Open Table on “The Beautiful”

Friday 6 October 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the third transcendental, THE BEAUTIFUL

Bring a main dish to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus below, at Nik and Dave Benson’s place, 152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs, at 7:30pm. Any questions? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Leunig_CellBeautyUniverse.jpeg

Art | Michael Leunig, Glorious Gravel [My title! Image above]
Text | Exodus 28: 1-5, 31-41 “Clothing for the Priests”
Extra | Plotinus (3rd Century BCE, Greek Philosopher) Enneads I.6 “On Beauty” (4 minute video grab or full text here, especially §3-4,6) OR Hans Urs von Balthasar excerpt on Beauty here.

What does beauty mean to you? And when’s the last time you used the word “beautiful”? As an adjective, it seems capable of qualifying almost anything. A beautiful … sunset, dress, speech, meal, painting, putt, mind, person. The list goes on.

Related imageIn delving into this theme, I discovered a Spotify playlist with 1.5 million followers entitled “The Most Beautiful Songs in the World.” And I stumbled upon “Euler’s Identity”, voted by physicists as “the most beautiful equation”. If you failed senior maths, this will strike you as bizarre. And yet, this formula is arguably beautiful as it travels together with truth—spirituality and science strangely coinhering—and it takes an exceptionally trained mind to see and appreciate a dance of complexity and elegance representing “some of the most profound rules that govern the Universe and everything in it.” This appreciation often travels together with cultivating a poetic or musical ear to discern acoustic order. For those lacking ears to hear or eyes to see, however, it’s almost impossible to define what makes it a thing of beauty, and ultimately—philosophically and theologically—what beauty means.

Simplistically defined, beautiful means “pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically”. Anything or anyone that can elicit this perceptual experience of satisfaction in another is labelled “beautiful”. Sounds like it’s more about the spectator, rather than a quality in the object itself, held to some higher standard. You know, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

Image result for beautySearch “beauty” on google images, and you’re bombarded with breezy pictures of young women, often plastered with make-up and typically caucasian. No wonder singers like Christina Aguilera (“You Are Beautiful”) and Marilyn Manson (“The Beautiful People”) deconstruct the stereotypes which have shut our eyes to the diffuse beauty of a thousand flowers blooming in all shapes and sizes—rarely confined to what the market conditions us to consume.

Besides which, as we learn from stories as disparate as Shallow Hal, Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, and The Picture of Dorion Gray, physical and moral beauty in a broken world rarely travel together. The recently deceased Hugh Hefner may have surrounded himself with stunning Playboy Bunnies, but no one dedicates his eulogy to a beautiful life well lived among paragons of pulchritude. Bottom line: we must be cautious before reducing “beauty” to any one look.

Image result for beauty is not in the eye of the beholderAnd yet, these caveats fail to dismiss beauty as merely subjective. As Alain de Botton observes in his School of Life video, our language, photography and travel plans reveal amazing overlap in what images and destinations we find attractive; on the grounds of democracy alone, there seems to be something objective to beauty, which we ignore to the detriment of all. Which city needs another ugly concrete skyscraper? Beauty is intended to draw us onward and upward. In Dwayne Huebner’s words, it’s the “lure of the transcendent”.

Now, you could argue that this allure is simply explained by survival. Humans are like Bower Birds, seeking out beautiful blue objects to adorn our nests, even bodies, drawing a partner to propagate our species. And yet, the sheer excess—even superfluity—and diversity of beauty in our universe overflows such reductionism. Instead, it appears to point beyond itself to something that perhaps truly is “beautiful” in essence … an ideal, or form of sorts—even as I have some theological qualms with neo-Platonism as a Greek philosophy distorting Christianity’s affirmation of the material world as “very good” apart from disembodied ideas.

Image result for leunig starDespite our post-modern penchant for inverting age-old symbols, Michael Leunig suggests that the best “art … is not entirely of this world. … Perhaps it is a flight into beauty and eternity.” Rightly oriented, it is capable of directing our gaze heavenward, passing through and beyond our mundane material existence.

