Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Imago Dei Part 3

I spoke today about the theological, psychological and even historical significance of Imago Dei to a room full of students and leaders. It's not as boring as it sounds. At the end of the talk, I suggested that if we understand and embrace that human beings, all of them, have immeasurable worth before they do anything right, wrong, amazing or annoying, then everything about our lives and relationships (and culture) changes.

We stop trying to size each other up. 
We stop trying to sexually entice. 
We stop trying to impress, wow and prove we're worth having around.
We stop including or rejecting on the basis of income, race, gender, disposition, body-shape, facial-symmetry and IQ. 
Imago Dei frees us of all that. There's nothing left to prove.

Afterward, numerous people complimented the talk. Some compared this year's conference with previous years' favorably. One man compared my and the other speakers' teachings with another notable conference, and the band with another conferences' band, saying that the teaching was "at least as good" and that the band was "even better". There have even been a few "best ever" comments thrown in.

I took all the words with a grain of salt. 
Or did I?

If I'm honest with myself, I must admit that I listened to the feedback as one does when he is trying to figure out if what he produces has any worth in the eyes of others. In other words, part of me succumbed to the very game that I had just said into a microphone that Imago Dei frees us from. It's so subtle, but no less real. I confidently suggested to hundreds of people ideas such as young women being freed from provocative dress because their sexuality isn't their value, but then essentially lowered the neckline on my intellect in hopes that someone would notice my philosophical cleavage. 

Creepy metaphor. Sorry. 
But at least my confession is pure: There is still an active part of me trying to get people to agree I have worth. I just use a different tactic. I'd like to think I am relaxing about all this and that it matters less all the time. And that may be the case. But even typing that may just be me trying to get you to be impressed with my burgeoning maturity.

Everything is comparison. We're addicted to finding the worth of a thing so we can know whether we should have it, fix it or reject it. And all of this is determined by comparison. Get a good deal on your new TV? How do you know? You don't. The pricing is arbitrary. What should a TV cost? That's unknowable! You're stuck comparing the price you paid up against MSRP, what someone else paid and how it performs in its price category. Doesn't everything work this way?

How do we know we're doing a good job at work? 
How do we know we're attractive?
How do we know if our grandmothers are smart? 
How do we know if our faith is strong? 

It's all a comparison game where we hold one thing up against something similar, or up against agreed-upon guidelines, and decide what to value and what to reject. It's as if we're admitting that we don't know what anything or anyone is worth until we line them up and see which ones provide the best results.
It's hard impossible to imagine life without comparison. Even trying to do so is a comparison between this world and that one. How do we function without the security of anchors telling us what to think and feel about everything? And in a society that only values productivity and proven worth, it's going to be incredibly difficult to value human beings for simply being. It's going to be hard to learn not to apply our shopping savvy to ourselves and others. And it will, perhaps, be even harder to believe that God is whole enough to love unconditionally all people, regardless of our (in)ability to earn that love. We've really never seen anything like that. 

In the midst of so much anxious clamoring for approval and acceptance for what we produce, I'm still drawn to that kind of life and love. I still want that Kingdom over this one. The way will be hard to learn, but in comparison to the one we're addicted to now, it'll be worth it.

When we compliment each other, think about ourselves or try and make decisions about our circumstances- let's try and embrace it all for what it is. Apart from a comparison. On its own. What if we worked at being people who can see value, not just in things, but in each other, without doing any estimating or comparing? Because I think it may be only then, when we stop referencing some standard or other person to provide us scale, that we are truly seeing the person in front of us at all.

“As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to the need to put people and things in their “right” place. To the degree that we embrace the truth that our identity is not rooted in our success, power, or popularity, but in God’s infinite love, to that degree can we let go of our need to judge.”
                                                                  Here and Now, Henri Nouwen

1 comment:

Stephen said...

almost as good as imago dei part 2.