Thursday, April 08, 2010


My newsletter article this week:

Dostoevsky said that man, in the end, will be saved by beauty -- or nothing. What he meant by that I think is that there is nothing in the world with the power to change hearts and inspire minds like beauty. Music, stories, poetry, film, photography, the natural world - all have the capacity to lift our hearts and inspire our own creativity. They touch us at a deep level; they inspire us to find our own talents and add our own beauty to the world.

I am a political animal. I read and watch and think politics. Occasionally I dive in and get involved. I think politics is important. Politics is about the distribution of power and resources and it matters to me that power and resources not be concentrated in the hands of a few. Good politics levels the playing field, knocks down walls and ceilings of injustice, puts food on the table for families.

But the older I get the more I am convinced of the limit of politics. By itself, the practice of modern politics tends toward the corrosive. It wears people down. Spend a day watching FOX or CNN and I think you will know what I mean.

It is interesting to me to think about how much the church, and here I am thinking specifically about Christianity in America, has come to see so much of its mission as political. That is what the culture wars are all about - fighting over who has the power to decide what values will predominate in the public square. Both conservative and liberal Christians have joined the fight. We often define our Christianity and our faith by our responses to these political battles.

I do not share with my Anabaptist ancestors or even some of my friends the belief that we should not even be participating in politics. Again, I think it is important and I think the church should encourage political involvement. Justice matters.

I think, though, that our passion for justice needs to be balanced by attention to beauty. If it seems strange to think about beauty as a church task, remember that there was a time when the church was considered the chief patron of the arts, in music, literature, architecture, art. Of course they were also often the only game in town, the only institution with the resources to support artists.

But there was something else going on as well. The church placed a high value on beauty because it believed that creativity and beauty were characteristics of God and God's creation. To experience and create beauty brought us closer to God. The experience and creation of beauty are not peripheral to what it means to be Christian or spiritual.

What got me thinking about beauty? The music in church on Sunday and the beauty that is breaking out all around us this spring. Both were and are inspiring. I hope you have a beautiful day.

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