In the words of C. S. Lewis,

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Image result for leunig sun tvIn this same stunning essay, The Weight of Glory (1942), Lewis notes that beauty and “glory”, biblically framed, do travel together. (Or, in Jonathan Edwards’ theology, like flares from the Sun, we perceive beauty as an emanation from a radiant Triune source.) Far from trite conceptions of becoming “a kind of living electric light bulb”, our human longing for glory makes sense like our human fascination with watching the sunrise. Granted, it’s an imperfect sign. But it’s a faithful pointer to something more. Glory is “brightness, splendour, luminosity.” More than perceiving beauty, stimulating our senses, in a very real way we want “to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” And this process quite often passes through pain, being remade, reconstituted even by a reality beyond our control. Collateral Beauty may thus sneak up on us, shining through our darkest times of suffering.

Related imagePerhaps this is why we find truly “beautiful souls”—especially those who have emerged through struggle with battle-scars and yet a soft heart—so attractive? They graciously wear the virtues in which we long to be clothed. Thus the Bible persistently refers to putting on “the beauty of holiness” (e.g., Psalms 29:2; 96:9; cf. here), reflecting The Beautiful, being Godself. It takes a radiant character like Beatrice to draw damned Dante out of the Inferno and into Paradise. Similarly, our artwork, our creativity, even our fashion may in a real sense be drawing us to mimic and experience—albeit imperfectly like young girls smearing bright red lipstick on their face, yearning to be like their model mums—a beauty of character that is more than skin deep. We increasingly transform into the likeness of what we admire, imitating what we magnify and that upon which we meditate. In short, we become what we worship.

Maybe this is why God went to the trouble of prescribing Aaron’s outfit, as Israel’s High Priest, holy and whole in “glorious and beautiful” attire (Exodus 28)? Dressed in holiness we can see God; lacking the gracious covering of divine beauty, we risk being consumed in the encounter.

And thus we loop back to our original observation. Beauty can qualify most anything. But, like the 14th Century Italian employment of Botticelli to depict Fortitude, Beauty comes into its own when it illuminates virtue and aligns with the way God intended the world to be, “danc[ing] as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another” (von Balthasar).

Gifts Glittering and PoisonedNot all that glitters is gold, this is true. In the history of empire, circuses and spectacle have been used to deceive and poison the masses, obscuring the really real. “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting …” (Proverbs 31:30). And yet, gold does have a glitter meaningful in and of itself, pointing beyond to Beauty, perhaps even a transcendent source of unfading glory we call “God”. As the editors of the Kalos (Greek for Beautiful) book series aver,

[the beautiful] is the call of the good; that which arouses interest, desire: “I am here.” Beauty brings the appetite to rest at the same time as it wakens the mind from its daily slumber, calling us to look afresh at that which is before our very eyes. It makes virgins of us all, and of everything—there, before us, lies something that we never noticed before. Beauty consists in integritas sive perfectio [integrity and perfection] and claritas [brightness/clarity]. It is the reason why we rise and why we sleep—that great night of dependence, one that reveals the borrowed existence of all things …. Here lies the ground of all science, of philosophy, and of all theology, indeed of our each and every day.

photo-montage-1514221_1280.jpgBringing this wide-ranging provocation to a close, what story, person, experience or object from your life comes to mind when you think of beauty? When do you typically employ the qualifier, beautiful? And is there any sense in which you believe—or, better yet, have tasted—that your subjective encounter with beauty points to The Beautiful, as the third transcendental, travelling with her sisters, The True and the Good?

Let the conversation begin!

