spoken and written. playdough sculptures and gluey collages. lingering conversations filled with eye contact and awkward transitions. one special student even brought me a massive jug of apple juice. “if i brought you a gift,” he said, “i thought you might remember to pray for me.” trust me phil, jug of juice or not, i will remember to pray for you.
as i packed my suitcase at the end of the week i felt a deep well of gratitude to these students who possibly felt silly, who risked being misunderstood, who likely felt awkward in offering tokens of their thanks and expressions of their struggles, their longings, and their hopes. 
these are offerings of the most precious and rare kind. for many, writing a check is easy. for others, giving time is a breeze. some offer up effort or labor without thinking twice. much less frequently, however, people feel free to take risks in making offerings. instead we give what is “safe.” what is “normal.” what is expected. we shy away, however, from offerings that are personally costly, relationally risky, and that have the possibility of being misunderstood.
as we north americans embark on a day of thanks-giving i challenge each of you to sit in a minute of silence. let the name of a person (or two or three or...) float to the surface of your mind. once there, consider an offering of gratitude that would speak deeply and directly to that individual and make it, thinking not of how silly you might feel in giving it nor how misunderstood the offering itself might be, and instead “imagin[ing] how pleased they'd be to know that you recognize what a difference they've made in your becoming.”