Lizzie Valesquez has an extremely rare disorder which prevents her from gaining weight. She is very thin, weighing only 60 pounds. She is also blind in one eye. In a speech she gave recently, for Ted Talks – one which millions of people have now watched – she jokes about the benefits of these two facts of her life. How if someone is annoying her, she can stand to one side so she can’t even see them. How she can eat whatever she wants and never worry. But, of course, underneath the jokes, there has been real sadness. For instance, when she was in grade school, the kids didn’t want to play with her – she freaked them out. When she was older, she came across a video that has been put on YouTube, one without any sound. It showed her for less than half a minute. Someone who knew her had filmed her without her knowledge. They had called it the “The World’s Ugliest Woman.” Millions of people have watched it.
In a way, Lizzie’s story is the tale of two videos. The first one in which someone defined her – labeled her – and decided for her who she would be, what she would be called. And the one she made in her Ted Talk in which she says, she decided to define herself. She wanted to become a motivational speaker and a writer, and she has done both. Rather than being the subject of derision, she has become the subject of inspiration. There were things she could change, and other stuff she couldn’t. So she wrote her own definition. She decided her own brand. Lizzie Valesquez: optimistic, funny, life-giving servant to others.
This week, we are told the story of the Baptism of Jesus, by John the Baptist, which is, in effect, the branding of Jesus. Jesus is named as the “Son of God” in our gospel, and it is one of the most important moments in our faith journey with Christ.
But it is, in fact, the first lesson, that captured my attention this week, not just because it is written so eloquently.
Let’s revisit a part of it, which would certainly serve, as a brand definition for Jesus:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Doesn’t that work as a definition for Jesus? Someone who brings justice without storming the streets? Who does not harm those most easily crushed, but brings them hope? Who does not give up? Who does not, in effect, allow anyone on earth – anyone but God – to define him?
In fact, those lines in the Old Testament book of Isaiah might just as well speak to each one of us – for we are all those servants who are held up by God. Each of us, through our baptism, have been branded by God, named by God. What is the brand? It is the message we are loved, and valued, that we have purpose, that, if we choose, we are called to be servants of God, not slaves to earthly definitions.
Baptism is the grand leveler: it makes us all equal in the eyes of God, all unique. There is no “ugliest woman” at the baptismal font. No lousiest student. No world’s worst father. Those are the titles we give ourselves, or we let others give us. Those are the titles that God washes away, each and every day that we live out what it means to be baptized.
This is a very important lesson – one that Lizzie Velasquez took many years to figure out – many nights, she admits of “crying her eyes out.” It is the lesson we want our kids to learn early – when they are being bullied, when they have failed to make the cut – that in the end, we are in charge, we decided what labels we wear, and which ones we discard. In grief, in divorce – even in victory and achievement – we determine the brands we wear, as clearly – and usually far more heavily – than Nike’s swoosh.
And if we find that the ones we are wearing aren’t working for us, God offers us the beginning of a better brand: the one of the justice-seeking servant, empowered to protect the dimly lit wick. I say, the beginning of a brand, because from there it is our definition to write. In the end, the best lesson of our baptism is to be careful of the source of the labels we wear. Lizzie Valasquez is hoping that’s the message people learn from her. God hopes that this is the message we take from our baptism. Once we know we are loved, once we understand that we have value, our brand is our own to create.
Check out Lizzie’s TedTalk here: http://youtu.be/c62Aqdlzvqk