Beauty: Hate is the Denial of Beauty

Much has been written and spoken in response to the killing of nine people during Bible Study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston SC - some of it does not bear the dignity of a response, much of it verges on appropriating the very real suffering of others as our personal cause. There is a temptation to repeat the phrase that the Christian should have "The Bible in one hand and the Newspaper in the other."

But a very astute Barth actually said…

"The Pastor and the faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need according to my old formulation - the Bible and the Newspaper."
"Take your Bible and take you newspaper and read both. But interpret the newspaper from your Bible."

I fear the church has become reactionary joining the chorus of unison voices as we all seek a cathartic experience, and I do not mean to devalue those expressions as we seek to make peace in our own ways. But the church is called to be prophetic - speaking truth to blindness. We live in a time where one finds it necessary to speak out in condemnation because there is the very real risk that someone will in interpret our lack of condemnation, our silence, not as respect but as condoning the prejudice and hatred in others.

We as human beings have a penchant for identifying the things we hate, as the cause of hate and thus perpetuate a vicious cycle and whirlwind of propaganda, and creating such a noise that nothing meaningful can be heard or understood; for (let me be clear) Hate is not made possible in our culture by bad parenting, ignorance, differences, or the prevalence of guns.

Martin Heidegger, one of the most influential philosophers of our post-modern era wrote that "Aesthetics is the consideration of humanity's state of feeling in relation to the beautiful." Heidegger went on to argue that only and "anti-aesthetic" or "post-aesthetic" view of art and beauty can help us understand its true significance, our basic sense of what is and what matters.

Heidegger essentially declared war on beauty, in the interest of a mechanistic post-modernity. And the past several generations of Americans have with religious fervor chased the illusive promises of the "American Dream," all the while devaluing the only things of infinite value. We as a people far from being united by what and who we are, have learned to be united only against a common enemies. (i.e. Soviets and Terrorists) We deny the intrinsic value of human life, quantifying humanity as wealth producers and consumers thus making beauty in the form of the image of God, only the means to an end: wealth and consumption.

But Stephen looking up to heaven displays the transcendent in and exclaims his praise in the face of beauty while being stoned.

Acts 6:15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
Acts 7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Hate is made possible in our culture by the cultural war on beauty itself as an end in itself, as intrinsically valuable, as universal experience of transcendence - beauty instead is superfluous, unnecessary, without utility to our industrially refined capitalistic sensibilities.

Only in a culture like this: where beauty or its imposters are harnessed to sell products do we find a utility which is marketable, is it possible to devalue that which we personally find no utility for... Only in a culture like that is it possible to walk into the sanctuary of a church and shoot Nine people.

We think we know beauty, but much of what we experience is merely reminiscence of something past, a comfortable feeling, salacious, even pornographic - or it is our attempt to appear erudite in the face of esoterism. But beauty, true beauty, when experienced is transcendent. Beauty inspires, and this is what makes art special: The Sistine chapel is not beautiful because of the frescos, and the millions of people who experience the work of Michelangelo, rather the Sistine chapel is beautiful because it gave Michelangelo the means to attempt to express through fresco, his own personal experience of transcendence.

This is historically the unique relationship between the church and the arts, and this is why the church must stand for beauty, teach not art appreciation (mechanist appreciation) but beauty appreciation, the praise of a beautiful God for the Beauty of the earth. We as a body are called out to display Gods glory, or as Romans 8 says:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

So we must also try its expression, though we fail, though we feel hideous, though we engender ridicule, and especially because we invite hate.

