The Presentation Of Beauty

Photo Apr 12, 8 31 49 AMI’m in the middle of reading Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, by Roger Scruton.  Insert joke here about needing all the help I can get in the beauty department. Ha ha! I know, I stepped into that one. But seriously, Scruton makes an excellent observation about the presentation of beauty in relation to the sensation of beauty. The following quote got my mind jogging and I thought I’d blog it out.

“A beautiful face, a beautiful flower, a beautiful melody, a beautiful colour — all these are indeed objects of a kind of sensory enjoyment, a relishing of the sight or sound of a thing. But what about a beautiful novel, a beautiful sermon, a beautiful theory in physics or a beautiful mathematical proof? If we tie the beauty of a novel too closely to the sound of it, then we must consider a novel in translation to be a completely different work of art from the same novel in its original tongue. And this is surely to deny what is really interesting in the art of the novel — which is the unfolding of a story, the controlled release of information about an imaginary world, and the reflections that accompany the plot and reinforce its significance… To that extent a novel is directed to the sense — but not as an object of sensory delight, like a luxurious chocolate or a fine old wine. Rather as something presented through the senses, to the mind… When we refer to the ‘aesthetic’ nature of our pleasure in beauty it is presentation, rather than sensation, that we have in mind.”

Photograph Jessica by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px
Jessica by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px

This thought resonates with me on a number of fronts, as perhaps it does with you. When I read his words, as a creative person who has dabbled in a variety of art forms, I thought about the presentation of my art. In the order of his examples my thoughts went from my photography — “A beautiful face, a beautiful flower” —

Photograph Broken Petal by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px
Broken Petal by Tyrel Bramwell on 500px

to my rudimentary efforts in music — “a beautiful melody.” Admittedly, this is something I  know very little about, but I can abuse a guitar and have attempted to write my own songs, primitive and simplistic though they turned out to be. I get the idea of presenting a beautiful tune. Most recently my musical endeavors propelled me to create something that some might consider a melody (though no one would dare call it beautiful) to accompany a spoken word poem.

From there I thought about the power of “a beautiful colour.” Scruton hit a familiar note, causing me to ponder the minimalist beauty of Johnny Scribble and his simplistically straightforward color palette. Is the presentation of Johnny a thing of beauty?

I don’t know. Maybe. It definitely causes sensory enjoyment. At least for me… and a handful of 10 year-olds.

TGTD Front ebook smallThen Scruton delved into the realm of the written word. “But what about a beautiful novel?” With those words I pondered whether my novel, The Gift and the Defender, would be considered beautiful based on its presentation. I hope so. But what a thought! The novel is beautiful when we consider what’s really “interesting in the art of the novel — which is the unfolding of a story, the controlled release of information about an imaginary world, and the reflections that accompany the plot and reinforce its significance.”

And this thought was carried into the art of writing “a beautiful sermon.” My vocational mind buzzed as this example caused me to contemplate the  beauty of the most important art form I’ll ever engage in. A beautiful sermon is similar to a beautiful novel as it is “the controlled release of information,” but instead of being about an imaginary world it’s fixed on conveying the life saving knowledge of Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. A true art! The homiletician must craft his words so that they speak the Gospel truth in a way that the preacher’s hearers can grasp while also remaining faithful to the Biblical text that’s the basis of his sermon. I’d like to think that my sermons are beautiful,  however, the truth of the matter is, as a sinner, I can guarantee that they’re not as beautiful as they could be. My sermon prep is more often occupied with theological accuracy. But without diminishing the utmost importance of remaining faithful to God’s Word is there also a place for preaching the beauty of the cross in as beautiful a way as possible? I think so.

From the beauty of a sermon, Scruton moves away from art, extending his examples of beauty to include that of science. The sermon is a fitting bridge between art and science as it isn’t firmly placed in either category — while homiletics is an art, it is arguably a science.

The last thing Scruton’s words caused me to think about, as I’m sure you’ll relate,  is how anyone in their right mind can find physics and mathematics beautiful, but hey, it takes all kinds, right?

 

Is a Picture Really Worth a Thousand Words?

“Is a picture really worth a thousand words? What thousand words? A thousand words from a lunatic, or a thousand words from Nietzsche? Actually, Nietzsche was a lunatic, but you see my point. What about a thousand words from a rambler vs. 500 words from Mark Twain? He could say the same thing quicker and with more force than almost any other writer. One thousand words from Ginsberg are not even worth one from Wilde. It’s wild to declare the equivalency of any picture with any army of 1,000 words. Words from a writer like Wordsworth make you appreciate what words are worth.”

— Jarod Kintz

Life Together

Photo Jan 16, 2 31 26 PM

The following excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together (pages 91-92) highlights the reality that though we’re individuals, in the Church we’re never isolated from other members of Christ’s body.

