Monday, March 21, 2011

Weekend Gratitude: Just Beauty

Weekend Gratitude: Just Beauty

Dear friends,

My Weekend Gratitude series continues!  This week, which is probably the final one, I would like to explore the theme of "Just Beauty" -- with the word "just" having a double meaning.  It could be "only beauty" or it could be "beauty that is filled with justice."  We'll get to that along the way.  I think you'll enjoy some of my photographs, a little smidgen of beauty for your eyes.

I actually thought I wouldn't have much of anything to write this week, but as usual, it happens and I write.  Saturday wasn't much of anything exciting.  I spent just about the entire day cleaning and organizing the house, corralling the laundry, and writing lesson plans for this week of home schooling.  As I think back, though, at my attempts at a bringing about "aesthetic acceptability" in my home, I remember that part of beauty is found in a reasonable amount of orderliness, and it is certainly "just" the right thing to do to serve my family.  In other words, clutter ain't purty!

So Saturday night I went to bed tired but happy, with a fresh batch of banana bread waiting in the refrigerator for morning.

Church doesn't start until 10:45 AM on Sundays, so before we left, I had a chance to read another chapter of Tim Keller's book Generous JusticeIt has been confirming what's been in my heart in recent years about God's call for his people in being like Jesus, serving the poor and oppressed In earlier chapters, Keller wrote about two kinds of justice that God commands.  Tzadeqah is primary justice: living in right relationships, being kind, fair, and generous.  Mishpat is rectifying justice: punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment.  Both are necessary.  I wish I could read this book all in one shot, but I've had to graze at it.

At church, we noticed a few people sitting with Calvin, whom I mentioned a month ago in my post Weekend Gratitude is Getting to Be a Habit.  I had just discovered that his  father, Craig Garriott, pastors a multi-cultural justice-minded PCA church, Faith Christian Fellowship in Baltimore where by divine coincidence, my childhood friend Anne is a member, along with her husband, kids, and parents. Anne had invited me to Timonium Presbyterian Church when we were in 8th grade, and her parents picked me up every week for two years until my family moved to Virginia.   I am eternally grateful for them.  Read more about that here.  As it turns out, the folks sitting with Calvin were his own parents and his youngest sister.  I'm really grateful that I had a chance to chat with them.  His mother, Maria Garriott, mentioned that she is just publishing a new edition of her book One Thousand Resurrections: An Urban Spiritual Journey about their experience in inner-city ministry.  I'm looking forward to reading it soon! I know it will show me how one family and church has fleshed out what Tim Keller writes.

During the service, we also heard from one of our elders, Bart Johnson, and his friend Tim Benson, who are now en route to Japan with a small team of Christians to bring relief to Sendai, population one million, which sustained devastating earthquake and tsunami damage.   Tim, a student at Reformed Theological Seminary, lived in Japan for a couple of years and intends to return as a missionary.  Bart has also served on at least one mission trip in Japan.  It is heartening to see them take tzadeqah justice seriously.

After lunch, my husband  was kind enough to let me take off with Lydia, Andrew and Micah to go to the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival for a few hours before youth group started. A wonderful field trip, to be sure, especially since Lydia and Micah are both quite artistic. This free festival draws a mind-boggling few hundred thousand visitors a year.  We moseyed around the booths, listening to the live jazz music without buying a single thing.  Micah and I sure did take a lot of pictures!  A sampling of some of the intriguing pieces…

My boys...

Raku by Risak Pottery... (I think that is the vendor -- there were a few similar artists.)

Glass art by Steve Palmer

Micah loves bird art, so he snapped this picture.  I wish I knew who the artist is!  Some day, he'll have pieces to display at an art show!

These wire mobile sculptures by Michael Gard were shaped around wax figures, which were then melted away.

"just words" by Roderick Stevens. (I hope my words are "just" though I don't think that's what he means!)

"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life" by Ynon Mabat

If this security guard looks tired, just keep in mind how busy the officers at the festival had to be -- and the fact that this particular guy is made of polyester resin by Marc Sijan!  I supposed this is art with justice in mind.

This is a real tree with prickly bark, not sculpted art work!

I always get a kick out of seeing Knowles Avenue in downtown Winter Park, even though our Knowles ancestors are from the Bahamas, not central Florida!

