As I sat in the medical office’s waiting room today, I picked up anything to read. It happened to be the Sept. 30 issue of Entertainment Week. OK, I admit that I skim People Magazine when I go to the dentist, but Entertainment Week… well, it’s a celebrity rag. Complete mind candy.
I skimmed through the pages and saw lots of pictures, notably gorgeous women and men. There were short, bursty comments and captions for many of them. I perused an article about Neal Patrick Harris. Then I came upon an essay about the recent film Contagion.
Amy and I saw the film last weekend. It’s a very good movie about a deadly virus that spreads from animal to humans and infected millions of people around the world in a short time. While the Center for Disease Control raced to get it under control, civility and community collapsed into savagery. It was pretty grim – (Gwyneth Paltrow died in the first few minutes of the movie and Kate Winslet wasn’t alive at the end either; no mercy even on these beautiful women.)
The essay turned out to be political. I don’t remember the author’s name and I couldn’t find it on Entertainment Week’s website. Too bad because it was very thoughtful and worth reading. (I don’t tear out articles from magazines in doctors’ offices.) The author noted how Contagion opened up for him a new perspective on the current political campaign for president. He wrote that the GOP candidates keep wanting to cut the government, but in the movie he realized that cutting government would jeopardize dedicated public servants such as the Laurence Fishburne character who coordinated the government’s work to contain the pandemic. And that government could also hold him accountable for an ethical lapse in a moment of personal weakness. And that the government was the responsible voice to counteract the undisciplined rantings of a blogger played by Jude Law. In short, government, despite its flaws, has an important role in all our lives and to seek to cut it and shrink it is foolish and short-sighted.
The essay was a classic reminder, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Quoting James (2:1-4), “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”
Probably more often than we wish to admit we make a judgement based upon our expectations. This essay could have appeared in The New York Times or The Washington Post or The New Yorker, and no one would have thought it out of place. It made its point with quiet effectiveness, without facts and numbers. Not that the author’s point was revelatory to me, but he made his point in a way that I never would have expected. Had I dismissed the magazine as a celebrity rag not worth reading, I would not have had the pleasure to read it.
We don’t know or we can’t be certain that when we encounter someone they can enrich our lives. They may not be dressed well. They may not speak in a way that indicates a significant level of education and sophistication. They might be sitting at the bus station looking disheveled. They might be a diner at the soup kitchen. Yet, they might speak wisely or open our eyes to a new dimension of life that can lead to better community.
Conversely, we may give too much credit to those who wear great clothes, who circulate in wealthy economic circles, or whose academic record includes a great university, but whose ideas are truly vapid (OK, I’m thinking Grover Norquist as an example.)
This is our challenge as disciples. We should not be overcome and dazzled by the outside, and we should be ready to recognize and acknowledge quality on the inside – regardless of what surrounds it.