Sunday, August 12, 2012

Beauty...not the Beast

Beauty and the Beast--such a beloved fairy tale.  One of my several ultra-talented granddaughters played the  role of Beauty in her annual middle school musical production.  In fact, her physical resemblance to Beauty as portrayed in the Disney movie was striking.  The student who performed  the role of the  Beast eventually turned out to be her first boyfriend in real life.  So not only was the play a success, there were happy endings all around!

Speaking of beasts, when I was a child I had the misfortune of being labeled as someone with "the mind of a beast."    That's not very nice, you say.  Well, I have to agree with you there.  I mean, I was rather spoiled, I must admit.  But that's a far cry from having a beastly mind.  Being impressionable and young, this misnomer left a lasting negative imprint regarding how I felt about myself.

It all stemmed from a terribly convoluted misunderstanding of Old Testament scripture referring to ancient Israel and how the surrounding "gentile" nations were perceived.  The inaccuracy led to a modern application of some ethnic groups being regarded as inherently superior to others by dent of birth.  And, though not widespread, the notion that some nations had "mind of a beast" tendencies surfaced in the former teachings of my denomination. This only added insult to injury and the damage was done. It's not a new concept for sure.  Religious discriminatory views, whether inadvertent or not, have been around for centuries and can sadly still be found.  I should mention this happened to me decades ago and in no way reflects the current belief system of my denomination.

Because I was a child, of course I lacked the wisdom and experience to sift through and recognize faulty, foolish information.  So for years, I was convinced I was inferior and even a little freaky simply because of the ethnic background I inherited the day I was born.  I always had the feeling I was on the outside looking in.

OK, enough of the beast, where's the beauty?  It's Jesus!  He leveled the playing field forever.

In the homes and streets and marketplaces of first century Judea, there was a marked class system.  Most members of that society found themselves on the outside looking in.  Though the entire nation was under Roman occupation, wealth, education and political favoritism awarded a small number of them the upper hand and superior lifestyles.  The rich, privileged and authoritarian religious leaders strutted among the people, adorned in their holiness by virtue of their own righteousness.  They always sat proudly in front row seats.  Religion was a thing of endless, impossible-to-achieve rules. The exhausted weary masses were weighed down with little or no hope of ever rising above their inferior status.  And some, such as the insane, slaves, lepers, women and children and "gentiles" were considered less than inferior.

Then Jesus was born in their midst and walked the dusty roads and byways of ancient Judea.  He was more interested in people than pomp and pageantry or pedigree.  The core of his ministry was then and still is to draw all humankind unto himself.  As he moved through the crowds of untouchables, sinners, mentally disturbed, poor, hungry, needy, diseased, scorned, fearful, helpless, brokenhearted--what stands out is his humility and warmth, his tenderness and compassionate outreach. He tells the rejected and heavy burdened to come to him so he can give rest to their souls.  He doesn't ever discriminate but is instead relentlessly redemptive--freeing everyone from what distresses or harms, releasing humanity from debt and blame.  He created us all.  He loves us all.

When I discovered the beautiful, unconditional acceptance of Jesus, the negativity that I had assigned to myself as a child because of my ethnicity began to dissolve. I finally "got it"and am turning that chapter in my life into a brand new one.  The personal impact of this transformation is every bit as dramatic as the gruff, clumsy old beast in the fairy tale changing into a charming prince.