Online Magazine For Black Men
In God's Image


French doctors announced this past weekend the successful completion of the first partial face transplant. The high risk, fifteen hour surgery, performed the previous Sunday, surprised the eight member surgical team in the quality of its result. Dr. Benoit Lengele, a member of the team is quoted as saying, "When it was finished and we were washing the skin and applying the dressings, there was a big silence in the operating room. We were all surprised because the immediate result was completely outside our expectations - it looked marvelous." Chosen as the better option for the recipient, over multiple reconstructive surgeries, the 38-year-old mother of two concurred with the doctor's delight in her appearance. Unable to speak because she still had a breathing tube in her throat, she wrote a note, "Merci," then started to cry with joy.

Despite what appears to be a medical miracle and a human triumph, doubts remain about the appropriateness of sharing the face of one human being with another, partially or fully. Because the human face carries so much of what we believe makes an individual uniquely themselves, how can we reconcile the medical benefits against the human need for personal value and self-worth? How do we also, as people of faith, translate being created in God's image, to having that image adjusted by medical science?

Our culture puts a great deal of emphasis on what we look like. In the United States, we have all number of criteria to determine what we are supposed to look like. Men and women, but mostly women, are treated to commercials, on television, the radio, and in print ads, that tell us what to wear, how to wear it, how many wrinkles we are allowed at any given age, what color hair is in style, how long our hair should be, whether curly, wavy, or straight hair is appropriate, and especially, we are directed on ensuring we look our best with the correct makeup. We aren't separated from our citizenship if we don't conform, but we are at the minimum aware of when we don't match either the cultural norms or the newest style. Do you wear makeup? Do you own a pair of boot cut jeans? If you answered, "No," to either of these questions, you are not in the majority, and you already know that. My guess is that you don't care, or you wear your individuality as a badge of honor. So, while many people think matching themselves up with the cultural norms allows them to express themselves, some people believe opting out of the trends keeps who they are intact.

The same could be said for plastic surgery. Although not in the same category as exchanging blue Jean styles each season, enhancing or correcting personal features on one's body is common enough to be spoken of openly. Television programs are dedicated to all kinds of physical makeovers by people who are uncomfortable with what they look like because it doesn't express who they are are inside. Botox injections, nose realignments, breast enhancements, tummy tucks and hair replacement, all become avenues by which people firmly believe they will be able to fully be and express who they are.

Genesis tells us that God began with a fairly basic format. "So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). "Later on, Isaiah indicates a personal understanding on God's part of each of us, so much so that God tells us he has graven each of us "on the palm of my hands (Isaiah 49:16). "Although we all begin life as either male or female, it is clear that God's investment in us is highly personal and individual, even down to the gifts we are given for ministry. "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues (I Corinthians 12:27-28)."

We are once again reminded that even though culture can shape our choices, even our self-perceptions, it is God who created us as a community, and who has also blessed us with the unique qualities that define us as individuals. Clothing, jewelry, and even surgery, cannot alter the creative power with which God brought us each into being. While each new technological advance forces us to consider its cultural impact, I don't believe transplanted organs, whether face, heart, lung, liver or kidneys, do anything other than support the theological imperative of community out of which we were created. The recipient of this latest medical advancement knew the risks she was taking, and still faces, in terms of potential refection of an organ transplant and lifelong drug treatments to prevent that rejection. She brought all of who she is to this life-changing experience, including her courage, and she has not bee diminished as a human being, but enhanced in her individuality. Interesting is that another of her doctors reflected that her new face bore an uncanny resemblance to her former face. It appears she is still graven on the palms of God's hands.

About The Author - Cory L. Kemp

As an ordained minister I have worked in educational ministries in several congregations, as well as pastoring a congregation. My writing has focused on nonfiction essays and I have recently submitted a theological memoir for publication. My ministerial background and love of writing have combined to develop Creating Women Ministries, a website dedicated to encouraging theological dialogue, particularly among women, through workshops, journaling and personal spiritual development. My website can be found at http://www.creatingwomenministries.com, and I can be reached by email at creatingwomen@irun.com. My blog is located at http://creatingwomenministries.blogspot.com.

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