Ready for a Truly Extreme Makeover?

Monday, September 19, 2005

As in the 1999 movie “Faceoff,” face transplants have been the fodder of science fiction. Until now. Dr. Maria Siemionow of the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, is now interviewing five men and seven women to the chance to have the first-ever face transplant. Dr. Siemionow has assembled a team of experts and has performed such surgical procedures on animals and scores of cadavers. For people desperate enough to pay the price, the prospect of changing a face disfigured by burns or other accidents for a better one may soon be realized. Critics point to the possibility that the body will reject the transplanted face, causing it to slough off in a few days, leaving the patient worse off then before the operation.

To one degree or another, we are all concerned with self-image and self-esteem. We all want to look our best, to have an appearance that at least does not prompt shocked stares or looks of disgust. Until now, our choices have been rather limited. Lose some weight. Trim your beard. Comb your hair, at least once in a while. We can easily become obsessed with the way we look, focusing on our perceived imperfections so much that we never climb out of the pit of feeling self-conscious around others.

Fact is, the cliché, “No one is perfect,” applies to physical appearance just as much as to other aspects of life. Accepting who we are is a big first step in moving toward maturity. It frees us to turn our attention away from ourselves so that we can focus on other people. Christians find the basis of self-acceptance in verses like this: “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). To accept me, He set no prerequisites beyond my need for Him. I certainly didn't have to pass a standard of physical beauty.

On the flip side, if we can communicate to others how our acceptance of them is not dependent on their appearance, we can contribute a great deal to their self esteem. Jesus explained the principle in this simple, Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you want to be treated” (Matthew 7:12). Treat them, in other words, the way He treats you. His acceptance necessarily demands a mirrored response to be accepting of others.

One thing we can easily do that works in both directions--bringing out the best in you, and communicating your acceptance of other people--make a habit of smiling! It’s easy, there’s little risk, and it’s got to be a lot cheaper than the Sieminonow Procedure. But for some of us, it would be a really radical, extreme makeover.

Steve Singleton,
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Hurrican Katrina: Values after a "Whoosh!"

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What defines you as a person? To what do you connect your self-esteem? I'm sure that among the victims of Hurricane Katrina, a lot of reshuffling of values have taken place.

"Who are you, again?"

"I'm the director of the Institute of Southern Louisiana Culture." WHOOSH! Not anymore, you're not!

"I live in a fancy bungalow on a beautiful street right near the levee." WHOOSH! What levee? What bungalow?

"My friends and family are gathered around me." WHOOSH! Not anymore. They live in five different states.

"Even my mother lives nearby, in a nursing home." WHOOSH! She didn't survive the flood.

"I don't need a car, because everywhere I want to go is within walking distance or a short cab ride." WHOOSH! You mean a boat ride.

"For the past three years, I've been gathering material for my next book: official antebellum documents, old letters, certificates of manumission, that kind of stuff." WHOOSH!

The Master warns us again and again to be on our guard against all kinds of greed, for, he says, "A person's life does not consist in the abundance of his [or her] possessions" (Luke 12:15).

If you don't live in southern Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama, maybe this hasn't literally happened to you, but perhaps you can sort through what you value as you vicariously identify with Katrina's victims.

What makes you who you are? Strip away your position and your possessions; remove your residence, your relatives, and your relationships; let your automobiles disappear along with your life's work, and what is left?

"I guess, all that's left is me. I'm all I would have."

Exactly! What is your character? Do you have something called integrity, which I would define as an internal unity of purpose and conduct?

What do you most value right now? Would it be the same after a WHOOSH!?

Steve Singleton,

Katrina and Accountability

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Since Hurricane Katrina, people have been talking a lot about accountability, or if the finger is pointing toward you rather than away, about blame. Some have said that we are witnessing standard bureaucratic incompetence--lack of foresight, under-planning, poor coordination of efforts, misspent funds, and so on. Others question whether the response to Katrina would have been much different--faster, more efficient, more urgent--if her victims had been the very rich rather than the very poor. Even more troubling is the question of what role racism played and is playing in the disaster relief.

Few solid answers seem obvious to all of these questions and "what if's," but perhaps it would be helpful to examine some principles about accountability from the teachings of Him before Whom we all will stand one day to give account (2 Cor. 5:10).

In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt. 25:31–46), Jesus Christ compares the coming judgment of the world to a shepherd's dividing his sheep from his goats. The righteous, represented by the sheep, receive the Shepherd's praise for feeding Him when He was hungry, giving Him water to quench His thirst, clothing His nakedness, and ministering to Him both when He was sick and when He was in prison. In their bewilderment at this judgment, they ask what incidents He is recalling, for they do not remember helping Him in any of these ways. He explains, "The truth is, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me."

Then he turns to the "goats," and directs them to the eternal fire for not feeding Him, or giving Him a drink, for not clothing Him, or nursing Him back to health, or seeing to His needs in prison. They likewise are amazed that He would say this, for they can't recall ever failing to meet any of His needs. "This is the truth," He replies, "whatever you didn't do for one of the least of these, you didn't do for Me." The parable concludes, "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Do you find this parable surprising? Those headed for hell have not embezzled, or raped, or murdered, or even lied. Can you hear the goats complaining as they are driven into the fire, "What did I do? I didn't do anything bad. Nothing to deserve this!" They are punished, not for what they did wrong, but for what they failed to do right. The Golden Rule, after all, states, "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Matt. 7:12); it does not say, "Whatever you don't want someone to do to you, don't do it to them." Christ wants us to be proactive, rather than passive, and helping, not just avoiding hurting.

But another principle seems pertinent to Katrina. Christ says, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10). This begs a host of applications. Jesus is suggesting that we take a look at how people exercise their responsibility in the humdrum, lazy days of late July. That will serve as a reliable indicator of how they will act on the last day of August, that horrific day of the hurricane, and the terrible September days that follow.

The same holds true with regard to race. How do we treat each other when no one is paying much attention? Do we communicate appreciation and respect to people whose skin has more or has less pigment than ours? We will probably go on treating them in the same way when lives are at stake. "Faithful in little, faithful in much." Do we find resentment and anxiety nagging at our consciousness as we see that person of a different race when the skies are cloudless and the birds merrily sing? Then why are we surprised when hatred and terror squeeze our hearts at the sight of them on the day when the sky turns dark and the winds begin to rage around us. "Unfaithful in little, unfaithful in much."

Everyone will agree that Katrina created an immediate crisis, followed by a series of additional crises that may stretch out into the future months. The Greek word from which 'crisis' is derived means "judgment, decision." Katrina brought hundreds, perhaps thousands, to judgment, and she has forced the survivors, including all of us horrified witnesses, to decision crossroads. She has, is, and will force us to reflect on our values. Do we care that some of "the least of these" have lost everything--jobs, possessions, homes, and even loved ones? Do we value their wellbeing above our own convenience? Are we willing to give for their benefit, or even to sacrifice for them?

Katrina is all about accountability. And the accountability is not just for the mayor of New Orleans, or the governor of Louisiana, or the head of FEMA, or the president of the United States. It is an accountability that applies to all of us.

Steve Singleton,
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