Friday, October 2, 2009

Literary Friday

What is beauty? Why does one thing attract us while another repulses? What is it we feel when beauty's mysterious power strikes our senses? Our buddy Marty dragged me into the deep waters of this mystery when he posed me this question: "Why is it that beauty and neatness and order surround good people, but where those things are scarce you usually find an abundance of bad people?"

I was intrigued, so I invited Marty to summon the gentle monks of unChurch Abbey for a Boston Barstool Council where, with the help of our enlightened Theology Waitress, we plumbed the depths of the question: "How God is revealed in creation (Romans 1:19-20), and how does man either participate in God's creative work, or trash it by exploitation and neglect?"

Sometimes pop culture produces something not only sublime in beauty, but profound in meaning.

A tip of the hat to K.T. Tunstall's "Suddenly I See" that tackles the question of beauty head on, while injecting 10cc's of beauty, uncut, straight into your arm. Go ahead, indulge yourself with this tight-woven satin of sound, lyrics, and pictures: Video with Lyrics (scroll down to the YouTube player).

The song, of course is about her own experience of beauty upon encountering the "beautiful girl", which I'd say is the universal norm of God's highest created beauty. She describes its impact: "I see this is what I want to be", and "I see why this means so much to me." It is not envy, and it is not lust that beauty evokes. It doesn't matter whether the beauty is the iconic beatiful girl in the photo, or whether it is the running back's cleated ballet, or the glistening of a spider's web. What is this power?

The beauty of creation inspires us with hope that we embody our Creator's power. And it reminds of that certain extent to which we already do. Mostly, it leaves us with the question, will we tend to our own little endowment of beauty or will we waste and exploit it?

Theologians and other God-thinkers have returned their gaze to the issue of "beauty" after centuries of neglect. Maybe the best discussions on the subject are "A Meaningful World" by Wiker & Witt (on the scientific side of the coin) and "Simply Christian" by N.T. Wright (on the relational side.)

But a picture is worth a thousand words, so my thanks to my friend Ray who sent me the photo at the top of the article. Wherever it's from, it makes the point, and surrounds us in that "silver pool of light."
[Joe B]

8 comments:

Scott said...

Hmm. I may need some more time to think on this one. Did I even say anything meaningful during the conversation on this topic last Monday?

God is definitely revealed through beauty. And I agree that it inspires us and it leaves us with a responsibility -- both personal, cultural, and even environmental.

I also think some people might misunderstand what's being said here. Because I actually tend to disagree with Marty's central thesis -- or at least my understanding of it. I don't think that beauty and neatness and order go hand-in-hand with "good" people at all. And I don't think that it's true with "ugliness" and disorder and bad people, either. A high percentage of beautiful people living in beautiful houses and driving beautiful cars are actually torn up and chaotic on the inside, leading lives of disarray just below the surface.

I also remember some talk of how Jesus can more easily be found in the "not-so-beautiful" places. With the poor, the hungry, the persecuted. These are not always beautiful things.

I don't think this is counter to what Joe is saying here, but I do think it needed to be added.

Marty said...

While I do think deep at times.... this question that I have is exactly what we see here on earth. I am speaking to the "majority" of what we know as "good" and as "bad".

My thesis is surrounded by the fact that you see the "majority" of highly successful people strive for peace and beauty. You see the "higher successful majority" live in places that represent peace and beauty....like living on a lake, neatly trimmed lawns with absolutely no weeds, their houses are clean inside and out, their cars are always clean and neatly washed. They work typically take care of themselves, they are polite and represent what we would call being a righteous human… in flesh. They are handsomely rewarded for their good deeds here on earth.... they strive to make a difference and create abundance for others. They strive to live in complete neatness and peacefulness in everything they do. You can clearly see these things when you ride your bike back in a highly successful neighborhood like Victoria National. I am very intrigued by the nature of this.

The complete opposite side of this "majority" are the people that are mostly un-righteous. The un-righteous typically do not strive for good things like, making themselves better, they lie, cheat, steal, do drugs, don't take care of themselves or have a care in the world about where they live or if their lawn is cut....etc. They absolutely by the nature of human flesh, are NOT handsomely rewarded for anything in general. They have no interest in making the world a better place.

I am NOT saying that all people that live in what we call “bad neighborhoods” or “good" neighborhoods fall into these categories. I am referencing the people that we call living Righteous and Un-righteous and referencing the "majority" if you were to take a Sunday drive through both types of neighborhoods.

