Original cassette journal entry 1989?
Note: 2008 - Reading this some many years later makes me say "Whew" - what was I thinking! (not "What" but "How"). This reads like the verbal gush of a sanctified "Unibomber." A little background. In 1980 when I was twenty, I spent some time with a group of Old-order Mennonites in Tennessee. I was much convicted by their way of life, and left my visit with them wondering if God's kingdom call on my life might require me to lay down my camera. What starts as an introspective look at "why do I take pictures" morphs into a meditation on the "purpose" of evil.
Today I give my mind to think about the “why” of taking pictures. Why do I take them … What does photography do? I don’t mean in some odd thought mode; I mean what does photography accomplish?
How do I change the world with pictures?
What I really mean to do is question art. The Mennonites would not claim that a camera in itself is a wrong thing, It is a machine. And as such neither moral nor immoral, but they would question the greater part of a camera’s use. I have seen in their homes some pictures. Not many. But the Horst's even had a calendar with Mennonite people looking at scenes. The one picture I remember showed the back of a girl. They didn’t want to appeal to the beauty or – the vanity of the forward human face.
I remember too, looking at a science textbook that their children use. It had pictures of different animals and settings … just enough to communicate, with no real art flourish. (A biology text had an outline of a generic human form, with the insides and stuff, and something like a baseball cup in shape, where the genitalia should be.) Beyond this, I remember one other medium stocked with pictures. The Sears Catalog. Mrs. Horst said she used the catalog to order work pants for the men, “and other things.” Even so, the catalog was put up out of eye range, like a kind of adult literature of both flesh and curtains. (The Mennonites do not use frilly curtains or other items embellished for vanity sake.)
So now, I come to question curtains … or plaid … or paintings on the wall, or pictures of people in distress, or sculptures of nude people. I come to ask, why do I take pictures, and can I pursue this realm of vision before God for no other reason than art.
I think these thoughts against a backdrop. Make that two. One of them, the constant -- The Holstein people. The other is a constant too, but this time I’m thinking of a specific book. A book by ….. Haans Rookmaker (Dutch theologian and Art Critic) … Art Needs No Justification.
So, here I go -- I’ll try to justify my participation in photography – or put salve on my uncertain soul, all with the thought that art needs no justification. Now that’s a trick!
In the book, Haans says that art needs no justification for the simple reason that it is a God given possibility.
He says more than that, but it seems an odd way to think. Does he really mean that mere “ability” equals worth? The argument goes something like this. God imagines and creates. He has stamped something of Himself into us. We are creative because He is. And we need not apologize for what we are by design. Why should we shy from either the way God has made us, or what he has given us the capacity to do?
So, My… this is my own idea: If you engineer a car to drive at 100 mph, it seems rather foolish to use the thing for a golf cart. The possibility for other and more extravagant uses is suggested by the raw ability.
Hmmm, I can see the thought. If its foolish to make a golf cart with four speeds and a V-8, how much more foolish to design man with all this wish and ability to create, if creating as such, is a suspect act.
Even so, the Haans’ thought doesn’t satisfy on every level. I can thank of plenty of things that people can do but shouldn’t. We even speak about “playing God” when someone reaches for what God can do, but is outside the boundary of human oughtness. We can build atom bombs and breed killer bacteria. We can take a dead mans sperm and grow “his” children in the womb of a woman he never married, or maybe even in a petri (sp) dish. We can film people having sex. I’m not sure what this says about art, but if the argument to justify art is built around mere ability, something is missing. It seems that the thought of being created in God’s image kicks a bit harder. Even so, does the fact that God will crush his enemies give us the right to crush ours? Reading God’s image out this way seems dangerous.
So what am I trying to do; make an argument against art? Not really. Why would I want to argue against a thing I love? But when I try to justify my photography in view of a certain kingdom vision, or this fear that the Mennonite take might be right, certain other thoughts echo hard in my soul. I don’t really want to ask these questions, but there is something in them that I can’t shake. I think honesty dictates that I ask them, but then, am I true enough to live with my answers?
So here goes. Let me tangle my mind with questions that I can’t answer or don’t really want to, but can’t seem to brush aside either! Oh why, Oh why can’t my mind stop asking questions?
First, I ask .. Why does anyone take pictures?