Solzhenitsyn wrote:

"so perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light—yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three. And in that case it was not a slip of the tongue for Dostoyevsky to say that "Beauty will save the world" but a prophecy. After all, he was given the gift of seeing much, he was extraordinarily illumined. And consequently perhaps art, literature, can in actual fact help the world of today."
The church is called to be beautiful: Be ye perfect, in Matthew 5:48; or a pure bride, Ephesians 5:27; to walk in light... But all we can truly do is try - to appreciate all beauty, to let it affect us in our core, express that we have been changed - To bear witness that we have experienced beauty.
One blogger has written "why do the hateful come to houses of worship"
"I thought about a church gathered for prayer and Bible study last night, and how they had opened their circle to let a stranger join them. And I thought about a mosque in Arizona, and how the faithful walked past angry, mocking crowds with guns in order to worship. And I thought about the temple in Maryland, and the anti-Semitic graffiti they found one morning this spring.
“There’s a reason the hateful choose houses of worship. It’s because that’s where so many of us put our hope."
No. The hateful choose places of worship, because the house of God’s family represents a safe place to try, it represents sanctuary. The hateful choose places of worship because that sanctuary represents the experience of the transcendent and the encouragement to seek out transcendence. The hateful choose places of worship because the experience of the transcendent requires the acknowledgment of beauty - and hate is the denial of beauty; it is the war on beauty. God allowed the fullness of his revelation; of his beauty to be nailed to an ugly cross, in order that a beautiful people might rise up and help redeem this world for the Beauty, the Glory, and the Majesty of God.

Let me end with this exhortation from Kurt Vonnegut:

"Go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. There are very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."
We must as a people bear witness to beauty.

Sermon, June 21, 2015 - First Baptist Church of Plymouth MA.

? for Economists

Is a slave wealthy or a consumer...

"If people were like ants, then there would be no unemployment. There would be no need for redistribution of wealth, because people would produce enough wealth for themselves, so they wouldn't depend on others to create wealth for them."

"Those people like the idea of redistribution of wealth who do not produce enough for themselves and depend on others to supply them. They believe that wealth is limited, because they don't count themselves into the [equation]. They view themselves as consumers and wealth as finite. The workers who produce wealth view wealth as something renewable, something infinite."

"Wealth can be infinite only if we get up and work. Otherwise, we can discuss economics all day long and try to convince each other that it's infinite, but sooner or later we'll run out of wealth and realize that it is finite."

So again, is a slave wealthy or a consumer...

Public outrage misplaced

The public outrage at law enforcement with regard to the many incidents of abuses of power, authority, and outright waste has missed a fundamental question that underlies the entire fabric of our public service sector. While the DEA might be hosting sex parties, what do you think happened to the DEA agent who didn't want to participate? While Baltimore PD apparently used excessive force and poor judgment with regard to Freddie Gray, what happened to the police officer who objected to the violence in a thousand other cases where no headlines were made? While we are outraged by abuses of civil forfeiture, intimidation, even the story here in Boston of John Connolly - what do we think happened to the peers, subordinates and anybody else who may have gotten in their way? (not to mention the FBI and falsified hair analysis)

The answer is that they get unfavorable work reviews, they are labeled as not being team players, it is said that they can't follow orders, they get reassigned to a desk, or a less favorable position, demoted, they become the fall guy in falsified reports, or they plain get fired. We only hear about it when someone sues like Gerry Pickens - Does anyone remember Richard Jewell? How about Adrian Schoolcraft? As a society we look on these people with scorn, and we doubt their stories - we're supposed to trust the police, these people aren't police anymore - there must be a reason.

So do we need more people who follow the gang lockstep, until someone dies - or do we need to honor the ethical scruples of the "non-team players" who actually want to "protect and serve" and help keep everybody out of trouble. 

The conversation that isn't happening.

As a proud Gordon College Alumni (one of my sons has Adoniram as a middle name), I'm watching this whole thing unfold, wincing and cringing as the reactions and blog posts roll out. If you live in a deeper hole than I do: D. Michael Lindsey - the fairly new president of the college signed a petition to be granted exemption from certain non-discrimination practices. This has blown up into an opportunity to attack Mr. Lindsey, Gordon College, Christianity, and promote the theology of human sexuality and LGBT issues. (here for one take)

But what about the overlooked conversations we're not having?

D. Michael Lindsey was touted as the best thing since sliced toast/A.J. Gordon himself, and Gordon was proud to have won him in the bidding for the up and coming academic leader. Lindsey is said to be improving the image of Gordon, being more professional and credible: "His leadership... is part of a longer-term strategy to position the institution as the liberal arts college of choice worldwide for the development of thoughtful Christian leaders." That’s some big aspirations for the "Boston Missionary Training School." His Bio on the college site drops the names of "Presidents Carter and Bush, and hundreds of CEOs at the nation’s largest corporations and nonprofit... The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CNN and Fox News Channel," and "Pulitzer nominated" books (as well as a million degrees and accolades).