Americans, perhaps more than other people groups, tend to emphasize a person’s individuality while dismissing, or at least downplaying, the reality that in one way or another we all live in relationship to others, be it in a family, our community, or that we just happen to live on the same rock that’s cruising around the sun as the guy next door. Even in solitude Christians are not alone. This concept rejects the line of reasoning that makes room for “victimless crimes” or any argument that espouses personal choice, for no crime is truly ever victimless and no choice, no matter how personal, is made within a vacuum. Within the Church such a rationale doesn’t exist. As a member of Christ’s body everything I do, indeed even what I think, has an impact on other people – other members of the Body. What a provocative thought for a society steeped in individualism.

“Every day brings the Christian many hours of being alone in an unchristian environment. These are times of testing. This is the proving ground of a genuine time of meditation and genuine Christian community. Has the community served to make individuals free, strong, and mature, or has it made them insecure and dependent? Has it taken them by the hand for a while so that they would learn again to walk by themselves, or has it made them anxious and unsure?… Has it transported them for a few short moments into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it planted the Word of God so soberly and so deeply in their heart that it holds and strengthens them all day long, leading them to active love, to obedience, to good works?… Is the invisible presence of the Christian community a reality and a help to the individual? Do the intercessory prayers of the others carry me through the day? Is the Word of God close to me as a comfort and a strength? Or do I misuse my solitude against the community, against the Word and prayer? Individuals must be aware that even their hours of being alone reverberate through the community. In their solitude they can shatter and tarnish the community or they can strengthen and sanctify it. Every act of self-discipline by a Christian is also a service to the community. Conversely, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not harm the whole community. When the cause of an illness gets into one’s body, whether or not anyone knows where it comes from, or in what member it has lodged, the body is made ill. This is the appropriate metaphor for the Christian community. Every member serves the whole body, contributing either to its health or to its ruin, for we are members of one body not only when we want to be, but in our whole existence. This is not a theory, but a spiritual reality that is often experienced in the Christian community with shocking clarity, sometimes destructively and sometimes beneficially.

“Those who return to the community of Christians who live together, after a successful day, bring with them the blessing of their solitude, but they themselves receive anew the blessing of the community. Blessed are those who are alone in the strength of the community. Blessed are those who preserve community in the strength of solitude. But the strength of solitude and the strength of community is the strength of the Word of God alone, which is meant for the individual in the community.”

Wanderlust In My Blood

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“I became a tramp – well, because of the life that was in me, of the wanderlust in my blood that would not let me rest… I went on ‘The Road’ because I couldn’t keep away from it; because I hadn’t the price of the railroad fare in my jeans; because I was so made that I couldn’t work all my life on ‘one same shift’; because – well, just because it was easier to than not to…

The Road had gripped me and would not let me go; and later, when I had voyaged to sea and done one thing and another, I returned to The Road to make longer flights, to be a ‘comet’ and a profesh, and to plump into the bath of sociology that wet me to the skin.”

— Jack London, The Road

Photograph © 2015 Tyrel Bramwell

 

Cruciform Beauty

“Simply put, the cross is the form that makes Christianity beautiful! The cross is the beauty of Christianity because it is at the cross that we encounter co-suffering love and costly forgiveness in its most beautiful form… The cruciform is the aesthetic of our gospel. It is the form that gives Christianity its unique beauty.”

— Brian Zahnd, Beauty Will Save the World

Welded to the Cross

This photograph is of the crucifix at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Chester, California.

Copyright © 2014-2015 Tyrel Bramwell

Heresy and Orthodoxy

I’ve been thinking about something all day long…

G.K. Chesterton once expressed that in his attempt to be theologically original, to stand alone apart from the rest of civilized religion, he realized that he actually stood with all of Christendom, that he had “only succeeded in inventing all by [himself] an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion.” He tried to “found a heresy of [his] own; and when [he] had put the last touches to it, [he] discovered that it was orthodoxy.”

This concept has stuck with me ever since I read it and as I think about today’s religious climate, and especially the state of Christianity within American protestantism, I see the truthfulness of such a sentiment to be ever present.

As I was studying the Gospel reading for this coming up Sunday (the 12th Sunday after Pentecost), Matthew 16:21-28, I came across another great thinker’s thoughts which caused me to pause as Chesterton’s wisdom pushed forward through the grey matter in my head.

Francis Schaeffer, in his book, True Spirituality, expounds on Luke’s parallel to my Matthew passage. He notes that Jesus provides an order to his coming substitutionary death – rejected, slain, raised – and then applies it to the Christian life, declaring that there is no other order with regards to true spirituality (a term he uses synonymously with “Christian life”). But the most profound idea, the thought that trapped me in my mind with “the master who left no masterpiece” (which is, by the way, a completely inaccurate title for the man who wrote Orthodoxy) comes next.

