• Two daughter made it to Mattoon this weekend:  Mindy and Alison got together Friday night to attend a Harry Potter Ball in Champaign.  Then between the two of them, we got to spend quite a bit of time Saturday and Sunday.
  • Today's sermon topic was, "Sin:  What is It?"  Listeners reported that I gave them at least three new ideas about how to sin in ways they hadn't thought of before.
  • Went to a candidates forum this afternoon (with Mindy) in Charleston, listening to candidates running in Illinois's March primary.  Interesting.  Not sure there will be a government in Washington to send them to...if elected.
  • Saw "Post" and "Greatest Showman" at the theater.  Both movies are worth an evening:  for the history (as much as Hollywood is accurate about history,) the drama, and the excellence of the acting and production.

January 21, 2018
First Impressions
We all know that the Bible says, "Do not judge" each other.  (Sermon on the Mount)  But a researcher at Brandeis University has determined that we do it anyway.  Studies indicate that we appraise people within seconds of first meeting them, based on four facial features.  (And as we all know, once a first impression is made, it's hard to undo.)
The first thing we notice about somebody (according to Dr. Leslie Zebrowitz,) is whether he or she has a "baby-face."  The next time you are in a crowd of people, look around and see who has a baby-face:  round face, big eyes, short chin, lots of forehead showing.  We tend to be nicer and more generous to people who look like this.  Perhaps it is our genetic disposition to notice and engage children.  But the take away is this:  if you want people to treat you nicer, get a little chubbier, open your eyes a little wider, and let your hairline recede...and you've got it made.
The second thing people look for is familiarity.  If we see someone who reminds us of someone else (provided that the 'someone else' wasn't the school bully) then we are likely to feel more safe and at home, even if we don't know a single other thing about that person.
Third, we notice whether a face looks 'healthy' to us.  Are the eyes lively? Does the skin look wholesome?  Does the face look fit?  We have a tendency to associate facial fitness with intelligence, skill, and grace. 
And fourth, we judge a person on the emotions facial features symbolize.  Upturned lips (in the shape of a smile) can entice us, even if that person is quite a crank.  On the other hand, bushy eyebrows and piercing eyes tempt us into thinking a person is judgmental, which may not be the case at all.

In addition to facial features, there are other bodily attributes that we may use to stereotype someone.  I remember getting on a train once, trying to find a place to sit, choosing an empty seat next to a woman who had a pleasant appearance.  After 30 minutes I was wishing I'd chosen the disheveled guy across the aisle.  

Facial features and physical attractiveness are not correlated to personality...or character.  Martin Luther King (whose birthday we celebrated this past Monday) said in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech that he looked forward to the time when people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.  There is a story in the Bible about Samuel and God:  the time Samuel was trying to figure out who God wanted to be the next king.  Samuel had favored some mighty fine looking candidates.  But God kept whispering in his ear:  "The Lord's eyes do not see the same things human eyes see.  The Lord looks upon the heart.  Keep looking."

I remember that when Jimmy Carter first came upon the national scene, he seemed like a happy, friendly, easy-going person:  the way his mouth was shaped.  But when the nation got to know him, we discovered his personality was quite the opposite:  rather cold, scolding, and guarded.  As we got to know him at an even deeper level, however, particularly after he left office, we discovered that, among all our presidents, his character is one of the most laudable.
And now researchers have confirmed this old wisdom...that human eyes see wrong at times..  The human mind does indeed trick us into thinking things about people that are probably not true.  And if our minds aren't very flexible, then we may miss out on many individuals who might have turned out to be wonderful friends, if our souls would prevail with just a little patience and curiosity to learn something beneath the surface.
So, with all this new-found intelligence, I'm trying to think how to work the angles to help the church. I'd definitely want some baby-faced ushers. Some of these grizzle-faced old men are probably reducing the offering intake by at least 20-30%. Since people feel more generous toward someone with a baby-face, I'd think the finance committee would want to hold usher-auditions.  

And maybe if the choir members wore more make-up, people would be able to perceive our intelligence and wit more readily.  And really bright lights might make all of us squint, thus causing it to look like we're smiling.  

Or...we could just linger with newcomers...just long enough...that they could catch a glimpse of our interesting personalities and grace-filled character.    --Mike 

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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