A few quick ideas pop to mind. Fascination, memory, science, idolatry, sensual pursuit, advertising, beauty, wonder, celebration, remembering. Science. Vanity …. I didn’t mean to make quite such a list. I think I’ll write them down.
Curiosity of Fascination:
This seems a pretty noble aim. While I plan to doubt the value of some of what I do, I’ll confess that pure fascination led so much of my early photography. If a climber climbs a mountain because it is there, It seems that all I’ve need for a rational is that something is there and it intrigues me… and I want you to see with me and agree with the intrigue.
I remember when I first saw the Tetons; we were traveling as a family in our old Dodge van. We rounded a hill and there they were, set like sharks teeth on the sky and my heart pounded with the glory of it all. How could anything be at once so huge and raw and fierce and violent and beautiful? How do mountains grow from so low to so high in such short order? I grabbed Dad’s Exacta (a post WWII German 35mmm camera) and raced over grass and snow to catch the vertigo in lens, all the time proclaiming “Can you believe it.” My later pictures were disappointing in a sense. I’ve since found that it terribly hard to stuff grand things thorough glass and have them yet look grand. You can stuff small things, or parts of things, or mundane things through glass and give them unnoticed glory, but it’s a pretty hard thing to take the truly monumentous (sp) and have that bigness show. Even so, my desire was one of pure desire to cage a joy, and bring it home. Others should thrill to and see with me that the thing is glorious.
Now here is new meaning to “the pursuit of glory.” Mostly when we say this, we mean our own, But here, and through so much of my earliest photography, the fascination was with the thing seen. Later I should wrestle with the glory I might receive for having seen and captured it well. And this latter twist seems to complicate the thing. I think if I’m honest, its awfully hard today, to take a picture without thinking about how people will see me for having seen. Damn Vanity!
Even so, the purer undercurrent remains. I find the world before me a constant fascination. I want others to see with me that it is. And this is strange. There is a first order pleasure in the thing, and a second pleasure, almost greater, in having someone see the glory with you and agree. When they don’t agree, it hurts. I remember on that same trip, at some point we were dusting through some Utah moonscape. I set my eyes like vacuums to the window, sucking in every nuance of light and rock and shade and weirdness. At some point I turned to my sister and said: “What do you think? Isn’t that beautiful.” Her response: “It just looks like a pile of rocks to me.” Her lack of pleasure stole a pleasure from me.
Now, I don’t know if viewing other people’s visions is a good as the first or second pleasure.. I can say that I’ve watched other people’s slide shows and been less than enthralled. Without the memory of wind or the taste of air or the adrenaline outside the frame, the things just look like pictures!
No, I take that back. I have seen work of such caliber that it makes my gut get tight with the pleasure and I say Mm. (grunt) Mm. But even here, mere quality doesn’t do it all. It seems when quality of vision meets with agreement the thing is greatest. We agree that glory has invaded this place … or even that there is some underlying symmetry in the chaos. I think in particular of the works of Elliot Porter. His pictures lack the initial impact of someone like Ansel Adams, and someone might wonder, what makes his pictures at all, Lots of pictures of limbs and shadow, so much so that if you squeezed your eyes, the thing might look like a Jackson Pollock paint fling. The images are complex, and often not about grand things, but rather simple inner worlds that lean to the busy.
But even here, there is something in the way he arranges the busy. He could have stuck his lens at the busy in some different way, but almost always we agree at some underlying symmetry or balance or beauty in the way he frames the smatter. We agree.
And this is no small thing. Why should a tangle of grass and twig or inner space meet in us as agreement, or why should we even call mountains beautiful? What about thrust up rock makes the heart pound. Or why should we agree at the glory of a flower, or that the line of neck about the shoulder, or that the joining of the waist to hip is such a thing of glory that we cant get enough of saying so and putting it on film?
I see photography then, not so much as a means to record … but as the art of recognition. We agree to something beyond the objective. We see as one. We agree to the beauty, or the horror, or the sense that something is here and it more than mere stuff.
Some months ago I watched a Disney film in which an animated dog raced into a room and scampered around a corner. Even in animation, the paws slipped and the nails became a useless rattle on linoleum. I hear the very sound I’ve heard and observed in watching our own dog careen around a corner sending out rifts of air gravel and rhythm of slip as if on ice. I laughed. I do not think I would have laughed so if the medium were direct film. The humor was created in the fact that someone had observed the act of dog scamper and saved it in animation. That recognition made us laugh together.
