A Face Like New Jersey

At the crack of dawn, I shuffled into the hotel bathroom and fumbled for the light switch. My eyes were half-closed sandbags from the weight of a long trip. But when I peered into the mirror, I was startled awake by the hideous face staring back at me.  Clearly I was staying in a hotel where the ultra-fluorescent, über-obnoxious bathroom lighting was designed by a man.

If a woman had her choice, every mirror in the world would be surrounded by the flattering frame of lambent candlelight.  Typical lighting, the fluorescent fiend, highlights every flaw in our skin from wrinkles to things we can’t wait to question God about someday, such as nose hair.  But we have no need or desire to see the subcutaneous layer of our skin.  We tend to shriek when our pores appear larger than craters.  No one wants to stick a Q-Tip where it may have to be retrieved by a Moon Rover.

As I searched the hotel bathroom for a dimmer, I remembered the vain queen from Snow White.  Every day she asked her magical mirror, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who in the land is fairest of all?”  to which the mirror always replied: “You, my queen, are fairest of all.” But one day when the queen asked her mirror, it responded: “Snow White is the fairest of them all.”  This is what happens when you allow the king to install new lighting.

While I was trying to recover from my scary reflection, my daughter Grace entered the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and stated, “Mommy, your face is so beautiful.”  I felt better until later when we were travelling through an ugly construction scene on I-95 and Grace piped up from the back seat, “Mommy, New Jersey is so beautiful.”   I quickly analyzed the syllogism:

A.  My face is beautiful.

B.  New Jersey is beautiful.

C.  Therefore, my face looks like New Jersey.

My mind flashed back to high school English class, when our teacher asked us to explain the meaning behind the last line of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

At that age, we couldn’t understand why this man was so moved by pottery. He might as well have written “Ode on a Greasy Tupperware.”  We struggled to summarize the meaning behind this cryptic phrase, each of us providing lengthy, philosophical essays.  Even today, scholars still dig so far with the mega-drill of their words that they may reach the earth’s mantle.

If I could find my English teacher now, I would skim the answer right from the surface in two sentences:

When something is made by God, you simply cannot deny its beauty.  And nothing is more beautiful than His Truth.

James 1:23-25

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror

and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

Even though we know exactly what we look like, we still have to check ourselves in the mirror several times a day.  It would be difficult  to tolerate bathrooms without mirrors, but people did it for centuries, and some cultures still do it today.

God is not concerned with whatever we are checking out in the mirror.  He doesn’t worry about smudged eyeliner or spinach stuck in the teeth.  In the mirror of His Word, nothing can show us more quickly how ugly or attractive we are.

1 Samuel 16:7

…The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

There have been times when I have read a verse and shrieked from the fluorescent light revealing the flaws in my heart.  But when I change my heart, no matter what I look like physically, I know that God thinks I’m beautiful.  Even with a face like New Jersey.

The Golden Calf and a Cracker With Legs

In my house, I have a strict policy about keeping food at the table.  Of course, my children ensure that most of the food actually ends up under the table, but at this point I can’t be too picky about my prepositions. With three young kids, I should be happy when their food stays within the general vicinity of our time zone.

One day I was surprised to see a cracker at the top of the stairs.  It was just sitting there staring back at me, as if to say, “How’s that policy workin’ for ya?”  That’s right, the cracker was sassing me, and I was not going to tolerate it for one minute.  The attitude was unbecoming, even for a Ritz.

“Where did this cracker come from?”

Silly me, thinking someone would actually answer that question.  That’s sort of like expecting an answer to “Who broke this vase?” or “Who wants more broccoli?” 

I switched tactics.  “Who cut down my cherry tree?” I growled, trying to sound like George Washington’s father.  Even though I sounded like Mickey Mouse trying to imitate Barry White, the kids were lassoed with the noose of guilt.  I had repeatedly told them about how virtuous little George was when his father expected a truthful answer.

A lone voice squeaked from the back of the house.  “I did it, Mommy, and I’m sorry.”  My four year old son appeared with a scowl. 

“How did this cracker get over to the stairs if you were eating it at the table like you were supposed to?”

“It jumped?” 

“So let me get this straight,” I answered.  “You were sitting at the table eating like a good little boy, and all of a sudden your cracker just grew legs and jumped over to the stairs?”

“Yes.”

“Did it do a little dance, too?”  I broke into a wild hip-hop number, which looked something like a penguin on Quaaludes.  

We all had a good laugh, and the kids realized how ridiculous it is to tell whoppers and try to get away with it.  They never tried to lie again, and we all lived happily ever after. And if you believe that, I also have some magic beans to sell you.

Humans have been making lame excuses ever since Adam and Eve played the blame game in the Garden.  Perhaps the greatest example comes from the record of Aaron and the Golden Calf.  (This is a biblical reference; please do not look it up on iTunes.)

Once upon a time a man named Moses was called by God to climb Mt. Sinai.  He was eighty years old, but he was able to go up and down the mountain with no problem.  The Jack LaLanne of his times.  When he was gone for too long, his brother Aaron and the Israelites decided to worship a golden calf.  Moses returned to a scene of moral dissipation, and he was not too happy.

What followed was one of the worst excuses ever recorded.  I’m not sure how Aaron said it with a straight face.

“So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’  Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and OUT CAME THIS CALF!” (Exodus 32:24)

Moses was a dad, so he had probably heard outrageous excuses before. I hope he really milked this one. Oh, so it just magically formed itself into a calf, came to life and walked right out of the fire? Did it do a little dance, too? 

In Old Testament  times, they really had to pay the price for sin. Moses burned the calf into a powder and made them drink it.  (Maybe Jack LaLanne got his protein drink and juicer ideas from this.)  Just when they were thinking, Hey, this drink isn’t too bad and it’s half the calories of milk…God struck them with a plague. 

I am so thankful to be living in the Age of Grace. We all make outlandish excuses — our own version of a cracker with legs.  Even though sometimes we deserve a disgusting drink and a plague, Jesus took the punishment for us by dying on the cross.  He deserves better than our lame and childish excuses.  But somehow he rolls them up with our sins and removes them as far as the east is from the west.