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Each week's lesson consists of two parts:


Teacher Lesson

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As a subscriber to The Wired Word, you will receive a weekly e-mail such as this:

Dear Teacher,

Do you ever think about how your appearance is related to your spiritual life? We're not talking about how you dress but about your "looks," your God-given natural attributes. A blog article last week by an attractive young woman planning to become a nun gives us an opportunity to consider that matter, so that will be the topic of this installment of The Wired Word.
 
If you'd prefer a different lesson, look at the material under "Other News This Week," which looks at the growing popularity of downsized housing; we explore materialism, contentment and where we find shelter.    

Remember, if you wish to provide your class members with an abbreviated copy of the lesson, click here, and you can send them a copy via email today.

May God bless you as you the teach the Scriptures this week.

The Editorial Team of The Wired Word.
Too Beautiful to Serve God?

In the News
 
Angela Svec is a college student who's planning to enter a convent and become a nun. When people learn of her plans, they often act with surprise, and say such things as "You're too normal to be a nun" or "You're too smart" or "You're too pretty!"
 
Svec said that she is most surprised by the last of those -- "as if acne or a big nose is a prerequisite to being a nun."
 
"People are baffled that my exterior -- a 27-year-old who used to work at Clinique and peruses Pinterest for fashion inspiration -- could reflect an interior longing for consecrated life and its seemingly antiquated vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience," said Svec.
 
More importantly, she said such comments have forced her to confront her self-image and think about how she appears in God's eyes.
 
Svec also tells of staying for a time with the Poor Clare nuns in Belleville, Illinois. "I discovered that their monastery has no mirrors," she says. "At first, it was a shock for this cosmetics junkie, but it became incredibly liberating. I felt free to be who God designed me to be and more fully attuned to the people around me. I could pour the energy I used to invest in my appearance -- fretting over the reflection in the mirror, trying to alter it -- into my spiritual life."
 
While waiting to enter a convent, she meets regularly with a spiritual director -- an experienced Christian who guides others on the spiritual journey -- to determine her next step.
 
In the meantime, Svec has learned to use the surprised comments people make to her to tell them, "God calls everybody! It doesn't matter what you look like, where you're from or who you know."  
 
"I may not look like a nun," Svec says, "but my heart is shaped for this vocation." 
 
There has been some research about how our attitudes toward and assumptions about people are often shaped by how they look. For example, these studies show that:
 
  • mothers of attractive babies tend to hold, cuddle and kiss them more than mothers of unattractive babies do.

  • adults tend to rate the more serious transgressions of attractive children as temporary departures whereas they rate the same transgressions in unattractive children as basic character flaws.

  • school teachers tend to give more attention and consideration to good-looking students, and assume that they have higher intelligence.

  • adults tend to assume that handsome people are more interesting, more sociable, more sincere and sexually warmer.

  • good-looking female employees often earn between eight and 20 percent more than average-looking females.
 
It sometime works the other way too, in that beautiful people are often assumed to be unfeeling or stuck on themselves. They sometimes have trouble being taken seriously.
 
According to one survey, 99 percent of women and 94 percent of men would change something about their appearance if they could.

More on this story may be found at these links:

Too Pretty to Be a Nun? Huffington Post

The Truth About Why Beautiful People Are More Successful. Psychology Today

Beautiful People Earn More Than Their Ugly Workmates, Says Study. Daily Mail

 
The Big Questions
 
1. What assumptions have you made about other people based on their appearance? Did those assumptions hold up as you got to know those persons better? What have you learned regarding first impressions?
 
2. What, if any, impact has your appearance had on your willingness to trust Jesus? What impact has the "appearance" of Jesus had on your willingness to accept the gospel? -- that is, is your mental picture the same as whatever painting may have hung in your home or church? When you see a picture of Jesus that startles you because it is not the picture you have in your mind, what has your reaction been regarding that Jesus and your faith?
 
3. If you could instantly improve something about your physical appearance, how do you think that change might impact your spiritual life? If you have changed something about your appearance, weight, health, speed around the track, etc., has that had a long-term effect on your self-image, faith and relationship with God and family? Should it?
 
