Thursday, October 18, 2007

Worse Than a Bad Hair Day

Sojourners Magazine
September-October 2007

"I guess my ugly just came out." This was how Mary Winkler, the pastor's wife who shot and killed her husband in March 2006, explained the horrific, tragic thing that she had done. I wrote a couple of days ago about the compelling argument that Diana Butler Bass makes for intentionally incorporating beauty into worship and life (see October 16 post). The October issue of Sojourners includes a short article by Catholic activist and poet Rose Marie Berger that reminds us that, while beauty is more than skin deep, ugly is as well.

Of course I am not referring to bad hair days, or being a few pounds overweight, or having an unfortunate facial breakout on the very day you have to face a crowd and want to look your best. The problem of ugliness is something that pervades all of creation. I have been working on a definition in my own mind. Physicality is the least of it, in spite of our culture's obsession with all beautiful things and people. Perhaps the best way to describe ugliness is "the problem of being unable to recognize the beauty in others." When we fail to see one another's humanity/beauty, we expect the worst from each other and that is what we get. We bring out the ugly in ourselves and call forth the ugly from people who could be beautiful. Without condoning what Mary Winkler did, I venture a guess that her ugly came out because she had been treated ugly at some point on her journey. At some point, she believed the worst about herself and acted on it.

Rose Marie Berger writes that "for those of us who are called to tend the wounds of those crushed under the weight of our personal and collective sin, beauty and truth can seem a luxury." Ouch. What a sad day it will be when we become so focused on brokenness and tragedy that we cannot see instances of grace and hope. However, Berger challenges us not to surrender to the forces of ugliness, not to believe that ugliness is all that is out there - or in there. She writes "Elaine Scarry writes that beautiful things always carry greetings from other worlds within them. If that is accurate, then beauty (and the truth that must reside in it to be truly beautiful) is a kind of angel: a bearer of good news." The beauty angel warns us not to be seduced by "the cult of the ugly," and that "the idols in this cult would have us sacrifice to them in a spirit of terror, insecurity, scarcity, close-mindedness, self-protection, and immediate gratification." Definitely. Worse than a bad hair day.

What is the ugliest thing you have witnessed in recent memory?
What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?

Gotta think on these things. Watch for my responses in the next couple of days.

"Ex Libris Fides" is going on vacation for a few days to celebrate cool husband's birthday. Will post from the road if a computer is available. If not, tune back in early next week.

Thanks to all of you who are reading and posting. This is lots of fun!

Reverent Reader


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