To inform your expectations about my blog, I put together some broad sketches of my theme. I will be exploring the idea of “finding beauty in the brokenness.”
Few people doubt the presence of brokenness in the world. I use the term to refer to overt things like strife, war, terrorism, domestic violence, abuse, racism, bigotry, and greed. But brokenness is also evident in neglect and indifference.
Still, further, we experience the brokenness of the world in so-called “natural disasters” like tornados, floods, earthquakes, droughts, wildfires, and pandemics.
I also assume you sense a brokenness in yourself. At the very least, you sense you have been wounded by other human beings. Perhaps you feel traumatized.
Others of you, like myself, would include in their brokenness, one or more addictions.
As a Christian, I understand I am broken in several more ways. First, I am broken because of my stubborn habit of living by my own authority and for my own glory. In other words, I am broken by sin. Though I say I believe in Jesus Christ, I struggle to trust his love and leadership.
Second, I am broken by my complicity in hurtful social and economic structures. I am guilty of and damaged by indifference. If the criminal justice system does not harm me, I tend to be oblivious. I don’t consider deeply enough how my lifestyle affects the physical environment.
Third, my reasoning, or cognition, is broken. My understanding of reality is damaged to the extent that I have trouble grasping truth and goodness. When I read the Bible, bring my biases. I notice some truths while remaining blind to others. To be honest, my cognition is broken because I’ve employed it to justify myself so often.
Fourth, I’m inclined to excuse and minimize my brokenness but judge you harshly for yours. I have a log in my own eye. I’m sure I’m broken in many other ways as well.
While most Christians do not deny the reality of brokenness, there may be a tendency to stifle the expression of sorrow. Eager to appear grateful or “victorious,” I am tempted to detach. The Psalms in Scripture contain examples of (among other things), praise, confession, and lament. These enable me to express joy, repentance for my wrongdoing, and sorrow for my pain and losses. If you are like me, you find confession and lament uncomfortable. If you do grieve, someone will probably try to “cheer you up.” I’ll more be expanding on lament in future blog posts.
So, brokenness is evident. Beauty can be more difficult to see. It’s like learning a trade, or a musical tradition. I see myself as a broken person who is learning to notice and linger in beauty’s presence. My work is to share what I’ve received and experienced.
Unlike brokenness, beauty is harder to agree on and harder to see. Many people believe that references to beauty are nothing more than biased preferences.
Beauty also poses a risk. If you allow your heart to be moved by beauty, to believe it is “real” in some way, you could be disappointed—even betrayed. Our sophisticated cynicism kicks in, and we brace ourselves for a letdown.
Among those who think that beauty is an actual, definable thing, they tend to disagree about what constitutes beauty.
My purpose, for now, is not to give an exhaustive definition or defense of beauty but to share my explorations with you.
The biblical story presents a world that was created good but is now in a “fallen” state. Even so, this broken world is still, as John Calvin said, “a theater of God’s glory.” It’s challenging to live in that tension. In some respects, it would be easier if the world was either beautiful or broken. But it’s both. That makes it hard to affirm beauty without seeming to deny brokenness.
In a season of pain and failure six or seven years ago, I stumbled into the topic of beauty. Abstractions about God’s love were not helpful to me in my shame. But I did experience comfort and joy from musing on Isaiah’s vision returning exiles, along with certain songs, poems, and stories that were responses to God’s work in Christ. I already had lots of information for my mind. What I needed was for the visual imagery and melody from this art to touch my imagination. I began to see that God’s words are not only true and good but also beautiful—they are pleasing and satisfying.
Among the categories of beauty that I will be exploring with you are the beauty of creation, the beauty of human beings, the beauty of art, the beauty of God, and the beauty of his peace—Shalom. All of these have the potential to produce awe and satisfaction, drawing me out of a preoccupation with myself, casting out fear, and kindling love for others.
I’ve been shy about discussing beauty because I fear I’ll be slammed for downplaying injustice and poverty. That’s not my intent. Rather, I hope that encounters with beauty will provide motivation and strength to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.”
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