Archives For Aesthetics

I have been trying to learn how to “be”—as in “Be still and know…” It is so hard to downshift, to stop my mind from doing NASCAR laps, to stop “doing” and truly disengage. So hard. Our 21st century American culture is not friendly toward such an attitude.

But here we were, my wife and I, two weeks in the mountains, on what many would call “vacation.” But it was more than that; it was a gift of time to slow down, even to stop, and to learn more about “being.” It took several days to downshift from high gear to medium gear. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever make into low gear… and then on day five…

I started this blog series awhile back called “The Church is a Mystery” with the tagline “Exploring How God Shows up at Church.” I have been posting one blog per week on the many varied churches that we have been able to attend, and exploring the incredible diversity of places that make up the Body of Christ. This post is a bit different.

As we spent this time in the mountains, I felt like I was in church much of the time (“church” defined as a place to encounter God, not as an “ekklesia” assembly of believers). I was in God’s cathedral, surrounded by His creative masterpieces, and I had the time (and took the time) to listen, and to look, and to be still.

Early in the morning of our 5th or 6th day, I had to take our puppy out for a “necessary” walk. As I drowsily stepped outside, I was jerked awake by the colorful splendor of the sunrise on the still snow-covered mountains. That evoked an extended meditation on the fact that God is a God of color. His creation is full of color, all kinds of color. Trees, plants, flowers, sky, sunrise/sunset, oceans, rocks, beaches, animals.

But what colors did God choose to dominate His creation? As I gazed around me, I saw mostly green and blue. Plants, trees, grass, crops—green. Sky, oceans, water—blue. Even from space the earth appears mostly blue. My mind wandered. Why did God choose green and blue to be the major colors of His creation?

My amazing bride did some research for me and discovered that green has strong emotional correspondence with safety; it has great healing power. Green is the most restful color for the human eye. And blue is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, faith, and truth. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect and is strongly associated with tranquility.

So think about this: when God decided what color to use for the trees and grass and leaves and most plant life, He chose a color that is restful. And when He decided what color to make the sky and waters and oceans, He chose a color that is calming and peaceful. He didn’t choose red, which increases respiration rate and raises blood pressure. He didn’t choose orange or yellow, which cause stimulation. He chose restful, calming colors. Or, He determined that those colors would be restful and calming! Or, however He did it!

So what did God say to me as I met with Him in the mountains? Rest. Slow down. Be calm. That is how you will hear from me. And getting out into creation is a good way to rest, surrounded by calming colors. Elijah discovered that God speaks in a still, small voice. Jesus needed to get alone so He could hear from His Father. We need to take time to be still. I would argue that is the only way we will get to know God—by slowing down, being quiet, resting, letting the calming colors of green and blue minister to our spirits.

A.W. Tozer, who certainly knew his God, had this to say on the topic:
“God now speaks by the wind and the earthquake only; the still small voice can be heard no more. The whole religious machine has become a noisemaker. The adolescent taste which loves the loud horn and the thundering exhaust has gotten into the activities of modern Christians. The old question, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ is now answered, ‘To dash about the world and add to the din thereof.’”

He wrote that in 1955!!! We have only gotten busier, moved faster, found gears beyond high gear so we can go even faster, and find it ever harder to hear God’s still, small voice.

So yea, I went to church in the mountains. It took five days of being still before I began to meditate on how God is a God of color, and how He has surrounded us with the very colors we need to calm down, slow down, be still.

I heard and saw Him in other ways that I will share in subsequent posts. We have a lot of catching up to do in learning to “be” rather than to “do!”

Be still and know that I am God. – Ps 46:10

Why are we drawn to beautiful things? Why do 3.5 million people visit Yosemite National Park every year? Why do we plant flowers, paint our house, choose just the right car, have a closet full of clothes, go to art museums? We are drawn to beauty and to beautiful things, and there is a reason for that. John Piper is quoted as saying “There is in the human heart an unquenchable longing for beauty.”

Do you think of the local church as a place of beauty? Probably not. The local churches of today have come a long way from the cathedrals of Europe. Instead of soaring and lofty architecture, we have warehouse boxes or strip mall slots that serve as our houses of worship. Instead of structures that lift our eyes upward toward God, the only things we see when we look up are heating ducts and electrical conduit. Granted, we paint those mechanical albatrosses flat black so they ‘disappear,’ but it still just isn’t the same as the towering spires and vaulted ceilings.

