Assumptions and Appearance

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Stereotypes exist.

And that's not a bad thing. Stereotypes allow us to quickly categorize the world, have a rough understanding of something, and know how we should interact in a particular situation. Without stereotypes we would have to rediscover social graces for each and every person, situation, or experience we have.

At the same time, stereotypes aren't a perfect picture of others. Our assumptions can be very wrong. And that is why people often urge us to not judge each other based on our appearance.

That's fair. But not judging by appearance carries a lot of dangers. There's a quote from the movie "Crash" that I found particularly fascinating: Two young African Americans are walking down a mildly busy street at night. One of them remarks to the other about how everyone seemed to be scared of them. "But why," he asks, "are we not afraid of them?"

"Because we're the only ones packing heat?" The other ventures.

"Exactly." And with that, they pull out their guns and steal another character's car.

If you dress like a hoodlum, you should not be surprised that people assume that you are. Just like the movies of old: If you're wearing black and a mask, you're the bad guy.

Similarly, if your garments match those of the homeschool stereotype, don't be surprised if people look at you like you're from Planet Homeschool. You are, and you're promoting it. The stereotype exists for a reason.

On the other hand, it's not totally accurate, which is why we often have people say, "You homeschool? But you seem so normal."

What got me on this train of thought?

I got an email from Jenny about an article in the Wall Street Journal. She also posted about the article on her blog. The article talks about how churches pay "mystery worshipers" to pose as first time guests and then write up reports about what was good, what was bad, and what was ugly--everything from how stocked the toilet paper was to the quality of the exegesis.

Jenny--hello, friend!--points out, with some disdain, that churches are dumping money into this kind of thing. She also takes issue with the guy who has a "cover story" [read: lie] just in case someone asks him what he's up to. But that's a topic for another day.

The fact that churches (the business entity) spends money on "market research" like this raises a question: How important is our appearance?

I know there are believers who feel that there shouldn't even be a church "entity" or building. On the other end of the spectrum, we have people who split their church over the color of the new carpeting.

For me, I guess I look at it from the perspective of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs:

Luke's Hierarchy of Needs

For a church to exist, it first needs believers who will gather. Then it needs a place to do so (be it a home, a field, a cave). After that, small groups and areas of involvement are needed so people can feel like they are an integral part of the congregation and can expand the reach of the ministry. And once you have all those things in place, then people can start to complain about burnt out light bulbs and the temperature of the room.

And, yes, it may be petty and not nearly as important as, say, what a newly founded church in India is struggling with, but...

...wait, scratch that.

Doesn't Maslow's Hierarchy tell us that, for those at the upper levels, those things are what's important?

In other words: Our appearance in the Western American church is super important.

Should it be?

I guess that depends on who you are trying to reach. But when was the last time you were happy to sit in a service that was freezing or burning hot? How well could you focus?

Even so, I do agree with Jenny: It would be nice if people got a servant's heart and a desire to love others so churches wouldn't have to pay someone to come tell them that they aren't. But, I don't know about your church, but for mine there are the few who do everything, and most everyone else merely shows up for the service, not to be of service.

So as you look at your appearance: How important is it?

~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

Sorry this was so long. Too many ideas spoil the post.

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