Beauty Surrenders to Entropy

Beauty is profound.  Beauty is awe-inspiring.  Beauty touches the soul.  All true.  But we are protected from worshiping at her altar because all that is beautiful is subject to entropy.

Isaiah 40:6b-8 All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

We are all desperately familiar with the fact that the work of our hands must be done, and redone and done again – the garden must be weeded, and pruned.  The clothing frays.  The buildings crumble.  But even the beauty of nature is subject to entropy.  Cliffs fall.  Beautiful hillsides burn.  Stars implode.

Beauty calls us to the Transcendent, but Beauty is not God.   Entropy is there to remind us of this, until the day when Death itself is killed.

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Beauty challenges us

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Natural beauty is something that I’m well acquainted with.  I’ve hiked the Sierra Nevada, camped in the Borrego Desert, and I’m five minutes away from the Pacific Ocean.   None of those places, as beautiful as they are, affected me the way that Point Lobos did.  Point Lobos is so beautiful that it makes your teeth ache.  Every twist in the path brings you to a view that is better than the one you left behind – something you’d think impossible.   Paths strewn with abalone sand, faintly iridescent.  Gem colored water.  The smell of pines and salt water, the sound of waves and barking seals.

The sheer amount of beauty overwhelmed me, and filled me with awe and reverence.  This is the only place I’ve ever been where I vowed to come back dressed properly – my bright shirt and shorts were wrong.  I stood there, looking out, and thought, “This place could cure your heart – or break it”.

Its beauty challenged me.  It offered to heal me,  but it wasn’t soft.  So much beauty, piercing the heart, bringing light to the dark.  But it challenged – if you chose to keep your heart shuttered tight, not to let the light in, one step forward off the trail would solve your problems for life.

True beauty creates awe.   It challenges you to change, to come alongside it, to become a part of it.  But it does not flex or soften its intensity, its power.  It is – will you live with it, or not?

Someday I’ll get back to Point Lobos, and when I do – I’ll be properly dressed.

Hidden Beauty

One of my parents’ students from China dropped by to see them last night, and I had an interesting chat with him about hiding beauty during the Cultural Revolution.

He was eight when it started… he remembered the Protestant church next door the day they brought out all the illustrated books and pictures, piled them in the courtyard and burned them.  He remembered being in high school, and secretly passing around great works of Western literature, finishing a 500pg novel in a night, because that was all the time he was allotted.  He remembered a few friends with whom he’d gather privately, and listen to Beethoven.

When we arrived in China, in 1980, the Cultural Revolution was officially over – but you couldn’t tell for looking.   Flowers and grass were considered decadent, pigs and geese wandering around the common areas eating off the trash piles were common.  I couldn’t tell you how many destroyed works of art that I saw – grass grown over a toppled statue, faces smashed off of a bas relief carved into a mountainside.   Everyone wore identical blue padded jackets and pants, and almost every woman I saw had her hair cut short.  Beauty was suspect.

But it was there.  Under the blue cotton of those padded jackets was silk brocade in myriad colors.  (Silk is an excellent insulator).  Under the official demeanor, my parents made true friend after friend, people starving for intelligent discussions, freedom of thought.   When we moved into our own apartment, my parents ended up throwing party after party – officially because one had to entertain the foreigners, but my parents weren’t party people.  No, they’d be packed with folks desperate to have an excuse to dance, get together, laugh.

I will never forget seeing the aging couple waltzing more beautifully than many professional dancers.  Both wearing their official blue padded jammies, of course.  They’d learned in another time – the time when Harbin was known as the Paris of the East.  I wonder how many nights they’d danced together, quietly so as to not let on to the neighbors.  How brave they were, to show so many others their skills once again.

Beauty lived on, even under the weight of the official lies.  Beauty was valued, even at the high cost that might be charged at any minute, were you found out.  Beauty has power.

And beauty cannot be covered in lies.  Oh, I remember being taken on lots of official tours. I was greatly fortunate to be able to walk through the Forbidden City, tour the Imperial Palace up close, see those treasures which had not been destroyed – carved jade that would make a sculptor weep.  I remember how annoyed the official tour guides were that we had no  interest in seeing industrial factories (although the callous disregard for safety has stayed with me for a lifetime*) but that we wanted to see yet more artifacts from their Imperial past.   They wanted to forget those things… but we didn’t.