So, …..Is this why I do what I do? That we might laugh, cry, or sigh at the thing we see -- Together?
I’ve sometimes asked, would I still take pictures if I were Robinson Carusoe SP. I think I would for a time and out of habit, but I think I would stop in time if I were to truly think that the act of my seeing should never be seen by another. That’s why you take a picture – sharing sight with another.
I guess you could argue then, that art is an act of service to others. I know that much of my pursuit is private, and I know the first order pleasure of the thing, but it wouldn’t be complete without your pleasure. I desire your pleasure. So please me by being pleased!
Now, Dear, this is something of a bunny trail, but then why not. Every other thought I speak is bunny trail. I have noticed this. When I go to a place I often go with preconceived ideas of what I’m aiming to capture. I remember when I walked through he South. From time to time I would see the thing I expected to see. Old southern houses, with porch and dog. The old maple or railroad tracks dividing shantytown from old white. I would see the vestiges of some Old World southern plantation or the squalor of yesterdays --or not so yesterday’s -- race oppression. And when I could. I tried to capture these things on film. But the truth is I saw so much more that didn’t fit any sense of nostalgia or expectation. I saw strip malls and middle class blacks. I saw western style ranch homes, or modern buildings. I saw a lot of pretty plain mixed in things that didn’t seem to have about them any particular Southern flavor. And by and large I didn’t photograph those things. I wanted to see what I came to see. But this isn’t quite all true. Atlanta was to my mind, one total and absolute fascination. I had no expectation of what I’d see, and in the sense of bigness and newness and move and mix, It violated, with pleasure, what I might have expected. Here was photography in its purest form. Not unlike the Tetons. I was seeing something new and raw and filled with the pleasure of discovery, and I wanted you and me to feel with me the both the tensions and the delight of that seeing. I wanted you to see with me that the world is at once a most mixed mess and stab of glory and that His city is somehow here and invading our matter world.
So, here we have. I want to share with you a world. I want to tell you that the world is at once an unapproachable glory, the outlands of heaven in our midst. I want to tell you that the world is alive with ongoing miracle and that the trees are like hard seaweed on the bottom of the Numa Sea. (Where did that come from.)? I want too, to tell you that the thing is broken, The world has veered, and the code has been rewritten. Finally, I want to tell you that “they” have needs. I want you to sell your car or your house. I want them to tear down the World Trade Centers … or better yet, convert them into apartments for the poor, or if not that, build some huge barn between them and make them into a grand cathedral with silver towers for the front spires?
Okay, getting weird again. Can’t seem to contain myself.
But here is where old Menno and his cohorts kick in.
I think, what do I want to say?
Beauty is here.
Pain is here.
Want is here.
Then I think. You know, we already know these things. There has to be some million, maybe trillions of images that already say as much. I think in my life, what have I shot -- At the minimum a thousand rolls of film, so …. 36,000 frames.
36,000 frames that say, in some way, that beauty, pain, and want are in our midst. And for all this having been said, is anyone different for my having said it .. Or for anyone having said it. Sometimes I think of all the pictures taken on our planet in a given day. I hear the shutters tripping at models and flowers and birthday cakes and people standing before signs and together with a million instamatics sp the world sounds like a constant volley of arrows as the shutters click. Ttttttttttttttttttttttttttt. How many cakes blown out in the last ten minutes. Can your feel the gale? HA!
My part has been small, though I think intense. But I think, realistically speaking, I in my life may make few images of the caliber of Ansel Adams or maybe Annie Lebovitz. And dear, I can’t really think of a photo journalist heroes except maybe the depression photographer Walker, Walker? What’s his name?……. So, lets just say that I equal some of these. What changes? How is the Kingdom of God advanced? What could I ever say that is new?
It would seem a vanity of the vainest sort to think that my camera, equipped even as I am with the Spirit of God … should change the world in any meaningful way.
When I say this, I know that pictures do change the world. In fact, every thing and every act, and every person, everyday is forever changing the world. We can’t but help to change the world for simply existing! But I mean at the root of the thing,
I think of my two groups. Give me the American population, and give me the Mennonites. One group lives in a sea of images. The other sees relatively few.