4. How does how you present yourself in terms of attire, cleanliness, makeup, etc. reflect your commitment to Christ? What are the expectations you believe others have about your appearance?
 
5. Respond to this comment from Svec, regarding being in a convent with no mirrors: "I felt free to be who God designed me to be and more fully attuned to the people around me. I could pour the energy I used to invest in my appearance -- fretting over the reflection in the mirror, trying to alter it -- into my spiritual life." To what extent could you make the same sort of statement? To what extent is this not part of your self-image or experience?
 
Confronting the News with Scripture
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:
 
1 Samuel 16:6-7
When they came, [Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the LORD." But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (For context, read 16:1-13.)
 
In the context passage, God tells the prophet Samuel that he has rejected Saul, who was Israel's first king. Samuel is told to go to Bethlehem to anoint a new king, one of the sons of a man named Jesse. This man, however, has eight sons, and God does not tell Samuel in advance which son has been selected.
 
So Samuel goes to Bethlehem, where he announces a sacrificial ceremony and invites unsuspecting Jesse and his sons to attend. Once they get there, each of the sons comes before Samuel, in order of age from the eldest to the youngest. The first to come is Eliab, and he is tall and movie-star handsome. Seeing this hunk, Samuel thinks to himself, "Surely this is the Lord's anointed." But God tells Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."
 
As the incident proceeds, it turns out that the one God has chosen to be Israel's next king is Jesse's youngest son, David, who is also described as "handsome," but by the time we learn that, we also know that David's looks are not what makes him God's choice; God is looking at what's in David's heart.
Questions: When have you made Samuel's mistake, assuming from a person's good looks that he or she is God's choice for some position? In what way is God different from us when it comes to looking at people? How hard is it (or easy) to overcome those first impressions and get to know or to be known by someone?
 
Psalm 147:10-11 (The Message)
[God]'s not impressed with horsepower; the size of our muscles means little to him. Those who fear GOD get GOD's attention; they can depend on his strength. (No context needed.)
 
These verses from Psalm 147 make much the same point as the one Samuel learned in the passage above -- that God is impressed by what's in our hearts, not by our appearance. Here, however, the psalmist has broadened the lesson to affirm God's ongoing care for those who serve him.
 
For those of us who are not candidates for a Miss America competition or for a Hunk-O-Mania revue, that's good news, but it's also good news for those who are. For it is only at the heart level where an extreme makeover is really possible and where with God, real beauty counts. And in the case of that kind of makeover, we aren't expected to be able to do it ourselves. Instead, God calls us to trust him to make us new -- beautiful and new.
Questions: How is your faith beautiful? What remains for you to grow into a beautiful faith?
 
Matthew 5:6
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.) (For context, read 5:1-12.
 
The Beatitudes are the statements of Jesus that begin "Blessed are those ..." and go on to talk about states of spirituality, such as "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness ...." So we can see that in God's eyes there is true beauty in the spiritual state of a humble person who is sincerely seeking righteousness.
 
Someone has said that the Beatitudes are "beautiful attitudes."
Questions: How well do you have to know what's in the Bible to draw ongoing instruction, encouragement and hope from it? Why?
 
Matthew 23:27-28
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (For context, read 23:1-36.)
 
Here, Jesus castigates the scribes and Pharisees for relying on certain outward behaviors -- how much they tithe, how scrupulously they observe the ceremonial laws, how righteous they look. Jesus tells them that they are straining out gnats while swallowing camels (v. 24). And he adds, "So you ... on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."
 
Jesus, like his heavenly Father, has the ability to look at the heart.
Questions: What can we learn from this passage about our "beautiful" acts of worship and charity? What constitutes truly beautiful worship in the eyes of God, in your opinion? In your own eyes? In the eyes of others in your church?
 
Titus 2:11-13
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (For context, read 2:11-14.)
Question: These verses might apply to Svec's calling to enter the convent, since such a choice does call for some specific renouncing of worldly things, but how should these verses apply to all of us who seek to follow Jesus?
 
For Further Discussion
1. Comment on this, from Abraham Lincoln, who by no measure was much of a looker. He is reported to have said, "The Lord prefers common-looking people. That is the reason he makes so many of them."
 
