Love Opens Our Eyes to Beauty

According to Jean Anouilh, “Things are beautiful if you love them.” Love opens our eyes to beauty. In our culture, consumerism, materialism, and superficiality have created an epidemic of insecurity and distorted notions of beauty and attractiveness. And racism is intertwined with these lenses that warp the perceptions of many.

I recently ran across a terrific speech by Lupita Nyong’o in which she spoke about being younger and feeling unbeautiful—being teased about the shade of her skin and praying to God to have lighter skin. Her mom provided her with the wisdom that beauty was not something that she could consume, but something she just had to be. And she came to identify beauty with compassion.

When famous black women like Lupita Nyong’o are held up as symbols of beauty, it can perhaps help to alleviate some of the insecurity that young women with dark skin might experience, but her own story points to the limits of this. And she herself recognizes this, which is why she counseled girls to “get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.” This focus on compassion and character is an important, valuable message.

But even beyond this, there is a need to move past the artificial divide between external and internal beauty. When we love someone and recognize their beauty, we see the whole person. To divide them and focus on their internal or external nature is to depersonalize them, to strip them of their fundamental unity, their integral nature.

The reason Lupita Nyong’o’s mom could recognize her beauty was not because she looked at her internal beauty rather than her external appearance. It was because her mom had the ability to see her as she truly was, as one whole person. Love does not blind us to real beauty; it opens our eyes to it. The people who completely love the way their loved ones look are the ones who are right, not the ones with distorted vision. They become capable of seeing the beauty of this human person who has been made in the image of God—closer to seeing this person the way the God of Love sees each of us.

The way we see our loved ones should teach us about the worth and preciousness and beauty of each person. It should motivate us to dispense with notions of beauty and attractiveness that are inevitably dehumanizing, rooted in prejudice, and deeply harmful to others.

But if love cannot motivate us to do that, perhaps the desire to eradicate racism can. Even if the colorism and racism of aesthetic preferences that so many consciously and unconsciously accept feels uncontrollable or inevitable, it is not. There is a responsibility to dig deep into oneself and root out that bigotry, even if the majority of people casually accept it, and to view people as they are, as unique whole persons who are made in the image of God.

When I see little black girls express shame or disdain for their hair or the darkness of their skin, whether on the playground or in viral videos, this wounds me. I am physically sickened by the racism that generates deep insecurities and self-hatred. And my heart aches, not just because of the hurt experienced by these little girls and the pain their loved ones must experience when a precious child of God is blind to their own beauty, but also because of how casually our culture accepts this.

It’s time to start caring. It’s time to eradicate this bigotry. It is time to treat all human beings as whole persons.

One of the great champions of this type of personalism—of seeing and valuing people as they are—was Fred Rogers, the subject of the recent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor. And in one of his most famous and beloved songs, Mr. Rogers expressed what it’s like to truly see someone and appreciate them:

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair–
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you–
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.

But it’s you I like–
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.

A loving parent knows what it is like to love every part of a person, just as Mr. Rogers describes in the song.  A truly loving spouse does too. Once we see that we are perfectly capable of seeing people as whole persons, we can turn our backs on a culture of objectification. When we recognize that love opens our eyes to beauty, we can set aside those prejudices that we call preferences, and more and more people will feel comfortable recognizing their own worth and beauty.

Pope Warns Against Rising Racism, Intolerance, and Hatred

via Vatican News:

Pope Francis warned that attitudes that many thought were a thing of the past – such as racism – are on the rise again and can lead to intolerant and discriminating behavior and policies and he urged politicians to avoid exploiting fear against those seeking refuge and better lives in our countries.

He was addressing participants at a just-ended Rome-based conference “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration” at the Vatican on Thursday.

“We are living in times in which feelings that many thought had passed are taking new life and spreading” Pope Francis said to the over 200 participants of an international conference on “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of World Migrations.”

In his message that marked the conclusion of the event promoted by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development, by the World Council of Churches and by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, the Pope reflected on how, in our globalized world, there appears to be an upsurge of  “feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred towards individuals or groups judged for their ethnic, national or religious identity and, as such – he said – considered not sufficiently worthy of being fully part of society’s life”.

Christians Must Find Constructive, Effective Ways to Oppose Xenophobia, Racism, and Populist Nationalism

via CNS:

Christians have the teachings and the responsibility to address growing fear of and discrimination against immigrants and refugees, said speakers opening a Vatican-sponsored conference.

“Welcoming migrants, especially those in danger, is a moral principle whose foundation and strength come from the Gospel and sacred Scripture, and it is part of being Christian, that is, of belonging to Christ,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The cardinal was one of three speakers giving opening remarks Sept. 18 at a conference in Rome on “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration.” The gathering Sept. 18-20 was jointly hosted by the Vatican dicastery and the Geneva-based World Council of Churches in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity…

He asked whether – after 70 years of upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – humanity “has learned how to build a world in which race, sex, color, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, wealth or poverty would not be sufficient grounds to justify indifference, marginalization, hatred, exclusion or the rejection of a human being.”

“It pains us to note that when it comes to international migration, too often mistrust and fear prevail over trust and openness toward the other,” yet at the same time, there are many examples of solidarity and compassion being demonstrated as well, he said.

Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said in his opening remarks that “the Christian message and the churches’ experience can contribute considerably to understanding more fully the challenges and opportunities arising from the current phenomenon of mass migrations.”

Christian communities, he said, have a “moral and prophetic mandate” to seek out “constructive and effective ways to oppose xenophobia, racism and populist nationalism.”

“All churches and their members have the responsibility and the mission to promote the objective understanding of human dignity, human rights, social cohesion and integration as an essential instrument for building an inclusive, just and peaceful society,” Farrell said.