So which group acts as if the land matters. Which group lives a way that is polite or even helpful in the face of world hunger? Which group behaves as if our resources are limited, or violence a true violation of human character. Which group shows a profound respect for the character of God, or seeks to please him in the minutia of their lives? Which group loves the greater, or holds a deeper sense of wonder. Does the man who holds the dirt in his hand and seed and sweat, who feels the earth alive with the birth or corn or cows … or the man who lives in and image flood. Which man, or which group has a sense of season, or injustice? I’d even go as far as to ask, which group has a more dynamic sex life … (Pastor Bob used to say that our grandparents had more sex, while our generation talked a lot more about it.)
Dear, this sweep may have some holes; it’s hard to argue how hard a people love when the reach of that love is pretty limited … and I guess the American population is a fairly diverse group, but still we get the picture. I have before my eyes, and anchored in my heart a people who seem to do so much of what I think people should -- and these without being lectured by my eye. Spiritual whalup --economic and environmental compassion, and all without pictures!
For years I have envision creating powerful multi-image slide shows. Some of them might be fun or even as an aid to worship. I envision one show where everything depicted is red, and set against flaming salsa music. I think of another show where visual similarities flow in and out. (Pre computer morph) Shark’s teeth fade to the Tetons, Broccoli to elm trees and so on. But the cap piece would be a kind of shock contrast of lives. I should sandwich pictures of our excess against pictures of the raven legs. Tables overflowing with food against the dead eyes of a starving child.
To make such a show, I would probably need to get a job with a magazine, or maybe a newspaper. Year after year I would document the play of our lives … and maybe not the upper crust with yatchs and voluminous houses … maybe just the Christian middle.
The whole thing, would be something of an indictment, or at best, a call to rethink the pattern of our lives.
But then I think trough the process. To do the show really grand I would need to invest about five years. I should need to buy several more Nikons and an array of lenses. Wide angles to haunt or distort, big telephoto’s to compress or spy? And I should shoot lots of film, go lots of places and whirl through lots of parties. Buy airline passes to Africa … or maybe just bus passes to our inner cities. Of course, I would need to be dressed in such a way that I might jump in an out of worlds. Sharp enough for the prep set but then, rough enough for the downtrodden. Then to top it off, give me 12 leitz slide projectors. If this is going to be a quality indictment, why not use the best projector to deliver the message?
You can see where I am going. By the time I made and produced such a show, I would become the very thing I want to open our eyes against. I would have joined the very economic system that I question. Makes me think of Dylan. There goes Bob raging against the system and against corporate America, all the while fueled by media empires spilling wealth like fountains. Now that’s smart … use Time Warner to rage against “the System.” Time Warner is the system.
So, I would become complex and something of a contradiction. A ghost jumping in and out of worlds without really engaging them. I would be a self-absorbed communicator of my own pained mind and sensitivity. But I would not care much for anyone. I even see some final image in which I record myself, decked with thousands of dollars of camera gear … and the bill for my film, standing next to a bloat bellied child.
And I should cry in such a picture.
Not only would I become something that is against this life of power and holiness and simplicity that kicks at the slats of my soul, I would be the ultimate parody.
And what should I honestly expect from my grand indictment. Nothing much. While an image may work to produce a direct response in a person with an inclination, it seems in my mind, beyond the ability of imaging to change lives. The appeal as such is to mind, and not spirit.
So, where did I mean to go? To cut my throat or eye?
Now this can’t all be true. If I am honest, I smell even in myself some strained logic. I think pictures do make some difference. Its just … do they make enough.
Let us just assume for the moment that pictures generate positive environmental impact. Despite the caustic chemistry required to produce them, or the trees required to print all those lovely Sierra Club calendars, the greater weight of pictures in our presence has cultivated a nation more sensitive to nature. Lets assume too that the pictures floating across Inserts and the TV of children with pleading eyes or in school make a difference. One in a hundred Americans sponsor a child and others give. And let’s say finally, that for all these pictures of friends and kids, we are better people and enjoy expanded social contact. We have good memories.
Is it enough?
I hear Jesus ringing in my ears. That thing about if you have a dinner. “Don’t just invite your friends who can pay you back, but invite those who could never repay you, invite the destitute and social outcast to your picnic. This isn’t word for word, but its close. And I think. Does taking pictures belong more to the first way of living, or to the latter. Do we in the wake of all these images just chug with a little more information, or do we throw off one way of doing for another. I want the later.
And this is where the thought that I can’t shake steals in.
