It’s kind of an unwritten law that if you are a Dallas resident spending a week in Colorado, you have to make at least one remark a day to your friends along the lines of “So why do I live in Dallas again?” and preferably whilst gazing upon the Rocky Mountains which seem stubbornly intent on blocking your view with a postcard view wherever which way you turn. Such was the comment I heard one of the women from my church say one day recently during a week-long retreat in Estes Park. Seizing the opportunity, I gently took her aside and corrected her. “[Generic name], yes Colorado is incredibly beautiful, and the power of God is so richly manifested in every direction you turn. But Dallas has something far better than mountains.” “What do you mean?” she asked, stricken with a dash of skepticism and a pound of morbid curiosity. “My dear, Dallas has people! Men, women, and children of all ages, races, sizes, and backgrounds! Mountains are beautiful sure, and doubtless a manifestation of God’s power. But God has made mankind in his own image! Humanity is the pinnacle of his creation and where he makes himself most visible.” With satisfaction I saw her gaze descend to the sidewalk beneath, whether from the reflection-inducing power of the words I’d just given her or the sudden realization of the foolishness of her original statement, I can never be quite sure. “Oh Scott, you’re right!” she said, tears now forming. “You should preach sermons, and all the time!” “Perhaps one day. But that day is not today.” Leaving her to gather her thoughts, I saddled my unicorn and rode off into the horizon, and into the fresh canvas that was my destiny.
Okay, so maybe I too made comments about living in Colorado that week. Maybe several times. And maybe there’s a clear delineation in the last paragraph between truth and slight un-truth. But I got to preach that same thought to myself several times throughout the week. I amazed myself at how quick I was to appreciate and sing the wonders of God’s natural creation and just how much less prone I am to see God’s beauty in his most personal and intimate creation: people. I mean come on, which of these two pictures is more beautiful? This one,
or this one?
Maybe I’m not visiting the right churches, but so far I haven’t seen the second picture as part of a collage backdrop to the lyrics of “God of Wonders” during worship, all sandwiched in there between the Andromeda Galaxy and the guy behind the counter of that small-town lumber store that we stopped to pee at in Forgettable Town, New Mexico on the way to Colorado. What was his name again? Who knows. I don’t because I don’t care, and I haven’t exactly been losing sleep over it.
Even when we try to get in the habit of seeing people as more beautiful than our surroundings, we’re left with the challenge of seeing all people that way, not just a select few. For that reason I chose to contrast a Rocky Mountain lake with an overweight Elvis as opposed to, say, a hungry seven-year-old South American girl with the most dazzling eyes you’ve ever seen. We should care about her just as much, but it’s easier to see people as more beautiful than mountains when they’re adorable and easy to love. And on top of that, most of us typically don’t live next-door to adorable South American girls who need food. Okay, granted we don’t exactly live next-door to guys like Elvis above. But whether next-door, at the grocery store we shop at, the McDonalds drive-thru we go to, or at our offices, our lives are filled with hundreds of intersections with people who are forgettable or downright loathsome and annoying. These are the people I have a hard time convincing myself are more worth my time than the view from the top of a mountain. And Jesus holds his followers to the incredibly high standard of loving these kinds of people, even when they’re our enemies. “‘For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?'” (Matthew 5:46-47)
I don’t know what other people mean when they look at a mountainous Colorado horizon and say they want to move out of Dallas. I know when I say it I’m hardly at a noticeable level of seriousness. But there’s something in my heart that wishes I was. When I say it, what I mean is that I want to go somewhere where I’m constantly surrounded by beauty, where people aren’t in my way as much as they are in Dallas, where the weather is more pleasant, and where I can have lots of fun by going hiking, skiing, and rafting. There’s probably a lot more to that list, but I’ll focus on these four. The last two (weather and fun) are entirely selfish in my mind. They’re all about “me” when God calls me to be about him and others. Regarding the first desire, while God’s natural creation is gorgeous and very necessary to get away to, people are more beautiful in his eyes, and every city is filled with people. So what should make a city most attractive to me is the fact that people are there. And regarding the second, God has created us for community, not isolation. Maybe I should praise God and pray for the person who cuts me off in Dallas traffic instead of consoling myself with the thought that everything will be different when I move to Colorado. After all, God is not calling me to retreat from the things he cares most about. He desires all men, even (especially?) Carrot Top to come to a knowledge of the truth.
“And the LORD said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Ninevah, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?'”