Revolting Beauty

There is a phrase Jesus was fond of saying that I have always found somewhat confusing.  What makes the phrase so confusing to me is that it is so obvious a statement that no one would ever disagree with it.  It is as obvious as saying, ‘water is wet.’    The famous phrase I am referring to is the prophetically clairvoyant claim “Whoever has ears, let them hear” which Jesus was known to utter, particularly after telling a parable.  Why would Jesus waste his breath saying something so obvious?  Surely everyone knows how exceedingly difficult it is to hear without ears!

But, then again, it also seems at times to be exceedingly difficult to hear WITH ears.  Sometimes it seems that people hear what they expect to hear or want to hear rather than what was actually said. I remember a conversation between an engaged couple I was meeting with where she said, “I would really like it if you would plan out our dates a little bit more.  That would make me feel like you think about me and care about what I like to do.”  And her fiancee responded, “So you are saying you want to go on more dates because you are bored when we stay home and rent a movie.”  The young man heard something totally different than what his fiancee had just finished saying not seconds before!  Unfortunately this happens in preaching too.  (Well, it happens to my sermons.  I’m sure it never happens to the other authors of this blog!)  After a sermon someone will approach me and say, “Pastor thank you for the sermon.  I needed to hear how I should tithe faithfully.”  I stammer out an appropriate reply while thinking, “Huh? The sermon was about sabbath keeping!”

Is it possible that Jesus’ statement towards the obvious nature of hearing is in fact a not so obvious expose’ on human nature?

Perhaps if we consider another sense, that of sight, Jesus’ strangely obvious statement will be made clear.

Last spring I took a group of North Americans to the Dominican Republic on a “Vision Trip.”  As we drove through country side all we saw everywhere was abject poverty.  Little children playing with garbage as toys.  Young men with no hope for work loitering in the shade.  Pregnant teens picking rocks out of piles of rice – dinner.  Heaps of garbage on the street corners.  Litter fluttering everywhere in the Caribbean breeze.  This is all that we saw.  But then we passed a sight that we remember clearly.  A little old, bent Dominican woman standing in front of her hut of sticks and mud.  She was sweeping.  Sweeping the dirt and rocks in front of her home.  The group was shocked that someone would bother cleaning such a dirty and poor atmosphere.  I mean, sweeping rocks?! What is the point?

We North Americans saw an old lady pointlessly sweeping rocks.  But that little old lady didn’t see rocks and dirt, she saw her doorstep.  She saw a landscaped yard worthwhile keeping clean of leaves, litter and pebbles.  I’m sure in her eyes, surrounded by the affliction of poverty, her doorstep was a beautiful thing.

by Jim LePage

Christian graphic designer, Jim LePage, has entitled this print on the left “Revolting Beauty.”  The hideous cross is the source what is good, right and beautiful.  The Apostle Paul said that the cross is a stumbling block, utter foolishness to those who cannot believe, or see beauty in something so hideous.

Perhaps this is what Jesus means when he says, “Let those who have ears hear.”  Or, “Let those who have eyes see.”  There is more to the story than what meets the eye or tickles the ear.  There is a truth that lies deeper than what the senses can perceive.  Or as CS Lewis put it in his Chronicles of Narnia, “There is a deeper and older magic at work.” This world filled with agony is also a world filled with God.  God is not only found in the big, the great and the wonderful.  Sometimes He is most apparent in the cracks and seams of life, in the last place we would ever dream the King of Creation would dwell.  Can we see it? Do we have the ears to hear it?

Is it possible that the cross is more than two pieces of wood on a hill upon which Christ died, but is in fact also a hideous symbol of the very world itself?  That this world is revolting thing made beautiful by the Son of God who flung himself upon it?  Is our picture of God big enough that we can find him even in the poverty of Calcutta or the massacres of Syria or the cancer of grandma?  Because, he is there.  Let those who have ears hear.

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7 thoughts on “Revolting Beauty

  1. Joel, your post makes me think of something from Joel Van Dyke that I have in my file (maybe you even passed it on to me once upon a time). He wrote:

    “It was morning when I stepped out of my house to walk to the corner store and buy my daily paper. It had rained all night so the side-walks were wet, puddles pooled on the streets, usually up against piles of refuse. My town, Philadelphia, is often referred to by its inhabitants as “Filthadelphia” as the waste management system often leaves piles of garbage collecting on curbs for days. As I crossed the street I noticed a woman and a little girl walking towards me, a few houses down. As I watched I noticed the little girl leave her mother’s side and eagerly skip over to one of these large piles of garbage on the side-walk. With a grin on her face that only grew more excited she plunged her hands into the trash and began rummaging around. I walked into the corner store and began paging through the newspaper when in walked the lady and little girl. Both of them had large smiles on their faces and were obviously enjoying each other’s company. And as I watched them I noticed the source of their happiness, clutched in the mother’s hand was a tiny, yet beautiful purple flower. This was the treasure that had sent the little girl scampering ahead to dig through that pile of trash. This little girl taught me a lot about sight that day. She taught me a lot about what Jesus meant when he said he was the light of the world. You see, when I looked at that pile of garbage all I could see wast trash and more trash. But when that little girl looked at the pile of trash she saw something beautiful within in it, she saw the purple flower. She saw what I could not see, what I was unable to see. It makes me wonder about how blind I might be to other things in my life. What else am I just not seeing because all I see is trash? ” – Joel Van Dyke

    • Ah yes, from his famous Hagar sermon. I heard him preach that sermon 3 years ago and still remember it. I must admit that Joel VanDyk has shaped my faith more than anyone other than my parents. I came across Jim LePage’s print and I felt so moved by it I wrote the blog. I originally intended just to post the print with maybe a comment or two…oops.

  2. Does being in the flow mean having better ears or better eyes? When we’re living in the flow of the Spirit, does it mean that we’re seeing or hearing God that much more than when we’re not?

    • I don’t know if ‘better’ is the right word. Maybe being in the flow, as you put it, means we are paying attention. Having lived abroad and knowing Christians from other countries has helped me see there is one struggle that I have discovered is almost unique to Christians from North America. It is spiritual ADD. We are easily distracted from paying attention, or as you put it, being in the flow of the Spirit.

      • Is the primary cause of the spiritual ADD living in excess? And if so, is the only cure to shave the excess from our lives or is it possible in the midst of abundance to see the Spirit at work?

      • No, i didn’t mean to imply that it is due to excess or materialism. That is its own issue. Rather I’m implying that spiritual ADD is living with our eyes wide shut. I think of studying at Calvin College. There was way to much for me to read and learn in the hours I had if I still wanted to have fun. So I learned quickly not to read EVERYTHING, but to be selective what I read and how to study the right stuff instead of all the stuff. The result is that I graduated with a Psychology and English double major with a decent grade-point average but I never bothered reading a complete Shakespeare play – just enough to get what was going on and pass the tests with a good grade. But I am now realizing how much gold I left buried in those texts which I could have uncovered. I think this is what happens to us in life. We blow past things so fast and don’t see what God is about. That is what I meant by spiritual ADD, though maybe that isn’t the most accurate term I could have used

      • Maybe there’s some kind of slogan or lesson there, to live with “Eyes Wide Open.” At the Festival of Faith and Writing last year there was a sectional that I couldn’t attend but wanted to. It was called “Paying Ferocious Attention.”

        Maybe there are lots of different causes to spiritual ADD, be it busyness or indifference or materialism or whatever. The key is knowing how to combat it and notice all the cool stuff that God wants to show us.

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