I’ve said it a bit ago. I may take some pictures that are of the finest this world can offer. But then I look at those who do the catching now. Those who encode this spinning lit and wounded world? Are many of them Christians? To be honest I don’t know. If they are, they don’t where it on their sleeves. But I think its safe to say that for all these pictures of nature, do we love God anymore. That same picture of the mountain valley laced with flower might ring in the eye of the God fearing person as a proof of creation, but likewise, it would ring in the eye of a naturalist as some grand accident and a play of death at that. The pantheist would see the same and see god in the pedals and the rock or even the gnats in the wind, but the god that he would see would have no more life that he himself possesses. The picture as such was useless to change.
I think too of another scenario.
And again. Let’s say I equal them. I will only add to the weight of what is already being said? How many more images do we need?
Photography as an art form is only a century plus old, but already, I envision we may run out things to present in new and meaningful ways in a century or more. Maybe someday the number of images will outnumber the things they depict? How many sunsets can you capture against palm trees? How many Sierra Club calendars. I know this. My first calendar (52 picture weekly addition) produced in me something just short of looking at the Tetons. I gasped and could hardly contain my pleasure. Now, into my fourth one, the images start looking the same. I don’t gasp. And I feel no more wonder for having seen the ink on a downed tree.
So will I now save the world by demanding that more trees be downed so I can tell us to quit cutting so many?
And women with curves. Will we ever fill our eye? Granted, I haven’t done much in this realm, and I know that I would like to do more if I could figure the boundaries. But even here. I see bunched on every cover and often wrong and wanton, all these spilled bodies and beautiful faces and forms. Will our eyes ever get enough? “Does the ear ever have enough of hearing, is the eye ever satisfied.”
Dear, I’m getting to some other part before I meant to. But already, I have an argument for myself to answer. I want to take pictures. I love to take pictures. But I have before me a kingdom vision that may exclude this world. I don’t know what to do. I have a divided heart.
I guess I could pray.
Dear Jesus, I know that you made this world, I know that you are the artist behind it. I am not sure quite where your art begins or ends, or how much of what I see is the broken art of man built upon your art, but I know that your art is here and with us still. And you now how I want to celebrate the thing I see. But I also want – I hope – what you want. Please give me peace about the thing I do, or give me the courage to throw it away. Lord, please help me to move beyond just asking questions, to finding answers? I know that you are the way the truth and the life. I do not need to fear your direction.
So please, If it is your will that I throw my camera away. Let me do it. Oh the other hand, If I have used bad reason, physical or spiritual let me grow beyond it, I know that you called artisans to build the tabernacle of old, and you .. Or the father asked for craftsmanship or artistry of the highest order. I want to be a skilled craftsman in your hands. Make me a conduit for your eye, and your hand, and your heart.
Thank you Jesus for hearing my prayer.
I’ve been thinking about the other day. What I asked, and what I prayed. And I think I have two answers. Ideas that occurred in me in the wake of prayer. This first thought is a little much, and it feels vain, but it shouldn’t. It should feel the very opposite and be a deep kind of humbling. I don’t know if I could ever say this to anyone.
The first thought is that God has allowed this process – even initiated it in me for a greater good. Be it the Mennonite thing, or the Calvinist thing, or this great inner battle … God has a purpose for the battle.
God may have in mind to make pearls, and he does so with sand, and he has put strange sand in my life.
The second thought is this.
I said the other day that much of art, or picture taking, is about agreement. We agree to something behind the objective collection of light in film, and relish that agreement. When I had this thought I was thinking of man to man. Or person to person. People agree at the thing seen. But there is this other possibility, and the truth is I have known it. When I click the shutter at the world, It is often recognition, solely before God about the thing seen. I am agreeing with God. When I dangle a leaf by thread and before the sun so that the very cells show and the thing shouts its form, there is something in me that proclaims … “good job, well done.” And when I frame the chaos of the Tacket's home and try to capture something of there pain or poverty through glass .. I agree with God at the hurt. God sees the hurt with me, and he agrees that it is wrong. And here, it is not so much that God agrees with me, but that I am called into agreement with Him. So I don’t know if you call this latter pleasure, but the very fact that I have seen with God and agree to the thing seen fuels this desire to frame.
Would I take pictures as a Robinson Carusoe. Still probably not. God is not so much in need of my pictures or living through there content. But I have known and will not doubt this. I have known the pleasure of God before me as I click, and I do not doubt that he has seen with me and found pleasure in the seeing!