Remembering MLK’s Radicalism and Defending the Dignity of Black Lives

Nichole Flores writes:

Martin Luther King Jr. has been upheld as the paragon of racial justice activism, offering a broadly compelling account of human dignity grounded in his vision of the beloved community. But 50 years after his assassination, this vision is often manipulated or taken out of context in ways that water down the radical nature of his dream or minimize his life of protest and active solidarity that ended with the violence of a bullet aimed at silencing his message. It is this same vision of human dignity, however, that calls us to re-examine Dr. King’s moral legacy for us today. Specifically, his affirmation of human dignity compels Catholics to declare that black lives matter and to align our church with an affirmation of the sanctity of black life….

If human beings are created in the image of God, then the hatred of any human person, including the hatred or mistreatment of another person based on his or her race, is an affront to that image. But this is only the baseline of a Christian response to racism. The more difficult, more demanding and more Christlike response to racism requires a positive love of and enduring solidarity with those who have been subject to racial injustice, especially those neighbors whose lives are being threatened by hatred and violence. More than a general, abstract affirmation that racism is wrong or undesirable for society, Catholic faith requires acknowledgment of specific persons and communities who are being threatened and harmed by enduring structures of anti-blackness and a resurgent cultural acceptability of racist ideas and actions. In short, Catholic faith demands that we proclaim that black lives matter….

Protest is the public face of the demand for dignity, expressing specific social and political claims linked to this moral affirmation. These claims include voting rights, education, employment, housing and equal treatment under the law. While some find protest to be too radical or socially disruptive, marching with those whose lives are treated as if they do not matter is a vital aspect of Christian solidarity.

We cannot forget that protest was a centerpiece of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Christian witness, the embodied manifestation of his belief that all people are created equal. He marched for the truth for which he was ultimately killed: that black lives should matter to us because they already matter to God.

Bishop Murry: US Catholics Have Failed to Take Decisive Action on Racism

Christopher White writes:

American Catholics have “shown a lack of moral consciousness on the issue of race,” Bishop George Murry told attendees at the 2018 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

While he believes America has made progress on the issue of race relations, he said that “recent events in our country have questioned exactly how far we’ve come.”

Murry, Bishop of Youngstown, Ohio, was appointed as head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) ad hoc committee against racism, which was established in August following the deadly, racially motivated protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Speaking on Sunday to more than 500 Catholic social activists who are gathered in the nation’s capital for a four-day conference and advocacy sessions on Capitol Hill, Murry chronicled the development of the Church’s position on slavery, noting that previously the Church considered there to be “just and unjust forms of slavery.”

Such teachings informed and shaped the American Catholic experience, and as Murry noted, “the subordination of blacks in America was simply an accepted part of the social and cultural landscape for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.”

While he praised the “remnant” of Catholics who worked to improve race relations in the U.S. – adding that, “there were many Catholic leaders, including bishops, priests, religious women in full habit, and university presidents who risked their lives to support the cause of racial justice” – these individuals “were the exception to the rule.”

“As the global Church has championed human dignity and equality, why does it appear that the Church in America has been incapable of taking decisive action and incapable of enunciating clear cut principles regarding racism?” he asked.

You can read his full report here.

Trump Attacks Immigration from ‘Shithole’ Countries

via Washington Post:

President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed granting entry to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.

Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday. The president, according to a White House official, also suggested he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because he felt they help the United States economically.

The remarks have sparked a strong backlash:

Too Many Catholics Are Complicit in Trump’s Racism

MSW, highlighting a presentation by Millennial writer Nichole Flores, writes:

There was an entire conference on the subject of polarization in which I participated, at the University of Notre Dame, which resulted in the book Polarization in the US Catholic Church: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal….

All of the contributions at the conference were excellent, but one has taken on greater significance for me in the past year of Trump: Professor Nichole Flores’ presentation “When Discourse Breaks Down: Race and Aesthetic Solidarity in the U.S. Catholic Church.” As I listened to Flores deliver her talk back in 2015, I found it interesting and provocative, but now I realize that the issue of race cuts through our society and our church in ways I had hoped were behind us.

Like many Americans, I hoped we had crossed a frontier with the election of our first black president. Yes, there were still too many incidents in which young black males were victims of violence at the hands of police, and, yes, the income differences between races remained persistent and wrong, but I did not see race as the motivating driver of politics that it had been in, say, the 1950s and 1960s. I was wrong.

We have learned, as a church, that racism still has the power to drive a political narrative, an ugly narrative to be sure, and one the finds a home in the hearts of too many Catholics. Even if we stipulate that many white Catholics do not warm to the president’s stoking of racial animus, too many American Catholics are prepared to overlook or dismiss the racism Trump espouses. Too many Catholics do not see racism for the sin that it is, nor care to examine the evil effects of that sin.

The pattern is obvious: Whenever Trump feels he needs a boost, he returns to the alt-right, white-nationalist themes that rile up his base. That is his core comfort zone because it animates his most devoted supporters. And many of those supporters are Catholics. At a time when our wonderful pope calls us continually to an inclusive vision of the church and of society, we have a president who has built his political strength on divisiveness and exclusion….

The president is a man with no moral compass. We knew that a year ago when he won the presidency. But what has become more and more obvious is that there is a moral vacuum at the heart of our society today, not just on this issue or that but systemically. Many of us disagreed with some of the moral conclusions of previous presidents, but we did not have to contend with a complete lack of a moral framework in the most visible and consequential leader in our polity.

The leaders of our church will meet in Baltimore next week. I wonder if they will even discuss the moral crisis the nation faces on account of the Trump presidency.