I wonder sometimes if some of what made China amazing has managed to finally be destroyed by capitalism – accepting shoddy for true, ignoring details in order to cheapen the products… Well, even this.  True beauty shines above its imitators like a diamond in a pile of plastic crystals.  It embarrasses the counterfeiters.

True beauty is of great value, intrinsic value.  It speaks to the heart and cannot be denied.

A concept worth pondering.

 

*I will never forget being toured through the metal factory.   We were only 10 feet away from a waterfall of molten metal – not a bit of safety equipment.  That didn’t surprise my ignorant eight-year-old self, but what did was the man 2 feet away from that metal-fall.  He was wearing the same cotton clothing that we were, his only ‘”safety equipment” a pair of cloth gloves.  You don’t have to be an adult to get the instant lesson that human life was worth absolutely nothing to whoever was running the show.  I was definitely impressed.

The TC Tribe

This corner of the ‘net used to come and hang out at a group-blog called Traditional Christianity.   It was a rare post that netted fewer than two-dozen replies, and more than a few posts had replies for three or four pages.  That blog served as a (more or less) neutral zone where we could get comfy, exchange ideas, and get to know like minded folks.

Little problem with that… it was taking 3-4 hours/day for the ladies who ran it to keep things under some semblance of control.   So, a stack of us ran off to a private board, so we could take our hair down, chat more intimately, and do a lot less work.   But generating the idea-talk that kept the men interested (without a lot of fresh influx of ideas) was another huge pile of work, and when the women just got comfy and talked life, the men got bored and left.  Then the women started wandering off, one by one…

Some of them had the temerity to get lives.  Jobs.  Things to do off the ‘net.  I know, unbelievable.   The few of us who were left found that it became a ghost-town.

I started another private group, hoping that some new blood would bring back that activity and freshness.   Nope.  Folks didn’t get on very well, people got bored, they left.  Just like parties, I’m only good at setting things up and putting out snacks.  Y’all have to provide the entertainment.   And no, “If you build it, they will come” is NOT a true-ism.  Also, I’m pretty libertarian by nature.  I have a short list of rules for common decency – I’ll avoid you if I don’t like you, but discipline you?  It doesn’t occur to me.

Now, through these various groups, I’ve made some close friends.  We keep up with one-another’s blogs, we email sometimes, quite a few of them have my phone number… etc.  That is of unspeakable benefit.

But I miss TC.  I don’t miss spending four hours arguing (oh, I’m so lying, I do – but it’s not beneficial) but I miss the constant flow of ideas.  I learned so much!

It seems like the last few years, we’ve drifted off from each other, the big TC tribe has split into endless micro-tribes.  Each one of those micro-tribes prescribes acceptable behavior for their in-groups.  That’s their right.  But I miss being aligned with folks who just had a few things in common:  1) Christianity  2) Intelligence  3) A love for a good idea.   You don’t get to tell me how to do life, I don’t get to tell you how to do life, we’re just here to talk about stuff that’s interesting.  You can make recommendations and argue your position, but that’s different.  🙂  I miss some of the ladies who left for real life (yes, Alte, I’m talking about you).

(I think half the “introverts” in the world are just people who’d rather exchange ideas for fun rather than going out and doing things.  I have communities of people with whom I do things, like attend church or work out, I don’t have any communities of people I can *talk* to.   The mind-hunger is real).

The differences of opinion, the differences in life-style, and the sincerity with which we attacked them, those things really made TC great.

I don’t want a little tiny tribe where I have to sit in a little tiny box to be “good enough” to hang around.  I want a big tribe where I can be me, and I can appreciate others for their them-ness.  (Or avoid them for being jerks, whatever).   There are the things that are important (following Christ) and the things that aren’t (denim jumpers).  Fresh air, fresh light, a flow – if you don’t get those in, you die.

No, I’m not setting up yet another private board, and I don’t have the time to set up another TC, even if I had the gifts, which I don’t.  I just wanted to talk about my tribe, and that I miss it.  The little tribelets don’t fit.  I’m glad of my friends – very, very, very glad of my friends – but I miss the flow, the intellectual stimulation, the new thoughts.