I had never heard a sermon on ‘beauty’ before. At least not that I can remember. Do a concordance search on the word ‘beauty’ or ‘beautiful’ and you will get a lot of material. The Bible has a lot to say about beauty. So why, in 54 years of church attendance, had I never heard a sermon on beauty? Regardless of the unknown answer to that rhetorical question, this past Sunday I heard a sermon on beauty. It was powerful, and amazing. Dawn and I looked at each other after the service and in essence said the same thing to each other: ‘that was the best sermon I have heard in a long, long time.’

The pastor of this local church, a mere 10 minute drive from our house, expounded with great conviction and freedom on how all beauty points to God, the Ultimate Beauty. “From Mount Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines in glorious radiance” (Psalm 50:2). We have a deep longing for this Ultimate Source of Beauty, so we are drawn to beautiful things on earth: mountains, sunsets, symphonies, architecture, clothes, flowers, fabric, sonatas, and so much more. These things of beauty draw us to the Source of beauty. But sometimes the earthly things of beauty can become idols and take our focus off of that Source. Usually when we find something beautiful, we want to share it. “Hey, check out the amazing sunset! Quick, look out the window!” Just as we should desire to share the Ultimate Source of Beauty Himself.

It opened my eyes to new dimensions of the world around me. It gave me a new, deeper understanding of why my wife was always redecorating the house, and perhaps made me a little more willing to paint the walls a different color, yet again! God was so present in this average-sized local church. This past Sunday was the first week they had gone to two services: the first service was more traditional with choir and hymns, while the second was more upbeat with the classic rock-style worship band. It was in so many ways so typical of so many churches. And, as in so many churches in so many places, it was a living, breathing, Holy Spirit infused expression of the Bride of Christ. It was alive and well. It was beautiful!

And it got me thinking. Should we incorporate more beauty into our places of worship? Into our homes? Into our lives? Of course, with the awareness that this earthly beauty should always point us to the ultimate Source of beauty. But what are we missing by being drab and mundane? Does our view of God get skewed when we don’t have ‘enough’ beauty in our lives? I would love to hear thoughts from our readers on this topic!

A year ago, our students created an Art & Music Benefit. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was amazing.

First, it was amazing because it was students taking an interest in their school and playing a part in supporting and advancing the school. I’m talking about 18 to 22 year olds here. This particular age group is not always known for being responsible and setting down the video game controller in order to support a cause. But our students organized the event, created a significant collection of art (making use of a lot of different art forms and styles), gathered songs that they had written, and promoted the event. On the night of the benefit, they performed their songs and sold their art (along with baked goods), and all of the proceeds went to Eternity Bible College. This was hugely encouraging to us because it means that our students are sharing in the sacrifice that is required to make quality higher education affordable.

Second, the benefit was amazing because it was a God-glorifying display of human creativity. God has created this world with near-infinite aesthetic potential and invested human beings with a myriad of creative gifts. When we use our God-given gifts to explore and shape our God-created world, it is a beautiful thing on many levels. (If you want to be convinced of the importance of art, by the way, read through these posts.)

Last year our surrounding community got to see what God-glorifying artistic endeavor looks like. These are Bible college students, mind you. They are studying the Bible, theology, history, missiology, anthropology, philosophy. Then they sprinkle in a few elective units touching on the arts. But it is inspiring to see people who have devoted themselves to knowing God and His truth expressing those incredible realities in creative ways.

And now the invitation.

Our students are putting on another Art & Music Benefit on May 5 at 7pm. It will be hosted in the Cornerstone Church worship center (2080 Winifred St. in Simi Valley). You can come and hear great music, look at and purchase art made by our students, and enjoy some baked goods. You can even make a donation.

Visit the benefit website here.

For those of you who are significantly out of town, we understand if you don’t fly in for the event. But we would appreciate your prayers for our students, our school, and this event. And if you’d like to join in the benefitting spirit and make a donation, you can do that here.

All photos courtesy of B-Loved Photography.

 

Over the past four posts, I have offered four reasons why Christians should care about the arts. With the exception of my first point, these reasons have focused on the utility of the arts. In other words, I have been arguing that we should care about the arts because of what they can do for us (they teach us about humanity) and how we can use them (they give us the opportunity to test God’s truth and to connect with non-Christians).

But art is not about utility. Art is valuable because of what it is, not just because of what it does. Art is valuable because it is a good gift of God, and we should enjoy it as such.

Francis Schaeffer recognized this in the creativity of art:

“A work of art is a work of creativity, and creativity has value because God is the Creator.” (Art and the Bible in The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, vol 2, 394)

Warner Sallman JesusCan pure creativity really be a good thing in itself? Shouldn’t creativity serve a more useful purpose—like a drama that portrays the gospel or a painting of Jesus? Creativity is great when it is used this way, but we do not have any grounds to say that beauty, creativity, or the arts in general are only valuable if they are useful.