2. Respond to this: C.S. Lewis' classic book The Screwtape Letters gives us an example of how we can be misled by appearance. The book is written as if it were a series of correspondence between a master devil named Screwtape and his nephew Wormwood, who is an apprentice devil. Wormwood has been assigned to capture for hell the soul of a young man, but he's not had much success. In fact, the man has become a Christian, so Screwtape writes to give Wormwood some advice.

In one letter, Screwtape advises how Wormwood might trip up his Christian subject by getting him to enter into a marriage with a woman who will not be good for him. Screwtape writes, "Our aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the [opposite sex] with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely." Screwtape goes on to advise Wormwood in the value of "directing [their] desires ... to something which does exist -- making the role of the eye ... more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible." In other words, mislead humans into building an impossible vision of the other person based on the other's attractiveness. That way, the relationship is sure to have problems later when the other cannot live up to that vision.
 
3. Respond to this, from TWW team member Mary Sells: "I am not sure this [news] is so much about how [Svec] looks, as that is the headline grabber for media. It is really about her remaining true to her calling despite the distractions the world tries to throw at her -- she is too good-looking (a measure of worldly happiness?); she is too hip (how could she give up a youthful social life to be with God first and foremost?). We are distracted away from God by the world, yet if we listen and answer God's call, the riches are beyond anything the world can promise. No amount of good looks, social grace, corporate success, intelligence will 'buy' happiness."
 
4. Respond to this: The 1966 movie comedy The Trouble With Angels tells of a young girl at a Catholic boarding school who has a contentious relationship with the nuns who are her teachers. She is shocked when the one nun she thinks is stunningly beautiful is being sent to a leper colony. The implication is that she might well contract leprosy and her beauty will be destroyed. The girl assumes this is happening for punishment but learns from the nun that this is a ministry she applied for.
 
5. Discuss this, from Robin Wentworth Mayer, in Stepping Stones for Stumbling Saints (Brethren Press, 2001): "When I was little I was never selected to be an angel in the Christmas program. I've been Mary, I've been a shepherd, I've been a wise man ... seems like one year I was even that back half of a camel.

"But the angels' roles were usually reserved for the little girls with blonde curls, fair skin, and blue eyes. I can remember drooling with envy over the tinsel halos and chiffon wings they got to wear while I trudged around in somebody's bathrobe. I also remember feeling unlucky, unspecial, unfavored ... in a word, unworthy.

"The experiences of childhood make their mark. Now, nobody set out to hurt me; mine was just one of countless situations where stereotypes were left unquestioned, and consequently feelings were overlooked. And while this was undoubtedly not the only factor hampering the development of my self-esteem, it left an indelible impression."
 
Responding to the News
 
Today's lesson invites us to learn at least three things:

1) One is to be aware of our natural tendency to be biased toward people one way or the other based on their looks. But an even further point is that trying to avoid this bias is not just smart behavior; it is also a religious matter. If we are trying to be followers of Jesus, then we ought to work at looking past a person's physical appearance.

2) The lesson also invites us to learn a different meaning of beauty. Saying that God looked on David's heart and found him worthy to be the next king is a way of saying that even though David was a good-looking man, his real beauty was at the heart level. Jesus told the Pharisees that cleaning the inside of the cup (that is, their hearts) would result in a clean outside. That is a way of saying that they would then reflect God's beauty.

3) The lesson also invites us to learn about the moral nature of God. Frankly, we don't know why God made some of us better-looking than others of us or why he made us so that we are able to prefer certain physical attributes over others, but it raises our confidence in the moral nature of God to know that when God looks at each of us, he sees our hearts and is not misled by our appearances.
 
Closing Prayer
 
Thank you, O God, that you see us at the deepest levels and know what's in our hearts. Help us to express our inner commitment in outward ways that bless others. In Jesus' name. Amen.
 
Copyright 2015 Communication Resources

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Student Lesson

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Your subscription will also provide you with a student version of the weekly lesson, which you can freely edit prior to sending it out to your class members. Here's a sample of what your students will get:

Dear Class Member,

Do you ever think about how your appearance is related to your spiritual life? We're not talking about how you dress but about your "looks," your God-given natural attributes. A blog article last week by an attractive young woman planning to become a nun gives us an opportunity to consider that matter, so that will be the topic of our next class.
 
