Wednesday, January 27, 2010

God and Beauty; Part One

Excerpt from The God Question: In Invitation to a Life of Meaning by J.P Moreland (2009)

According to Christianity, the world is not the way it was intended to be. More specifically, death, disease, suffering, and other forms of evil are not part of God’s ideal blueprint for the world. But in spite of evil, the world is still overwhelmingly filled with good thing. In fact, the widespread presence of gratuitous beauty—beauty that seems to serve no additional function besides just being beautiful—is powerful evidence for a Grand Artist.

Artists skillfully bring parts of a statue or painting together to form symmetry, elegance, and so forth. They effectively use just the right color coordination or the proper harmony of notes and sounds to create beautiful things. But these features and more characterize the world far, far beyond the meager ability of humans to imitate them. In fact, design and beauty should not be discussed in the abstract. The power and force of beauty comes from carefully attending to specific cases of it: a butterfly, the way a baby is formed in the womb, sunset over Maui, the Alps, the fish that fill the oceans. The world is teeming with overwhelming beauty.

…If God does not exist, then the best atheistic account of how everything got here would be a strictly scientific account told in terms of chemistry and physics. But science can only tell a story of what is the case. It can say nothing about what ought to be the case; this cannot even use the category of intrinsic goodness or value, much less offer an explanation of how it is intrinsically valuable, good, beautiful, wise, and so forth. So if God exists, we have a powerful explanation of how subsequent beauty could come to characterize our universe. But if God does not exist, we have no story of how this could be. (pp.71-72 emphasis added)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"The Listeners" by Walter de la Mare

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor.

And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.

But no-one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.

But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:

Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.

And he felt in his heart a strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;

For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head: -
‘Tell them I came, and no-one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.

Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:

Aye, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hooves were gone.

Walter de la Mare, in de la Mare 1939

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Hey Buddy, Got a Light?"

As my first blog for the New Year, I am actually looking back to Christmas 2009. This is the essay and picture sent to me from my friend Douglas Long. I asked him for permisson to share his Christmas essay on my blog, which he graciously did.

Here it is, with the picture.


Let the lower lights be burning, Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting struggling seaman, You may rescue, you may save.

The Bible is riddled with the word "light", from the creation of light at
Genesis 1:3 to the announcement of its obsolescence at Revelation 22:5. We would be hard-pressed not to mine multiple metaphors from this inventory. Dwight L. Moody did so when he told of a ship approaching Cleveland harbor on a dark and stormy night. The lighthouse was doing its thing, but the "lowerlights" --illuminations from nearby buildings, perhaps supplementary lamps at the shore line below the lighthouse -- were out, causing the ship to miss the harbor and crash to destruction against the rocks. Moody drew from Luke 12:35 to equate believers to "lower lights" witnessing for the big Light.

Philip P. Bliss heard the sermon. His resulting hymn was published in 1871 and became beloved across the land. Forty-some years later, my father's father sang it to his children. My church sang it at my father's memorial service. Meanwhile, irony visited Bliss in Ohio on December 29, 1876, when,on his way to Chicago from Syracuse, New York, he died in the notorious Ashtabula bridge collapse that dashed his train against the ravine below, for no lights warned of the faulty structure, which was only eleven years old.

I have a young friend who industriously combines university with helping produce Christian movies ( In her Advent letter, she opines: "Film at its most basic is the art of capturing light." My dad knew this. In 1953 he purchased a new camera, loaded it with Kodachrome, and tested it on handy subjects, including the ten-year-old girl next door. In February, 1959, the girl and her family moved away. In February of this year,while sorting some slides in my dad's files, I stumbled upon his photos of the girl. On a whim I looked up her name on the internet. Though dubious about finding anything, in frighteningly few minutes I discovered that she was long dead and her mother had died just months earlier, survived by the girl's father and younger sister and brother. In May my brother and I walked into an Olive Garden in Syracuse and beheld for the first time in over fifty years the lovely sister of our father's subject. We left three hours later only because the restaurant was closing. Four days later I lunched with her and her father. All this happened because my dad captured light.

In August I visited a high-school classmate in Idaho. I was astonished that the first person to greet me was her first husband, also a classmate, who,unbeknownst to me, had moved up from Arizona. She'd been to some of our reunions, but I didn't recall seeing him since our graduation 49 years back. Their progeny had now gained them thirteen great-grandchildren, plus two more coming. A substantial subset of this crowd used my appearance as an excuse to get together for a merry meal in my hosts' huge garage. Afterward the current spouses of my classmates bemusedly looked on as we perused the photos in our yearbook. Precious memories, how they linger, aided by captured light.

At the end of October I called upon a gal who'd been in kindergarten with me as well as on through high school. Alas, at this visit there would be not even a snack to share in joyful reunion, for she had quit eating. Her caretaker graciously granted me a few minutes at her bedside. Three days later some friends near my home prayed earnestly for this person they did not know. They, and I, also did not know that she had died the day before. But what is time to God? Some day we might learn what light she had captured, what unspeakable feast awaited her.

Pace Bliss's refrain, we don't save anybody; the big Light does. We are to be Kodachrome, soaking up the Light of the gospel and doubling as projector at auspicious moments to show our slides, or movies, wary that for some the big Light will not register (Luke 16:31, John 12:40). The score is not ours to keep; we ought simply to be in awe that God appointed us to be even low-watt bulbs helping others avoid rocky shores and bad bridges by capturing His light. We should shine carefully, for fallible filaments can go awry: tungsten light, for example, causes Kodachrome to cast everything in yellow.

Yes, I know, Mama Kodak took away our Kodachrome this year. But she can't take away our metaphors. The big Light terrified the shepherds at first, then filled them with praise (Luke 2:8 - 20). They became Kodachrome, almost 2000 years before it existed. They shared with the Lightless.

But Mary captured all these things, pondering them in her Kodachrome.