Frank writes,

“If we forget the absolute uniqueness of Christ’s death we are in heresy. As soon as we set aside or minimize, as soon as we cut down in any way, as the liberals of all kinds do in their theology, on the uniqueness and substitutionary character of Christ’s death, our teaching is no longer Christian.” He continues that likewise “if we forget the relationship of this order to us as Christians, then we have a sterile orthodoxy, and we have no true Christian life. Christian life will wither and die; spirituality in any true biblical sense will come to an end.”

What was on your mind today?

Photo © 2014 Tyrel Bramwell

We Love Others Because God First Loved Us

Numerous humanitarian and utilitarian reasons urge us to care about a twelve-year-old orphan half a world away. International responsibilities make it incumbent on developed nations to assist the developing world. Fundamental matters of human rights have been carefully defined and advanced by the United Nations, Western governments, and a host of nongovernmental organizations the world over. Global egalitarian and ethical reasons motivate democratic societies to offer aid because they ‘hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalieanable Rights.’ There are (sometimes misguided) missiological reasons for assisting the poor. Finally, there are self-serving motivations for aid that are often a prelude to exacerbating already complex and troubled circumstances.

However, for Christians, the bottom line is this: Who God is, is how we will be. Because we are God’s very own in Christ, we reflect who He is.

The above quote from Matthew C. Harrison’s book, Christ have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action illustrates the simple motivation behind Christian mercy as contrasted by the world’s reasons for caring for others. We love others because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Religious Studies

Reading James W. Sire’s book, The Universe Next Door, called to mind much of what I studied in undergrad to earn a degree in Religious Studies.

The author provides the impetus for anyone wondering why he should pick this book up:

“For any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own — why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true.”

© 2014 Tyrel Bramwell

A Prayer (In Light of Call Day)

As it gets closer to Call Day, and before anxiety has the chance to take over, allow me the privilege of offering a prayer (from the Minister’s Prayer Book) for all my brothers and their families:

“O God, heavenly Father, who desirest all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, give me [as well as my classmates and their families] thy Spirit and strengthen [our] heart[s] that [we] may never despair, but labor in hope, look unto Christ, endure his cross, and finally have part in his joy. Give [us] grace to proclaim the truth wisely, charitably, and acceptably, and so to present the Lord Jesus Christ in word and deed, that people may hear him gladly. Be thou [our] strength and embolden [us] to serve thee, that, renouncing every worldly ambition and unworthy method, [we] may trust only in the power of thy Word and thy Spirit and never shrink from declaring thy saving Word of truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” — J.W.D.

Photograph is of the painting that hangs above the baptismal font in Kramer Chapel on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

© 2014 Tyrel Bramwell

The Art of Dying

The art of dying is a literary genre of Christian devotional writings known by scholars as the ars moriendi. In a time of disease, plague, war and famine, not to mention economic strife and all out social distress, being prepared to die was a valued discipline. Johann Gerhard had first hand knowledge of all of these burdens and in 1611 published this Handbook of Consolations: For the Fears and Trials That Oppress Us in the Struggle with Death in order to encourage “readers to reflect on their own death and prepare themselves to not only live but also die according to the Gospel.” (Intro. xi)

Below are several rad quotes from the heart of the book that I find to be rather profound:

“Paulinus of Nola writes the following verses: ‘The Holy Spirit into running water descends and, uniting this sacred water with its heavenly spring, God bears from the sacred and nourishing waters, a child from eternal seed. Wondrous is God’s fatherly love, for the sinner is plunged into the water and then comes forth justified. So man achieves a happy death and birth, dying to things earthly and being born to things eternal. His sin dies, but his life returns. The old Adam perishes and the new Adam is born for eternal sway.’” (p. 30)

“The grace of the Father adopting, the merit of the Son cleansing, and the power of the Holy Spirit regenerating all coincide in our baptism. Therefore, if you are baptized, you can by no means doubt that you have the grace of God, remission of sins, and the promise of eternal life. Baptism is the washing of regeneration. Where there is regeneration, there is remission of sins, the grace of God, perfect righteousness, renewal, the gift of the Holy Spirit, adoption, and the inheritance of eternal life.” (p. 30)

“What is more important to us than what we eat and drink? Such food is either transformed into the substance of our own bodies as natural and basic sustenance for us, or it transforms and changes us into itself. The latter happens with that spiritual sustenance of the body and blood of the Lord which we truly eat. We do not, however, change Him into what we are, rather He changes us into what He is.” (p. 33)

“Weak faith is still faith. Faith does not apprehend Christ and in Christ the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life, because it is strong but because it is faith.” (p. 36)

Photograph © 2014 Tyrel Bramwell