But I've met D. Michael Lindsey, he's about my age. I've met his wife and kids, and do you know, they put their pants on the exact same way as I do? All the BS aside, nobody is a "professional" and if we honestly believed we were,  our self worth would be tied to our accomplishments, and we would have lost the intrinsic value of humanity. So Michael Lindsey made a judgment call, maybe a mistake, but is he a human being or a professional?  And why is it that nobody is talking about this "Hobby Lobby" case (the supposed reason for the petition) in light of the fact that the courts seem to be cementing the person-hood of corporations, while stripping it from actual PERSONS.

See the conversation nobody is having is a conversation we won't be able to have if we strip funding to the humanities and especially the oft maligned "Philosophy major;" Does a human life have intrinsic value?  If it does, Mr. Lindsey deserves a break, but we also can't celebrate the Supreme Court's decision to say it doesn't. If it does, you can't evaluate people based on titles, resumes, politics or the wealth of their success - no you actually have to meet them, and know them. If it doesn't, then we are all just merely means to an end, to be discarded when we step out of line: and we should be fearful of what that end might be.

I'm scared too

We had a visitor at church this week.

That in itself is earth shattering when you consider we have average attendance of 12, and I haven't gotten a paycheck since March 30. It's hard not to appear "too welcoming." But you know what was the best thing about this visitor? This person wanted me to be aware of how much courage it took for them to walk into a strange church. I can identify with this: I'm a pastor in an American Baptist Church in a small New England Town, and I'm terrified of other Christians. Just take a look at what's going on and tell me why anyone would want to join our sorry lot?

Sovereign Grace Ministries Scandal
Gospel Coalition Split
Mark Driscoll - need I say more
Casting stones
Black or white only please

I may be a pastor, but I'm also a human being.

I've been told that in my current situation, if I invest more, and put more time and effort into re-developing this small church, it will turn around and grow. I've been told I also need to find a second job (60 funerals in two years don't count) - any job even though we're a single car household, and getting to most of these jobs would cost more than I'd earn. I've been told I shouldn't be helping a Brazilian Church because it's not mine. I've been told that I need to make my family the priority, and spend quality time with them. I've been told I really should be helping my parents more; I've been told I really should be helping my parents less. I've been told I really need to pursue my wife, take her on dates and buy her flowers make her feel special; and I've been told it's financially unsound to spend any money when we have bills to pay. I've been told I need to bring more security and stability into my families life; and I've been told I need to keep trusting God to provide, and stop trying to figure it all out. Mostly I've been told to stop over thinking it...

The problem is that talk is cheap, and consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Everybody wants to be your mentor, nobody wants to learn. Should I be terrified to point out Jimmy Evans Eisegesis of Genesis 2:24-25 from "Marriage on the Rock?" Or that a Biblical Hermeneutic requires us to at least consider that Man was created for a purpose, part of which was to "tend the garden"... and it was for the purpose of helping Man with this work that a suitable helper was formed? I'm not trying to demean Jimmy Evans, but I also don't see God writing four laws in Genesis 2:24-25. Should I be terrified that by raising the idea that maybe we should seek to fulfill our role in creation that more Christians will abandon me, or worse attack? Should I have to stay up all night working on a funeral because I'm terrified an Evangelical or Conservative will be present and deem that I didn't use enough scripture, or watered down the gospel; while trying to also be sensitive to the grief of a family? Should I continue to earnestly work with church that's tried to fire me several times, and now can't pay me? Should I have to pretend I'm naive and a fool - or just keep silent, in order to get along with pretentious and arrogant people? Should I be afraid of posting this post?

Part of me says if I haven't proved myself yet, I never will - I don't want to be the kind of Christian other people are afraid of.