Since this is the extreme of "Good" and "Bad" from the majority of what you see on earth.... why is there a common denominator of neatness and peacefulness on earth that seems to follow righteousness that we read constantly in the Bible?

That is the question I have.
It's interesting that most righeous people make their lawns as neat and peaceful as they can. Does this have a direct correlation subconciously as to how nice the Garden of Eden must have been? From what we read, it was a very NEAT and PEACEFUL garden! Just what GOD ordered!!!


Not to start another discussion, but we read that Jesus can be more easily found in "not-so-beautiful places". My thesis on this is simple.... if Jesus came here on Earth tomorrow, I bet you would not find him "more" in the highly successful neighborhoods...because I think Jesus would have a harder time convincing who he is to the stronger human in flesh. The not so vulnerable. I think this was more of the case when he was here on earth and that's the reason we read about him being "more" with the poor. He used alot of his work through them and helped numerous people that could not help themselves. I beleive people take this out of context. However, there are poor people on earth that are VERY Righteous! So don't take me wrong.

Joe B said...

I think that last quote summed it up well:
"Jesus can be more easily found in 'not-so-beautiful places'. My thesis on this is simple.... if Jesus came here on Earth tomorrow, I bet you would not find him 'more' in the highly successful neighborhoods. Because I think Jesus would have a harder time convincing the 'stronger in flesh' humans. They're not so vulnerable."

Yes, and Jesus denounced the wise and powerful and religious outright. St James even joind the prophets in throwin' down on the rich: "woe to you rich!"

This topic shows the danger of noticing the way things are or how they seem to be. It's hard to even mention without sounding like you think rich are better than poor. But people who work hard and follow rules make more money and keep nicer lawns.

It's interesting that while the bible repaeats the question "Why do the wicked prosper?", it never once complains that the poor dumb-arses are out three uglying up the place.

God values the poor, the dimwitted, and even the irresponsible. And it is that sort of love that sets the standard for "goodness", not the edging on the lawn.

And hey, how 'bout that beautiful SONG?

void77 said...

"Hey you, what do you see?
Something beautiful, something free?
Hey you, are you trying to be mean?
If you live with apes man, it's hard to be clean"
-Marilyn Manson

Not sure that this quote really adds anything, but figured I'd throw it in the mix anyway!

Regarding the beautiful, ugly, rich, poor ... The thesis we're discussing, while interesting, is mostly inferred. Without doing an actual survey and study, there's really not a whole lot to discuss as far as facts. (I'm sure Barna has something on this!) BUT, I'm glad Marty brought it up, because inferences are great launching points for discussing and discovery!

I've known successful people with manicured lawns that were the most amoral, evil people on the planet. They were successful because they were mean. Likewise, I've known folks with beautiful acres and a lake that would die for their neighbor. And on the poor side, just the same. Some are bad and angry; some are poor, have nothing, and are happy as a lark and love their neighbor more than themselves.

So what to do we make of it all? It has to come down to the individual. It's a heart issue. What are you doing with what God gave you? Do you even IDENTIFY that God gave you what you have? Are you using what God gave you to glorify Him and do the work of His Kingdom - here on earth? And yes, a manicured lawn can be used to do God's work. If you live in Victoria, you BETTER have manicured lawn or you won't be able to talk to anyone - and how would you be able to share God's love if you never did?

Love God. With everything (say it with me: heart, soul, mind, strength.)
Love your neighbor. (The immediate one..just to the north, south, east, and west of you.)

The Bible doesn't really describe exactly what that looks like. So expect it to look like anything and everything.

scott said...

Sometimes I wonder if our well-manicured lawns in the suburbs are the "whitewashed tombs" of today (see link). :-)

Kate Tunstall said...

Dude, what a thought. (On that Jesus quote.) It seems dead on if you think about it. We gloss over the creeping death we live in by edging our lawn. But in the end our carpet of bermuda-grass ends up feeding on our decaying flesh.

And when that day comes the charade is over, and we are judged according to the truth of who we are.

"Love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." The kingdom of God is here. Right?

So, how bout that beautiful song!

Kitty said...

I'm still trying to figure how the photo at the top of the article conveys the idea of "beauty."

Anonymous said...

Yeah, a song about a beautiful girl, a picture about a beautiful girl, and an article about beauty based on the song. I agree it's pretty tenuous...