(Post) Truth @ Open Table

manifesto for post truth artFriday 9 June 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the first transcendental, TRUTH

 

In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries named “Post-Truth” (video here and here) their Word of the Year. Post-Truth:
adj. “
relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion or personal belief.” In short, emotion beats truth.
posttruthSure, it’s associated with politics in this Trump-esque age of “truthful hyperbole” and rule by Tweet. And yet, it seems to be a “general characteristic of our age”. Art becomes propaganda, and we’re trapped in an infinite echo-chamber.

colbert truthinessStephen Colbert calls it “truthiness“: a claim grounded on nothing more than a feeling deep in our gut of its actual “truth”. (For Colbert, “post-truth” and “Trumpiness” is simply a contemporary rip-off of “truthiness” [5 mins on]), defined as “The belief in what you feel to be true rather than what the facts will support”. Social media opinions have swallowed verifiable propositions (see here, here and here), leaving us simultaneously sceptical of any truth claims and–without any recognised authorities nor clear criteria and character to search out what’s right–defenseless against unchecked spin. Who, then, to trust?

honestyOf course, this isn’t a new issue. Back in 1978, Billy Joel was already lamenting the loss of “Honesty” (lyrics here): “If you look for truthfulness, you might just as well be blind; it always seems to be so hard to give. … Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you.”

At the philosophical level, then, we wonder: what is truth? Can it be discerned, and what are the criteria? Does intuition and gut instinct (a la Michael Polanyi’s “tacit and personal knowledge”) have a role to play? Is there even such a thing as “truth”, and “facts”, or is all we say simply subjective and language-bound? But in this Open Table night of sharing, we’re getting personal. With Billy Joel, we’re coming clean that “All I want is someone to believe.”

Ecce_homo_by_Antonio_Ciseri_(1)Who, if anyone, can you trust? What does it mean for a person to be “true”, even “The Truth” (cf. Jn 14:6)? Why extend this faith? On what basis can we have confidence that our deepest beliefs, or what another tells us, is actually “true” and worth believing, beyond the spin? And if we fail to trust anyone in our post-truth society, what is the personal and cultural fall out?

PostTruthPortrait_DoronNoyman2017Check out the stimulus below, and come with a personal story to share that embodies this quest for “truth” and someone to believe.

Art: Doron Noyman’s “Post-Truth Portrait” (2017) + Antonio Ciseri’s “Ecce Homo” (1871; the title means “Behold, The Man,” from the Latin Vulgate John 19:5, Pilate to Jesus]). You might also find stimulating Leunig’s cartoon “The Big Picture” (from his DVD, Melancholy)

Poetry/Song: Billy Joel’s “Honesty” (1978; video clip + lyrics)

Scripture: John 18:28-19:16 (esp. 18:33-38), as Pilate questions Jesus: “What Is Truth?” (Jn 18:38)

(And if you’re really wanting to delve deep into this topic, check out John Stackhouse’s 2014 book, Need to Know: Vocation As the Heart of Christian Epistemology, and Esther Lightcap Meek’s 2011, Loving to Know: Covenant Epistemology)

Open Table on LOVE

banksy-girl-and-balloon-london-2002

Friday 10 March 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the third theological virtue, LOVE

Art: Leunig’s animated cartoon “Heart on a String” (from his DVD, Whimsy)
Also Banksy’s “Girl and Balloon“, from his 2002 East London stencil. (We’ll also bounce off his 2014 reworking, “Syrian Balloon Girl“, as part of the “Stand with Syria” campaign: video here.)

Image result for smith "you are what you love"Scripture: John 15:9-17, as Jesus drops the “Great Commandment” on his disciples, bracing them for persecution and passionate mission after he departs

(And if you’re really wanting to delve deep into this topic, check out Jamie Smith’s 2016 book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.)

Friday June 9 2017 | Open Table, on the theme of the first transcendental, TRUTH.

Since 2016, we’ve been hosting semi-regular Open Table gatherings. So far we’ve explored HOSPITALITY, before getting into the theological virtues of FAITH, HOPE & LOVE. From there, we’ll launch into the transcendentals, TRUTH, GOODNESS & BEAUTY. Paul’s advice has led the way:

Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).

All welcome from 6:30pm onwards, but officially we’ll kick off at 7pm, and be done around 9pm. It’s pretty informal, but coming on time helps the group hang together.

XP is obviously Christian! That said, it’s not “religious” in the sense that you can only come if you’re a churchy kind of person.
This night in particular is a community event.

Everyone has a story. And God’s story interweaves with our own, often in ways we can’t even see.
It takes a face-to-face encounter with those who are different from us to draw it out.