"So hold me Jesus
Cause I'm shaking like a leaf
You have been king of my glory
won't you be my prince of peace"
- Rich Mullins

The living and the dead

Death is a topic I'm pretty familiar with. I've done almost fifty funerals and in almost every case I have personally talked with and comforted the bereaved. On the one hand these help pay the bills (I usually receive some sort of honorarium), on the other hand I'm one of a few ministers who don't have a set fee, because I believe that everybody deserves a proper burial even if they can't afford it. There was one funeral however where the attendance consisted of  the Funeral Director, The Cemetery worker, and Myself. I've been to funerals where some family members weren't allowed to attend, and one where an inappropriate "eulogy" was shared. 

I've always maintained that Funerals are for the living, not the dead. Even in the case of the non-attended funeral, there was someone living who wanted to know that their relative was buried "properly."

The news that Fred Phelps of Westboro B*****t C****h  passed away has been met by mixed reactions even before it occurred. While I can understand so many emotions regarding a controversial figure such as Phelps, I also read about how some of his family have been cut off and not allowed to say goodbye. Every person is a son or daughter to someone, maybe a dad or mom, a cousin, uncle or aunt. Our sins, no matter how grievous we judge them don't dilute our humanity but reinforce it.

Love and Divorce

One of the most troubling verses in the Bible for me comes from the prophet Malachi, chapter 2:16. 
"I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. (Pasted from

So as not to take the verse out of its context, Malachi is talking about the sons of Israel who have  married the "daughters of foreign gods".  Whether they have divorced other wives in order to do so, or divorced the foreign wives is unclear from the context here, but contemporary writing in Ezra indicates that there was a mass move to divorce the foreign wives in the post-exilic period as a means of "repenting" in order to inherit God's favor.  If this is the case here, Malachi is essentially telling the returning exiles that two wrongs don't make a right. Again this makes sense in the statement that a man is covering himself with violence (the divorce) and breaking faith not just with God by marrying the foreign wife, but then also with the wife.

Hate is a pretty strong word, and it merits a the question; why does God hate divorce?

In Genesis 1:26+27 we read:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Pasted from

This is the sixth day of creation, God creates man (plural: let them) in our (plural) image. Verse 27 more succinctly puts it "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."  There is something then about this plural relationship which is illustrative of God, for it is his image. Scholars have long debated the "Imago Dei" as it's known deducing many probable attributes of man that seem distinct from the other of God's creatures. Rationality, Consciousness, the combined nature of spirit mind and body, even the place of man as ruler or steward of creation. It is not however necessary that the Imago Dei must be a distinct characteristic unique to human beings. If God indeed created all that is "Ex Nihilo" as Augustine posits, then the "Ex Nihilo" from which the cosmos came into being is the substance of God himself, namely his spoken word (God said let there be light, and there was light).

Consequently, many aspects of creation may bear aspects of the creator, indeed all should, and yet the "Imago Dei" is in fact mentioned uniquely about mankind. This may indicate that God intended to reveal his character, his nature, his being through mankind more fully than through any of the other created things. God is love, we read in first John, and the plurality of a God who refers to himself as "our" indicates a God of relationship. Is it possible that the Imago Dei is at least partially found in our capacity to love, indeed our desire and need to love? Tangentially, someone may mention the fact that animals display love, but this does not diminish the intention of God's image in man; we simply point to the passage that says if we fail to glorify God, even the rocks will cry out.

If "Love" is the "Image" then we find that image distorted through the fall. The choice of self in being the judges of good and evil causes us to misapprehend the image because of the ever present lens of self. Philosophers and Judeo Christian Scholars have wrestled with a hierarchy of the various types of love that we encounter in life ranking eros at the bottom followed by phileo, and above all the selfless agape.  We romanticize about the unrequited nature of agape but the distortion of this image can be seen in the foolishness of tragic fictional characters such as Cyrano DE Bergerac. What we can witness from life, about the nature of love itself, is a progression from the dependent obedient love of children whose parents give of themselves, to a brotherly love that exists as we make friends and start to understand the mutual nature of relationship, on to the creation and possible mutual intimacy and benefit experienced in the marital relationship.

