Posted on: Tuesday, February 21, 2017
This is an archived Sky Blue post originally published in 2013.
For a long time, I’ve had a lot of unanswered questions about art–such as, why is it that Christians, who understand beauty and are intimate with its Source, are typically unable to manufacture it well? Very few Christian artists today are creating work that will stand the test of time.
Americans are a pragmatic people, and as a result we are uncomfortable with the subject of art. When school budgets are tight, we cut music and theater programs long before we touch athletics. We don’t see art as serving a practical purpose, and as a practical people, we don’t really know what to do with it. Believers who are Americans seem even more confused. We tend to think that unless the film or painting or book or song or dance or play is meeting some express objective such as evangelizing someone, it is a waste of time.
“Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”
Albert Camus was born over one hundred years ago in 1913, but his philosophies continue to shape our culture. In order to communicate his ideas, Mr. Camus wrote novels that are still widely read. “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth,” he explained.
To the believer, beauty–true beauty, that indefinable but universally recognized entity–is the promise of a better reality. As a follower of Christ, I believe that beauty will stretch out for eternity. Beauty is not a tease, but a promise.
But Mr. Camus felt that beauty was nothing more than a taste of something he could never really consume. Like a shipwrecked man on the sea dying of thirst and surrounded by sparkling, unpalatable saltwater, to him beauty was only cruel.
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Albert Camus created enduring art. He was able to communicate his ideas elegantly through the vehicle of fiction, but his philosophy was broken. Christians should be able to create the most beautiful art of all. Yet too often our work is off-putting and heavy-handed.
“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”
Does our art reflect the beauty we know in Christ? Does it generate a longing in people for the place where the truth and beauty came from? I don’t think lazy films that preach, or kitschy pictures of cute cottages with Bible verses slapped on the matting, accomplish this goal. This is lazy art…actually, it is just bad art. We tend to sterilize our art because we wish to avoid mention of sin, or we take the other extreme and make our art a filthy bloodbath in order to prove our grit. The Bible is realistic and raw, yet redemptive. It is not gratuitous. It is full of grace.
I do not have the answers, but I think this is something we should be talking about more. Art and beauty matter–they enrich our lives and feed our souls. If everything can be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) we should be individually diligent in praying about how our unique gifts and interests can be used. Americans love Christian athletes because they have a “platform” for their faith. But truly, artists have even more of an opportunity to honor the Lord with their abilities. Filmmakers, painters, singers, writers, dancers, poets: we should be thinking about these things, talking about these things, praying about these things, remembering always that it is not about our work itself, but it is about whether or not the truth and beauty we know in Christ is coming through it.
C.S. Lewis, John Milton, and Flannery O’Connor are three examples of writers of faith I admire. Who are some believers in the arts you look up to?
Posted on: Saturday, February 11, 2017
Humans are not good at balance. We live in extremes. Liberty to the point of lawlessness, or discipline to the point of asceticism. We boast in the flesh one way or another: in our ability to express it or in our ability to control it. We take pride in our sin or we take pride in our purity. We are the judge who condemns or the judge who pardons. In both extremes, we take the throne and play god.
Grace is the line that we walk, the one we fall off of on both sides when we stop looking at Jesus. And there is no self-glory in grace.
Grace exists because law exists. We stand in need of grace because God’s standards are high, fierce, and unbending. He is not permissive. He is not flexible. We broke the law, and if you are tempted to think the law does not matter, look at the cross and see the blood God bled for His law. Jesus Christ died because the demands of His law had to be met. We do not get a pass.
We don’t deserve this love and we can’t achieve it or buy it or earn it or win it back. Doing good deeds to earn God’s favor is like trying to polish the deck of the busted Titanic. We’re already sunk.
Grace exists because we are not good. We get grace because we are so loved.
That is the balance of grace. It’s a law that matters, and it’s a love that covers. It’s not taking away the law and not adding to it either. You don’t need to help God out by removing the commands that are unpalatable in the 21st century or by hedging His rules with extra rules to be on the safe side. God doesn’t need our help. Follow His law. Obey your conscience. Trust that He is able to lead and convict your brothers and sisters without your licentiousness or your legalism. Walk in love, because you are loved. Look around. You’re swimming in grace. Don’t despair. You have hope, victory, and resources as a child of God. Look down. Have you fallen off the way? Has your heart built callouses that let you indulge in the sins for which your Savior died? Are you subsisting off of pride in your culture, creed, and browbeating way of life instead of drinking deep from the living water of truth: the truth that you are loved in spite of, and not because of, who you are; the truth that your identity is “beloved sinner;” the truth that Heaven will be filled with whores and thieves and other people despised by the Pharisees of the world who are there on the same exact merits as you, dressed alike in Christ’s white robes, welcomed into the embrace of God? And then look up, look at Jesus, and walk the line of grace.
