Over the years I have received my fair share of corrective emails from those who read my syndicated column. I write about faith and you know what they say about religion and politics: Those are the two subjects that will most quickly and easily ruin an otherwise delightful dinner party.
But it wasn’t my theology that offended one recent reader. It was my looks. He wrote, “The photo of you above your article totally turned me off. I did not even continue reading. If a so-called representative of Jesus Christ doesn’t care any more about his personal appearance than to roll out of bed and not shave or wash his hair and style it, then surely his viewpoints on life are way off base.
“You should be ashamed of yourself (followed by these 14 exclamation marks) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My prayer for you is that you will come under conviction of the Holy Spirit and begin treating God with reverence, starting with your own personal appearance. I pray that you will see the light.”
Bizarre? You better believe it. Unprecedented? No, I’m afraid not. That is why God gave specific instructions to us all: “Don’t judge by appearances. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” People judge by outward appearances? I’m guessing you knew this already.
Yes, it’s a never ending human exercise; to come to conclusions about people based solely on their appearances. And it’s not just those who look or act in ways we might find questionable. In a narcissistic culture where image is everything, we likewise judge those who look, dress, smell, drive, and live in elegance. We naturally assume that they have storybook lives, but if we knew the truth, such people might be miserable (or certifiably insane).
Here is the late Henri Nouwen on the subject: “We spend an enormous amount of energy making up our minds about other people. Not a day goes by without somebody doing or saying something that evokes in us the need to form an opinion about him or her. And we aren’t even aware how deeply rooted our prejudices are.
“We may think that we relate to people who are different from us in color, religion, sexual orientation, or lifestyle as equals, but our spontaneous thoughts, uncensored words, and knee-jerk reactions often reveal that our prejudices are still there. People different than we are stir up fear, discomfort, suspicion, and hostility. They make us lose our sense of security just by being different.”
News flash: Not everyone is like you. Not everyone shares your politics, religion, stylistic preferences, culinary tastes, or impeccable fashion sense. Obviously, God hasn’t smudged them out for their differences, and he is happy to let them live with who they are. Can we can do the same? At the least we can aspire to live up to the words of that old proverb: “Never judge a book by its cover.” This goes for everyone, not just scruffy columnists with unruly hair.