To love costs something. We’ve all heard that to have a friend, you have to be a friend. If we flip the western Judeo Christian construct over we find that Agape is the beginning, and opening for love to become possible. The Gospel stories of Jesus demonstrate this, indeed Paul says that Christ made peace with us on the cross opening the door to love; initially through dependence and obedience. When Christ says no longer do I call you servants, but I call you friends; we are witnessing the progression as in our own experience of life to a mutuality of love. And just as the Christian and the Church are referred to as the Bride of Christ, there is an expectant mutual intimacy into which God's love for us and our love for God is supposed to build.

As in our experience, often intimacy is short circuited, self demands obedience, submission, crimes and misdemeanors against love leave us distant and hurt. We allow ourselves to become distant from others and divorce takes place. Divorce then isn't merely the social crime of leaving a spouse in the cold, but the severing of relationship in direct opposition to the image of love which God desires to reveal himself through. This is why God hates divorce it would seem.

This is not to say that Divorce is not at times necessary because we indeed live in a world where love is broken. Abandonment, Abuse, Opportunism, all are valid reasons to realize that true intimacy is impossible, but Christianity seems too comfortable with divorce. Not only do we tolerate divorce in the marital relationship, but we divorce ourselves on such a regular basis from others who have differing political perspectives, theological opinions, styles of worship, ethnic origin, socio-economic status, and sometimes merely because we don't like someone.

If we are called as Christians to be salt and light, are we not called to be part of God's revelation of his character, and especially of his love? What violence are we covering ourselves in if in our search for personal purity and convenience we destroy the opportunity for God to reveal himself through us?

Where is the third wave?

The language of business and marketing are not the answer to the problem of reaching the world for Jesus, but they do provide alternatives to some of the worn out nomenclature that we have become so accustomed to. Indeed all of life provides us with insight into the ways of the God who created life itself. Some people such as Phyllis Tickle have pointed out that  there is a reformation ongoing in the church today, and others have pointed out that there is a reformation progression since the early church from sacrament, to sermonics, to social involvement (or community).

It's unfortunate that the phrase "third-wave Christianity" is associated C. Peter Wagner and Pentecostalism in America, because there is something far bigger going on. In business, the first wave is all about creating demand for a product; drink coffee, eat bacon, drive a car. The second wave is all about branding and loyalty, we don't just consume the product, we consume Maxwell House, or Folgers, we only drive Chrysler cars, or Ford trucks. This is similar to the movement of the Church throughout both history, and the experience each person has with the person of Jesus Christ. Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ, most traditional evangelistic efforts are geared around getting individuals to accept a need for Jesus in their lives. Historically the Roman Church built demand for itself by offering salvation through the sacraments. The reformers however offered something new. Not only could you have the experience of the church, but you could have it as a Lutheran, or a Calvinist, or a Catholic. All of our modern denominations are a result of this brand creation, and most church efforts are aimed at achieving brand loyalty, with a little bit of first wave evangelism in order to have brand growth.

So what is a third wave Christian? In other areas, the third wave  is recognized as the point at which the product is no longer merely the product, but rather it is appreciated by connoisseurs for it's nuance and subtlety. Few people who appreciate gourmet coffee will ever go back to drinking branded mass market coffee, and for some the third wave indicates a way of life. Third wave products are boutique products, they are acquired tastes. Third wave consumers want to be respected as knowledgeable and discerning. Yet this third wave is a threat to the  bottom line of the second wave brands. Here the loyalty is to the product, rather than a brand - Third wavers are looking for something that is authentic and good. If they cannot find it within the establishment, they look elsewhere.

This spells tragedy for the modern church, with it's emphasis on growth models and and branding. The continual attempts to reach the third wavers with first wave marketing is also doomed to fail. Largely, the new generation hasn't denied the need for Jesus, but are on an unguided quest to find authenticity and quality apart from the institutions which fail to lead them forward to growth. A third wave Christian understands that Faith impacts all of reality, that worship is in how they live their lives, they do not subscribe to the creeds or doctrines of the branded church, but appreciate nuance, subtlety they choose ambiguity over hypocrisy. They want to work out their salvation, and wrestle with the mystery of godliness, and they take God seriously for who he is, not who we've made him out to be.