If you wish to start thinking about our topic in advance, below is some introductory material. 
Too Beautiful to Serve God?
 
In the News
 
Angela Svec is a college student who's planning to enter a convent and become a nun. When people learn of her plans, they often act with surprise, and say such things as "You're too normal to be a nun" or "You're too smart" or "You're too pretty!"
 
Svec said that she is most surprised by the last of those -- "as if acne or a big nose is a prerequisite to being a nun."
 
"People are baffled that my exterior -- a 27-year-old who used to work at Clinique and peruses Pinterest for fashion inspiration -- could reflect an interior longing for consecrated life and its seemingly antiquated vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience," said Svec.
 
More importantly, she said such comments have forced her to confront her self-image and think about how she appears in God's eyes.
 
Svec also tells of staying for a time with the Poor Clare nuns in Belleville, Illinois. "I discovered that their monastery has no mirrors," she says. "At first, it was a shock for this cosmetics junkie, but it became incredibly liberating. I felt free to be who God designed me to be and more fully attuned to the people around me. I could pour the energy I used to invest in my appearance -- fretting over the reflection in the mirror, trying to alter it -- into my spiritual life."
 
While waiting to enter a convent, she meets regularly with a spiritual director -- an experienced Christian who guides others on the spiritual journey -- to determine her next step.
 
In the meantime, Svec has learned to use the surprised comments people make to her to tell them, "God calls everybody! It doesn't matter what you look like, where you're from or who you know."
 
"I may not look like a nun," Svec says, "but my heart is shaped for this vocation."
 
There has been some research about how our attitudes toward and assumptions about people are often shaped by how they look. For example, these studies show that:
 
  • mothers of attractive babies tend to hold, cuddle and kiss them more than mothers of unattractive babies do.

  • adults tend to rate the more serious transgressions of attractive children as temporary departures whereas they rate the same transgressions in unattractive children as basic character flaws.

  • school teachers tend to give more attention and consideration to good-looking students, and assume that they have higher intelligence.

  • adults tend to assume that handsome people are more interesting, more sociable, more sincere and sexually warmer.

  • good-looking female employees often earn between eight and 20 percent more than average-looking females.
 
It sometime works the other way too, in that beautiful people are often assumed to be unfeeling or stuck on themselves. They sometimes have trouble being taken seriously.
 
According to one survey, 99 percent of women and 94 percent of men would change something about their appearance if they could.

More on this story may be found at these links:
The Big Questions
 
Here are some of the questions we will discuss in class:
1. What assumptions have you made about other people based on their appearance? Did those assumptions hold up as you got to know those persons better? What have you learned regarding first impressions?
 
2. What, if any, impact has your appearance had on your willingness to trust Jesus? What impact has the "appearance" of Jesus had on your willingness to accept the gospel? -- that is, is your mental picture the same as whatever painting may have hung in your home or church? When you see a picture of Jesus that startles you because it is not the picture you have in your mind, what has your reaction been regarding that Jesus and your faith?
 
3. If you could instantly improve something about your physical appearance, how do you think that change might impact your spiritual life? If you have changed something about your appearance, weight, health, speed around the track, etc., has that had a long-term effect on your self-image, faith and relationship with God and family? Should it?
 
4. How does how you present yourself in terms of attire, cleanliness, makeup, etc. reflect your commitment to Christ? What are the expectations you believe others have about your appearance?
 
5. Respond to this comment from Svec, regarding being in a convent with no mirrors: "I felt free to be who God designed me to be and more fully attuned to the people around me. I could pour the energy I used to invest in my appearance -- fretting over the reflection in the mirror, trying to alter it -- into my spiritual life." To what extent could you make the same sort of statement? To what extent is this not part of your self-image or experience?
 
Confronting the News with Scripture
We will look at selected verses from these Scripture texts. You may wish to read these in advance for background:
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 147:10-11
Matthew 5:1-12
Matthew 23:1-36
Titus 2:11-14
In class, we will talk about these passages and look for some insight on the big questions, as well as talk about other questions you may have about this topic. Please join us.

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