Saturday, December 19, 2020

The cause of beauty. . .

As Anthony Esolen does so well, he suggests to us the reasons why beauty has been exchanged for ugliness, art for utility, and self for God.  In his own words:

We do not have beautiful things because we have been taught to value things and even persons mainly for their utility. We do not have beautiful things because our sense of beauty has been reduced to the decorative and pretty, or to garish scenes on an advertisement for tourists; beauty is a commodity, cheap or expensive, depending on whether your taste runs to costume jewelry or diamonds from De Beers. We do not have beautiful things, because we have forgotten how best to give praise to God, who is himself Beauty.
Read him in his own words at Touchstone (and, if you are smart, subscribe to it as I do!).

He has hit the nail on the head -- especially when it comes to the Church.  Form follows function has become the driving force in too much of church architecture and design.  While we think we are agitating for that which is simple and clean in line, the reality is that we have cheaped out.  When we face the prospect of budgets that must accommodate rising costs and shrinking dollars, we immediately turn to what has no function except to delight the eye, inspire the heart, and give form to the words we confess.

Art has given way to utility and in so many cases the utility is brutal and ugly.  Look at how we turn warehouses into churches and leave the innards of the mechanical structure as the major design element of the space.  We do this not because we are truly convinced that this is beauty but because it is easy, cheap, and asks nothing of us.  Instead we put our money into sound systems and screens and turn worship into performance art.  We will not economize on the things that affect us -- we will heat and cool the structures so that we will be comfortable and we will make sure the seats are soft.  We will make sure the restrooms are nice and the coffee bars compete with Starbucks.  But when it comes to something that might exist only for the glory of God, we are hesitant.

If God does not deserve our time, then God will hardly be worthy of our attention, our dollars, or our best efforts.  That is at the crux of the problem.  If God is first above all, He will be an also ran -- mainly to us.  We will make sure that we always come first.  COVID has clarified this.  The comfortable and easy route is to settle for watching something take place while we are comfortable in our own homes.  We will risk our health for shopping at Wal-Mart or Walgreens but not for worship.  We will tune in and tune out depending upon our preferences and feelings but we will not surrender our desires easily or quickly.  

I do not intend to sound bitter but it may come across that way.  In the early 1900s my home church suffered a devastating fire.  All was lost but a Bible and Agenda.  As World War I raged, they rebuilt without incurring a debt and did not spare altar, raised pulpit, lectern, font, crucifix, Thorvaldsen figure of Christ, and sterling silver chalice, host box, flagon, paten, and ewer.  They had no idea how long they would serve this congregation but they refused to offer God any less than their best.  I am not sure what might happen today.  

Every pastor I know tries to be frugal with the tithes and offerings given by God's people and yet, if that pastor has integrity, they will urge the people of God to offer God their best for His glory.  Beauty is not an end but serves both God and His Gospel.  We do our best with what God has entrusted to us.  Nothing more can be expected but nothing less should be dared.  That is the principle we used when we added on to the building where I serve now.  Though twenty years have passed, I still cringe at the notes from some who believed it would have been better to spending nothing on beauty and instead use what was spent to feed the hungry or aid the poor.  It remains a difficult proposition to convince the naysayers that good stewardship was served by the choices made and the dollars spent but it is even more difficult to convince them that beauty is worth anything -- even in service to God!  And that is frustrating.

The reason for this is

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