So, this night is open to everyone. Bring a friend.

There is no r.s.v.p. That said, it’s a massive help if you bring something small to contribute to the meal.  Bring something for a main dish that you would enjoy eating, and if you’re feeling lavish, bring a bottle too! We’ll provide dessert and some extra drinks. And if you forget to grab something, don’t let that stop you. Come anyway!

Sgreenso, what exactly is OPEN TABLE?

Imagine communion as a true meal, sharing stories around a central theme, and seeing how our stories tie into God’s story of mission to redeem (and reconnect) a broken world.

The themes are as deep and varied as life itself: love, hate, work, pain, hope, reconciliation, creativity, evil, wisdom, healing, purpose, violence, confusion, destiny …

Whatever the theme for that week sparks in you is fair game. You can even bring along a song, a piece of art, a movie clip, a photo, an artifact … bring whatever helps you tell a scene from your personal story.

We will typically post one passage from the Bible alongside that theme. No preaching, but picture an open dialogue about how this story resonates with your own. Perhaps together we’ll see how in God we really do live, move, and have our being.

Feel free to post your ideas for themes and passages also

… we’re keen for this to become an authentic/real community.

Looking forward to hosting you in our house, as strangers become friends.

Art Stimuli: Community & Growth

 

Scream_EdvardMunch “The Scream”, Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944)

SacredHeart “The Sacred Heart” (of Jesus) in stainglass

Jelly heart  Everyday Practice Reminder: Jelly Heart.

“Lord, give me a heart of flesh”

last supper The Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci (1494-1499)

table of hope joey velasco The Table of Hope, Joey Velasco

joey velasco V joey velasco IV joey velasco III joey velasco II additional Joey Velasco works

American War Cemetery Personal Reflection Activity

vulture stalks child Vulture Stalking a child, Kevin Carter, 1993 (Sudan).

Prodigal son Rembrandt  The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt (1661-9)

the forgiving father ‘the forgiving father’ by Frank Wesley

Light of the world  Light of the World, William Holman Hunt (1851-3)

The wedding feast at cana  The Wedding Feast at Cana, Paolo Veronese (1563, The Louvre)

the marriage at cana The Marriage at Cana, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen (1530, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam)

 

 

Art Stimuli: Kingdom Calling

Week 1: “The Banjo Player” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_The_Banjo_Lesson

Week 4: “In His Image” by William Zadanak

In his image by William Zadanak

Week 5: “The World Turns” by Michael Parekowhai

the world turns michael parekowhai 2 the world turns michael parekowhai 1

Week 8: “Fellow Humans” by Stephen Hart

fellow humans by stephen hart

Week 9: Poetry and Prayer

poetry 1poetry 2

Practices Images:

Week 1: Overflowing Vessel & Week 2: Clay pot

XP vessel and sponge clay pot 2

Week 5: Relinquishing Activity using Helium Baloon

Relinquish image xp balloons II XP balloons

Week 6: “Beattitudes”, “Children of God” by Desmond Tutu

beatitudes children's story tutu

Week 7: Night Sky Listening

Night Sky listening

Week 8: Cord Plaiting

Plaiting Cord

 

Art Stimuli: Desiring the Kingdom

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio (wk 1);

Supper at Emmaus

“Objects and Ornithology Series” by Deb Mostert (wk 2)

Objects and Ornithology 2Objects and Ornithology 1

“Christ Pantocrator” (wk 3);

Christ Pantocrator

“Prince of Peace” by Akiane Kramarik (wk 3);

Prince of Peace

and “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” movie trailer (wk 3)

The Chronicles of Narnia

“Forgiven” by Thomas Blackshear (wk 4);

Forgiven

ANZAC image (wk 4)

ANZAC

“Sacrifice” by Rayner Hoff (wk 4)

Sacrifice

“Baptism” by Nolan Lee (wk 5);

Baptism

“Feasting Table”; “The Plodder” by Michael Leunig (wk 5)

The plodder

The “West” Window of Coventry Cathedral glass etchings by John Hutton (wk 6)

coventry cathedral 7