And maybe I’m hoping someone out there *would* like to be the person (or persons) who hosts the next neutral zone…

We’re overdue for a family reunion.

Wild Beauty

God is the source of all beauty.

God is the Creator, and His creation is perfect.

God is a god of order.

Thus, the Wild (untouched by man’s hands or the ugliness of the Fall) is the perfect example of order.

The Wilderness draws our hearts and inspires us and causes us to point and say, “this is beauty” every day… and yet sometimes when humans create order, we try to move so far away from entropy that we leave the Wild behind, and in its place we create sterility.

Wild is beauty.

Gordian Knot

We try to figure out how we got in the mess we’re in right now, and as much as I enjoy playing with ideas, I think it tends to look a lot like this:

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credit patrick corrigan, found on google

Where’s the end of the string?  Do we look at culture, the loss of religion in school, marriage????  And if we unraveled things back a layer, wouldn’t we find another pile of knots to work on?  It’s not as if there weren’t serious societal problems 50 or 100 years ago.

Again, not that I’m not interested.  I do think it’s quite interesting, and fun to think about.

But ultimately, the solution isn’t in our untangling the knot.  The solution is in the sword.

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For now, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  If you want to get right, really right – get right with God and the rest will sort itself out in time.  If you want to fix the mess, make converts and disciple them and teach them to burn for the Lord and have lives that reflect His glory.  The ropes just fall away…

For soon, the sword borne by our Lord in conquest, when all will be set right and justice will return to our poor earth.

Talking about “we should unravel” … um.  The World has always been a Gordian knot.  Only the sword can solve this problem.

 

Hands should not covet ears

At prayer meeting last night and one of the other ladies and I just went OFF on how beautiful the body of Christ is, especially when we’re all operating as we ought.  (We were talking about the spiritual gifts).

Thing is that we are a body.  We’re supposed to use the gifts that we’ve been given, thoroughly and in total submission to Christ.  We aren’t supposed to sigh heavily and envy someone else’s giftings, which is what a lot of us do.  Sure.  Pursue (in prayer) all the gifts.  But you still have a job to do.  What is it?  Do that.

My job is counsel.  People have been coming to me to tell me horrible things since I was just out of high school.   I didn’t ask for that job, people just started talking to me.  My gifts are necessary to do my job.  And the spiritual part of my gifts have grown over the years, as I’ve sought God.

Yes, I’ve been able to feel God’s presence since … always.  What that means is that sometimes when I’m counseling, I’ll think up something clever, and God will stuff a sock in my mouth and I don’t get to say my clever thought.   Or He’ll press me to say something I would really rather not say.    His felt presence is necessary to my work for Him.

Confession:  I’ve always wanted evangelism.  Always felt less because I couldn’t “seal the deal” no matter how hard I tried.  (I do evangelize, I don’t have the gift).  I grew up Baptist – if you’re a good Baptist, you make conversions!  And I didn’t.  I don’t.   My family is full of gifted evangelists.  I’m not one of them.

I think some of what feeds this envy is that we each see the need, right where we are.  I see the need for more folks to go out and love people.  (Oy.  Awkward things to ask for – the gift of love.  Now I can’t NOT love most people I spend any time with).  I see heart after heart in need of a friend to stand alongside them, pull them out of their shell a bit, and love on them.  I can’t do as much as I’d like.

And the evangelists go nuts seeing people not be told the gospel.  The helpers see the mess.  The healers see the sick.  The teachers see the ignorant.   We all pull at each other, begging for help!  And that doesn’t help the envy problem.  Now I don’t just see my lack, I see the problem *and* my lack.  Ugh.

But we’re not called to win the battle, we’re called to fight.   We’re not called to fix the problem, we’re called to get up and do our bit.

Did you get up today, did you do your bit?  Was that your bit to do?  Then stop worrying about what’s on someone else’s plate.   If you’re supposed to dig ditches, you get issued a shovel, and if you’re supposed to pound nails, you get issued a hammer.   That’s how this works.  We’re a body, we work together for Him.