We had just enough time for a quick dinner at McDonald's before heading off to youth group at the church office in Baldwin Park, a newer planned community built around Lake Baldwin.  Rather than making two round trips, I usually hang out at Subway, munching on a small bag of cookies.  Fortunately for me, when I walked in, the cookies -- raspberry cheesecake, peanut butter, and chocolate chunk -- had just come out of the oven!  Beauty for the tastebuds!   It was such a lovely evening that instead of sitting to read another chapter of Generous Justice, I decided to walk a few blocks down the street to the shore of the lake and see what I could see.  I savored my cookies on a park bench and then headed off with camera in hand.

Tree trunks never fail to fascinate me.

I found it interesting to note that in such a planned community, the very edge of the lake is set aside for naturally growing plants.  These sun-bursty flowers and waving grasses might be considered weeds to some!
Crossing over Lake Baldwin Lane to a nature preserve, I snapped this photo of a small island before my camera battery gave out.  I wish I had been able to take pictures of the mallards, the red wing blackbird, the cypress saplings budding fresh for spring.  Another week perhaps, with Micah, my bird loving son.  

As I walked amongst the natural loveliness which had been integrated and even designed into this community, I pondered: "What is it about beauty which feeds and restores the soul?"  A Bible thought floated into my mind -- "May your kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven!" -- and I instantly realized that all in Heaven is absolute beauty, so part of the calling of a Christian is to bring the beauty of the Lord to their earthly spheres.  How?  Partly through tzadeqah kindness, but also through the arts and through the wonders of nature.  Back in January, while I prepared to present a workshop called "With Literature and Justice for All" I read a children's biography of Jane Addams, who founded Hull House, a settlement home serving an impoverished area of Chicago in the 1800's.  Miss Addams believed in the power of beauty, so she furnished Hull House home with fine art and brought in fresh flowers.  The women were taught creative skills such as pottery, sewing, cooking, painting, and music --  many of which added beauty to their meager apartments, and helped them to earn a living and create a vibrant community culture.

And after all this pondering, I still wonder, "What is the role of beauty in inner-city ministry today?"  I think I will ask Maria Garriott about that - maybe her book already tells that story.  I recalled, too, that Tim Keller had addressed the same issue in the chapter of Generous Justice which I had just read that morning with these words about John Perkins: "When Perkins tied social reform, economic development and vigorous evangelism all together into a seamless whole, he confounded both the secularized liberal civil rights establishment and the conservative churches," and "A healthy neighborhood is one with safe streets, responsive public institutions, physical beauty, good schools, a good economy, good social-recreational opportunities, and wide participation on political life." Yes, physical beauty is a component of community restoration.

Again, this is echoed in the words of Isaiah 61:1-4, which I read to my children this morning.  This is a messianic passage, foretelling of the earthly ministry of the messiah Yeshua (Jesus) who would come hundreds of years later. 

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the  brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."

If Jesus cared for the poor and oppressed in practical and powerful ways, shouldn't those who are called by his name imitate his example?  How do we bestow crowns of beauty to replace the ashes of life?   In contemporary news, how can we weave beauty into the rebuilding and restoration of the devastated cities of Japan?  Can we show forth the splendor of the Lord with a replanting of majestic trees and delicate flowers?  Would this be a waste in the face of abject physical desperation, or an investment in sanity for desperate and hopeless souls?  I wonder.

And I also think of my own home, of my own children.  Beyond just the cleaning and organizing (no small feat with several messy kids around!), how can I bring real and purposeful arts and nature into our home and their education?  This is why I love the Charlotte Mason approach to education.  She knew what children and their parents need, so she integrated art, music, and nature studies into the curriculum of the Parents National Educator's Union schools in late 19th century England.  I believe that exposure to "whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable… is excellent or praiseworthy" (Philippians 4:8) will equip them to live out what is noble and lovely and admirable in justice toward others.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”  (More of these quotes and Charlotte Mason inspiration here: Vintage Quotes and Cozy Thoughts from Lessons at Blackberry Inn.)

Oh, I think I've written enough to make my head spin, but I have several more links: 
One last picture, too, of my beautiful daughter Mary and her adorable son Jacob, while they were at the art festival earlier that day.  (We missed them there, but got to see them today!)  I'm glad she loves beauty and justice as much as I do!

Virginia Knowles

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