Friday, July 22, 2011

Of Jesus, Fitness Clubs and Toccoa Falls College

I wasn't in love with Sharona, even though I'm attracted to plus sized women. I didn't even have a crush on her. She haunted none of my sexual fantasies, the kind so typical of a young man just turned twenty.

Nor did I dislike her. She had no habits that annoyed me, no smug look, no vacuous stare in her eyes. She didn't dispense syrupy sweet platitudes from a face painted in Cover Girl's finest foundation.

For me, she just was, and if one day she chose to pack her bags and join the Peace Corps, it would have caused no more reaction in me than the change in the wind's direction outside does to a gamer hunched over a PC engrossed in zombie hunting. Still, she remains in my mind these many years later, simply because she deserved better.

Sharona could sing. I don't mean the tinny sort of wailing that comes from the throat of every semi-talented teenager whose parents scraped up the money for a voice coach. I mean she could belt it out, clear, strong, and unforgettable, yet dainty enough to leave no confusion as to her gender.
What's more, she was passionate about her craft. To her it was a calling, a talent that defined her essential personhood and explained why she had been born.

Her ambition was to join one of the singing groups that toured churches friendly to the Christian college I attended. They were the congregations that supplied bright-eyed freshman students every autumn, as well as a few dollars whenever the president's department sent out the semi-annual "please help us train young people to do God's work" letter.

So far as gigs go, it wasn't quite as prestigious as being on the road with the Stones during their inevitable farewell tour. Sharona was clearly more gifted than the others who sought the job, so it should have been hers.

There was one problem, though. Sharona was chubby. That was a deal breaker in the eyes of the administration. Their fervor to recruit students was tempered by their concern about the image they were projecting to the world. They were willing to overlook snobbery, two-facedness, and petty vanity in their musical representatives, so long as they could fit into jeans with a 32 inch waist. But linger a microsecond too long at the dessert bar and they didn't care if you had a voice like Kathleen Battle and the spiritual character of Saint Francis of Assisi. You didn't have the face, or the figure, they wanted to present to the world.

Sharona took it hard, but she didn't give up. In a desperate bid to meet the superficial standards laid down by the good Christians in the college faculty she punished herself, doing aerobic exercises, walking endless laps around the campus periphery, and surviving on rice cakes and oxygen. But in the end she didn't make the cut. When the tour began, the singers who climbed on the bus were lesser people than her, both in talent and girth. Sharona was heartbroken.

I think about this sad little slice of human history sometimes, when I remember that Jesus was likely a typical semitic person of average looks and build, probably indistinguishable in a crowd of others who shared his ethnic heritage. But his character and his message were ineffably beautiful, and have given hope, meaning, and renewal to countless millions over the last two millennia. For him it was all about substance. He cared about things that matter, not conforming to whatever current measure of beauty is in favor in a particular culture.

Would the good Christians in the college administration let him go on their tour? Maybe. But he'd have to prove he could pass muster at the weigh-in. After all, he may look past external appearances, but his followers have different standards than him.

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