Posted on: Sunday, January 8, 2017
So, I want my life to reflect this somewhat corny yet perceptive quote:
Fill your life with experiences, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.
There’s nothing more beautiful to me than building memories with people I love in places that connect us. It is important to me to create a space where I can relive those memories.
Last year when I moved away from home, I found myself scrolling through old pictures on my phone all the time. The trip to Alaska with my sister and my best friend, the ride through the mountains of my home town on a day that was so hot we ended up swimming the horses in our denim jeans, visiting Utah for my beautiful friend’s wedding. Looking at these pictures makes me inexplicably happy and I knew I wanted a unique way to showcase those memories in my new home.
The idea for an adventure “catcher” was random, but I absolutely love the result and wanted to share it with anyone else who agrees that the most beautiful interior design should reflect you and make you happy!
The process of making this display couldn’t be easier:
- Print out your photos. I used Artifact Uprising. This service prints out gorgeous pictures and mails them to you. Our photos came out GORGEOUS and the company often has discount codes so check them out! One recommendation I have is to edit your photos and up the brightness and saturation as printed photos don’t always come out the way they look on your electronic screen.
- Find a tree branch! In my opinion the perfect display branch should have architectural interest (i.e. knobs, and lots of offshoot branches) and you should also keep branch size/number of photos you have to display in mind as you don’t want your photos to be crowded, or too sparse. Once you find the right branch, trim the offshoots to varying lengths for interest and to help separate your photos when they are hung.
- Tie long strands of twine from the branches. Try and switch up the spacing and length of the strands as this will add to rustic nature of the display, or if that’s not your style, you could go with a super symmetrical look.
- Use tiny clothespins to clip your photos to the twine. I used one pin on the top and bottom of each photo to help the pictures stay affixed.
Posted on: Thursday, December 22, 2016
We may be keenly aware of the darkness as Christmas 2016 approaches. But the darkness is always there.
The general consensus is that 2016 was a rough year (for many families in middle America, it felt like business as usual). Depending on your political views, the situation in the U.S. may seem optimistic, uncertain, or just bleak. Elsewhere, there is less room for debate: In Syria, children are being killed by their government, and there is no “good side” and there is very little hope.
When I am in my hometown (and not my apartment in San Francisco), I am more conscious of nighttime. There are always lights in a city. But nighttime is impressive outside of city limits. A full moon is not mistaken for another streetlight. It is shocking and beautiful and clear as a diamond.
I drove home the other day, winding through the hills on an empty highway, and the night was so dark but the waxing moon was almost full and lit up the treeline. I thought of Psalm 125:2: “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people, from this time forth and forevermore.”
I close my eyes and I can see Jerusalem. It is surrounded by mountains, a city on a hill. I can see all the towns where Jesus grew up, where He spent His time.
One of the best things about familiarity with Israel is getting stripped of the idea that the places where Jesus lived are picturesque. Footage from Aleppo reminds me of Bethlehem and Nazareth. These are not sweet villages, they are just difficult–hot and dirty and crowded and poor. When you watch the news and you see the streets of Aleppo, think about Jesus as one of those children on one of those streets, because that’s what Bethlehem is like, and that’s what Nazareth is like. His home, too, was war-torn and threatened, full of people under bondage, people afraid for their lives and the lives of their children. That was the dark place where the Advent happened.
In dark mountains, unblinded by yellow fluorescent bulbs and screaming neons, I see a million stars and my breath is taken by the moon.
In a dark world, no longer confident in the goodness of humanity or rendered complacent by comfort, I see Jesus Christ.
If you feel overwhelmed by the bleak state of things, know two things: First, you are right. Mankind is worse than you thought. But, God is better. He is better than we can imagine.
Into this place, His light shone, and His salvation was glorious.
False lights keep us blind; seeing eyes rid us of complacency. No more false hope. The truth sets us free. There is one light that came into the world–one hope, one message, one justice, one salvation, one victory, one peace. Born in a dark place, born for a dark earth. Don’t backlight the manger or minimize the stink of a barn and the coldness of a desert night. Don’t ignore the injustice of an innkeeper sending a woman to a stable to give birth. Don’t bury your head in the sand and ignore the serious nature of world events and what those events tell us about who we are. See all of this with wide-open eyes, because this is the darkness that shows the incarnation for what it is: shocking and magnificent. We are the shepherds on a hill, living lonely lives of labor, and angels came and sang to us. We are kings in a foreign land, following delusions, chasing our intellect in circles, and a star shone and God opened our eyes and we were made to worship the King. Into our worst mess and our most stonewalled pain, God came down and He walked with us. We saw Him and we felt His presence.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.