December 23, 2015

Other People’s Beautiful

My kids learned a phrase at summer camp that has come in handy during many family meals: “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.”

In church, yum-yucking is probably less of a problem than at summer camp. There’s usually enough food on the potluck table that you can just avoid that fruitcake or those deviled eggs that rub you the wrong way. I happen to love both fruitcake and deviled eggs, and will happily eat your share.

In church, the big one is “other people’s beautiful.” Especially if your church is as culturally diverse as mine, there are bound to be differences of opinion around beauty. We just don’t all see things the same way. We haven’t grown up with the same ways of signaling and perceiving beauty. That fiber-optic miniature Christmas tree that makes you cringe is someone’s offering of color and light in honor of the baby Jesus. Those boring, unpainted wooden figures quietly arranged in an all-brown Nativity scene represent someone else’s sense of classy and timeless.

In case you think I am just making things up, both the fiber optic tree and the unvarnished wooden figures are on display in my church, right now.

If we spend our precious church energy arguing about whose beautiful is really beautiful, whose is classy and whose is tacky (such class-loaded words, but thrown around all too often in Episcopal circles), we have missed a wonderful opportunity.

What if we could just enjoy each other’s beauty without judgment? What if it honestly didn’t matter whether you like it or not? What if you just enjoyed the fact that someone likes it? Someone is having a holy experience, perceiving that the world and all that is in it is a gift from God.

As a priest hard at work building a community church, I can honestly say that every time someone brings something beautiful into the church, I am happy, whether the offering fits my style or not. When people offer beauty, they are giving the best of themselves to honor God. I have to believe that God’s heart is equally gladdened by all sorts of offerings. The God I believe in would never turn the Divine nose up at a gift, whether from the 99-cent store or from the finest maker of artisanal stained glass. The God I believe in has room and love for us all, and for all of our conceptions of beauty, the bright and the subtle. I’m pretty sure God just wants to see us enjoying the world that God has made.

Try a Christmas without yucking anyone’s yum and without mocking or dismissing anyone else’s beautiful. See if you can see the beauty in the fact that someone found it beautiful and took the time to share it with the world.

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