Sometimes I ask this. Why does God Himself create? Why do you do it, Dad? Why do you make centipedes or flies? Or did you really make them like they are?
Insert from Time Bandits?
But really, It seems the most fundamental question. Why make a world at all? If God has no need of anything .. No incompleteness in Himself, why should He create? Why do I desire to create? Is it incompleteness? No that sounds strange. It seems the very opposite. I think it true to say that creation is an act of completeness. I would feel to be less than myself if I didn’t give expression to the play within. So, A new thought. I know it’s dangerous to read the equation up. But if I need to create in order to know completeness … Does God all the more create as just raw expression of who He is? Here the word “need” and “personality” collide. I create because it is part of who I am by design. And, given that God is His own cause. He is. Is this creating of worlds and breath and pollen on the moth wing and baleen just pure to the truth of His essence? We say, or we know -- that God is love. We do not say that love is God. Love is smaller than God. Even so, the thing love, in its purity, is so much from God that it is hard to break it from its source. We might speak of springs, streams, rivers or seas, as separate things, but in as much as they are all derived … Dear, where was I going with this?
Is this thought placed in the wrong place? Is art, like love something that just flows out of God. And if he would have me to love, why not create.
So now I come to ask of Art. Why would I deny you? I think it has something to do with the self and sin that seems to piggy for the ride, but still, why this grand churning impulse to create. So much so that if I were to stop the flourish, I should fade into something like a stalk. Is this the stalk God wants? Or am I calling this world of me without art, “stalk,” because I am fearful of a world where my glory is God’s spirit in me and nothing more?
Is art just one vain impulse? I know that I like to be seen. I like attention. Now I know sometimes where that has been a foremost impulse I am aware and sometimes convicted, especially when it means that I'’ trying to rest attention from others who could either use it or deserved it. And I most certainly like to hear the accolades. But is this desire ...to hear “great eye"” or "what imagination" -- Is it the same impulse that would take a glory at an inopportune time? I guess I mean: Is there ever an opportune time? Or is this creative impulse so saturated in self, that the ideas of serving God or aiding another's pleasure is poppycock? Is there a good motive for wanting praise? Or should I shun the whole enterprise out of a desire to crucify myself for Christ and with it all my wants? Which wants are good, which are evil, and can the two be separated in any meaningful way?
I think of the tree, painted on the wall in my room. I painted that tree because I love trees. I wanted to echo the tree outside my window into the room. I wanted almost to create an illusion of continuance so that the world out and the world in were only different by dry or wet. And I know this too. I wanted people to see the tree and see how clever I was for the style or repeated pattern. I want them to think that I am smart and artful. I want them to think of me as Therou SP, or some kind of Francis of Assisi, all with brilliant books on my shelf.
(Years later I confessed this fault of self-absorption to a girl and said something like: I really struggle because I want people to think that I am very smart, and very creative. She replied. “Kirk, we already know that, we just want to know if you can hold a job.)
So does God have an ego? I know this sounds irreverent, but it almost sounds the answer given by Luther in the Bondage of the Will. His thought is tied to the harder thought of damnation, but it seems to apply. God does what He does, so that he might manifest his Glory.
So I think what a hard glory God manifests. At once I want to aid his glory and recognize it, and then I wonder if mere glory could really justify what is.
But then, why does God need to justify himself to me. This is a hard thing. And I must bow. God may someday explain some things to me, but he will never justify himself, for this no other authority but himself to which he can appeal. He is his own justification.
Dear. Dear Dear. This is a big thought. Is art like that, in that it is a part (or an attribute) of God?
I guess that I am thinking that God no more creates because he has need, He creates because He is creative. It is in His eternal nature to do so. He creates because He is Art. God is Art. Can I say this? I don’t want to say it wrong. Again we would not say that art is God. But in as much as the thing is Pure, every creative act we engage in is derived and something less that the thing of its source. God is Love -- and gives to his children both to know His love and express it. In as much as God is Art, he gives to his children to bathe in His creativity, even as he lets them create.
So far, I have no problem with the thing I’ve said. The problem comes when we look at the world in all its stink. This art gone bad. This is the broken zone. Rancid and Righteous in some grand swirl. I know the source of the righteous. But what of the twist and the dark, and the stink and the vile of my heart? What of our broken wings and all this chaos, and flashing bombs and flashing speech which is like so many atom bombs going off before God?