We can take our cue on this point from God. He created a world that was both useful and beautiful: “Out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). A utilitarian God would certainly make trees that were good for food, but pleasant to the sight? Isn’t that a bit extravagant? Or consider the light that God created. God declared the light good, even before there was an eye to see it or a plant to photsynthesize with it. It was just good.

Or take the tabernacle. Without a doubt the tabernacle served many important functions. But God takes up a lot of space in the Pentateuch with describing how the tabernacle should be adorned. Schaeffer brings the implications home:

“Art is not something we merely analyze or value for its intellectual content. It is something to be enjoyed. The Bible says that the art work in the tabernacle and the temple was for beauty.” (394) (For example, see Ex. 28:2.)

Grace Foretold (Fujimura)Not only did God create a beautiful world—a world so beautiful that poets, artists, and ordinary people over the millennia have not been able to help but exult in its beauty—He also created us with the capacity to enjoy it. God didn’t just create sunsets, He gave us eyes that could see them. He didn’t just create sound waves and the physical properties required to create them, He also gave us ears to hear them. He didn’t just give us beauty, He gave us the aesthetic sensibilities to appreciate beauty for what it is. Art can be useful, but it is still valuable even when it doesn’t do anything.

Leland Ryken says it well:

“When we enjoy the colors and design of a painting, the fictional inventiveness of a novel, the harmonious arrangement of a sonata, we are enjoying a quality of which God is the ultimate source and performing an act similar to God’s enjoyment of the beauty of his own creation. We can participate in the arts to the glory of God by enthusiastically enjoying the arts, recognizing God as the ultimate source of the creativity and beauty that we enjoy. If artistic creativity is, as the Bible claims, a gift of God, we can scarcely demonstrate our gratitude for the gift any more adequately than by using and enjoying it.” (The Liberated Imagination, 88)

There are many reasons that Christians should care about art, but ultimately we don’t need more reasons than this: art is a gift from God, and we should enjoy it for His sake.

Christians tend to be suspicious of the arts. It hasn’t always been that way, but the Protestant tradition in particular has always had an awkward relationship to artistic expression (as opposed to propositional statements). Some key figures in the Reformation responded to the idolatry they saw in the artistry of the Catholic Church. They weren’t rejecting art as art, just art at that particular moment as an expression of idolatry. Even so, art has remained suspect. We distrust it because it is not propositional.

But art matters. And I’m going to do a series of posts to convince you.

In this post, I want to make a simple point: art is unavoidable. It is all around us. You may not like art, but it is an inescapable part of your life. I’m not necessarily talking about fine art: pretty much everything around you has been designed by someone. For example, take the computer you’re using to read this post. Someone decided on the shape and colors of the physical construction. Someone else designed the menus and interface. They may not have thought of themselves primarily as artists, but they were making artistic decisions as they created your computer. Or consider the clothes you’re wearing. The designer made artistic decisions in cutting and stitching the fabric, and you made an artistic decision in choosing which shirt to wear with which pants and which shoes. The same types of decisions went into every other man-made object around you.

All I’m trying to say here is that we can’t escape aesthetics. Here’s how Makoto Fujimura puts it:

“I encourage people not to segment art into an ‘extra’ sphere of life or to see art as mere decorations. Why? Because art is everywhere and has already taken root in our lives. Therefore, the question is not so much ‘why art?’ but ‘which art?’ In other words, our worlds are filled with art that we have already chosen for our walls, our iPods, and our bookshelves. We become patrons of the arts by going to see movies, plays and concerts or by watching television. We are presented with a choice, and this choice is a responsibility of cultural stewardship.” (Refractions, 111)

Or listen to Leland Ryken:

“People were created by God as aesthetic creatures possessed of a capacity for beauty, craving the expression of their experiences and insights…Everyone in our culture indulges his or her artistic sense, even if it consists simply of painting the walls of a room or listening to popular music or singing hymns. The question is not whether we need the arts but rather what the quality of our artistic experiences will be.” (The Liberated Imagination, 60)

You can’t escape art, so why not give it some thought? Beauty is an intentional part of the world God created, so why would we be suspicious of it? It’s true that art has been used to convey some distorted and evil realities, but does that mean that we should only trust propositions? Have not propositions been put to use for distorted and evil purposes as well?

If this is God’s world, and if He is indeed King over every aspect of our existence, then we should take every aspect of life seriously. That includes art. And as I’ll argue in future posts, art has incredible value—partially because it can be useful, and partially because it can be useless.