How much of this world belongs to Him? How much of His art is now?
Everything. Or nothing. Or something in-between. If you read certain Christians, you get a sense that either the fall is not so deep (we can reverse by our wills) and applied obedience … or on the opposite, so deep, that this is life in the refuse bin. Nothing here but a place waiting for flame. Burn it all. Toss it away. Get ready for the city in the sky… but don’t build your buildings to big here, and watch for the temptation to dress the form or house in too much heaven. (Who knows, will Mennonites want curtains in heaven?)
On the other hand are those who seem at ease in the world and in life. The new World might be a nice thing, but why get huffy about it. Eat Drink and be Merry, for tomorrow we shall die and go to the next stage of the party. I’m not really sure I know anyone who would say this, its just when I look at the way we live our lives, I’m not sure how many go through it with the sense of greater reality beyond – the world of judgment and eternal consequences.
But now, I speak of the now. This collision. Hell and heaven spliced and somewhat gray in the mix but with little bits of flourish from both. How do I point my camera at the mix?
I said somewhere else that some idea, was the biggest I’d yet thought. But I’m about to top it. This is probably a thought I have no business with. It’s a bit too big for me. But still its runs the corridor of inner thought like a constant. I don’t want to say it wrong, but then how can I help to say it. If I don’t see Jesus somehow in the now, then the Mennonites are right. There isn’t much worth recording. If this all only passing fodder for the flame, And I know it is, on some level. This is not a Mennonite idea. It’s the Christian idea. Or as Paul says, “What manner of people should we be, knowing that the elements will melt with a fervent heat.
But does that mean only that the world is so much kindling. Does the world have a present worth? Here I am greeted with two maybe three meanings for the word World.
For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son …
Or “love not the world, nor the things in the world, for the world and its ways will pass away. If any man love the world the love of the father is not in Him.
Of even. The earth (the world) is the Lord’s and all the fullness therein.
Now it’s pretty obvious from these sentences that the world, or the realm, or the planet in question is not all the same thing. Jesus does not love the world that he tells us (through John) not to love.
And if he holds the fullness … would he tell us to forsake that world to know the love of the Father. Here we speak of different worlds. But now, what world is before my lens? Is the world as it is now, God’s world or its wreckage? Are we to love this world only as much as it has something of Eden still in it, or are we to consider even this present beauty as a kind of dung. And where does the artistry of Jesus begin or end. That’s the question.
Is the world, in its current form the thing God wants?
The common train chugs like this. God made the world in divine perfection. From the acorn to the atom, the atom to the Adam, the vulva to the vulture …. Everything was good. Good, GOOD. I am not quite sure what a pre-fall vulture would do, or if it looked its hideous self, but the thing from start to finish everything from seed to sex to supernova was one seamless art of divine perfection.
No one would question that that was the art of God. Even those creatures, operating within the bounds of a free but subject will, lived out Gods artistry in its fullness. One could point to no act, or object, or person who was not –even in his freedom, a full expression of the mind of God. Point your camera at will, you can not escape the art of God.
But now. What do I frame with my lens? I believe in a Historic Fall. I’m not quite sure about the dynamics of the pre-fall world … were there spider webs or mosquitoes and all that stuff. – But still I believe that a world made one way is not that way and it happened at a point in time. I guess that most Christians hold to a two-fold fall, the fall of Satan and his Hosts, and the fall of man. I can’t seem to get a strait chronology on this. Some seem to think of Satan’s fall as millennia or millions before the fall of man, but then what are we to do with their seven day recent creation of the cosmos. Unless the creation of those initial spirits was something of a non-matter creation, you end up speaking of a pre-creation creation.
I guess I should just be honest with myself, and say that I’m not sure about a recent creation, or just how to read the whole, or how the chronology fits. Even so, I am in agreement, with the idea, that the current form of stab and kill and bleed and one-upmanship is not good. An echo of “its good” may ring within the hall, but the words “and God saw that it was good, can no longer apply to the fullness of this place, In fact, we believe this fall to be so deep, that not only was man subject to the injury of his own will and new hostile elements, but the very fabric of the planet tore. The breath of man went foul. Horrific birds hovered for the feast. The jaws of the Rex all snapping and filled with reptilian kill. An avalanche of decay and death.
Speak about big bang. The dictionary grows by a thousand words.
With the split of skin … death entered in … and the dictionary sprays in all directions.
Kill, maim, licentious, license, malevolent, caustic, decay, debonair, drunken, salivate, lust, leer, labodimy (SP), lecherous, horrendous, maverick, bloody, bored, cannibal, disorient, disrobe, daunted, fear, Fear, fornication, murder, malpractice, mud, muck, malign, gossip, liar, leach, lazy, whore, demonic, dysentery, dyslexia, menstruation, misogamy, mate swapping, polygamy, divorce, child stealing, irritated, irrational, envious, envy, malice, slander, shooting, spying, bombing, land mines, bear traps, poison, hysterectomy, abortion, infantile, handcuffs, blister, rupture, appendicitis, hear attack, sneeze, common cold, fever, hot lust, titillate, (vulgar words) hide, HIDE, camouflage, death, covet, murder, chains saw massacre, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, genocide, Camaorughe (SP), killing fields, American West, rotten fruit, germ blankets, tomahawk, tomahawk missile, arrowhead, grenade, lance, spittoon, cigarettes, burnt, fire, crush serpent, brawl, bawdy, gaudy, brazen, horrific, premature ejaculation, schizophrenia …. And the list goes on.
I think of his, one act of disobedience and then, successive acts upon acts upon acts making for a criminal cosmos. From wing tip to talon eye gate to tongue, the very heart and soul of this place is soiled and the very dirt is dirty.
So where now? How do I find Jesus for all these words? Did his art stop, or is it married to the fall. Is He co-author of a work with men and fallen angels joining in the work? Is his now art solely with correction. How is it then that the Psalmist cries, “ The Earth is the Lords, and all the fullness therein.”
Does He mean only the Pastoral side? The side with cows but never lions or hyenas. Does he hold the fullness of the world of the saved but not of the lost? And when even the saved are so much lost that apart from his degree, all flesh has turned aside, we are altogether unclean. Is God the artist of the unclean world?
Here I feel to pause. It may be that I have come upon a thought that is not mine to think, or at least that I must hold with reverence. Its just, when I point my camera at the world, I want to know, who’s world do I frame. Is His art like some original painting that has been painted on or over so that only some of his work shows through … or is even the re-applied paint something of his artistry in a different way. Am I chasing after visions that are far from the heart of God, or is God’s heart even present here in a way that I can not see or imagine. Is it possible to say that this both God’s art and not God’s art, or that God has allowed his art to be subject to decay so that he might make even greater art?
Of course, what I am really asking, is what is the nature of evil? Where does it come from, and does it have utility.
Would it belong to God to allow or otherwise supervise the enslavement of men and women, so that he might, through that evil, arrive at the Black Gospel.
Does the passion of dark leathered voice, and torn voice and swamped up sweat and the mashing of passion in song and the shake and the roll and the people as waves and the soloist that should color the air in cords of humus and blood and yearning for the next world …. Does God like this music so much he would somehow stand behind, or allow, or envision ( I don’t know how to say this) all the pain that should be needed to produce it?
Doe God as the artist and the sovereign of drama, allow another man to strangle and wade in his own depravity, even to the point he sends slaves to a gasping drowning death … all so that he might later lavish on him “Amazing Grace.”
Or … this is too much evil to envision. Would God allow or look at or otherwise fail to intervene as the ovens cooked flesh so that he might arrive at the beauty of a soul like Corrie Ten Boom.
I don’t know where I want to go with this. I know it is easy to think of the utility of evil – that it might produce character, or art, or the appreciation for grace … its easy to say or think these things, until evil enters with force your world. I have seen a level of evil in my own life, in me and the world about, that I sometimes wonder if it would justify the world. Could any end, justify this means.
Perhaps here, I show the leanness of my soul. I have not found in life something so strong or rich or delightful, that it would justify existence. But I dream such a world. Don’t we all, or who would choose to keep on living.
Dear, I’m making this sound pretty bad … for even if I knew there were no hereafter, I should be slow to shorten the weirdness of my days.
No, I will celebrate the one who feels that his investment, and the terror of these days, is worth the thing in its present form. I will celebrate the One who should hold me as a pot and use the darkness of this place as a way to break me, to remake me. I will celebrate the one who is right in all he does, even to the point of allowing evil to flourish, if only he might then dismantle and conquer it.
The art of God is a hard art.