Why Beauty Matters by Allen V. Harris

Isn’t there a saying, “Beauty is only skin deep?”  And doesn’t scripture support the fact that God looks not on our outward appearance, but upon what is inside us?  In 1 Samuel 16, as the story unfolds of David being chosen to lead the nation of Israel, God tells Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance … for God sees not as humans see, for humans look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  Well, I would certainly agree… when we are talking about judging the value of people.  But I would maintain that beauty and aesthetics are still important to God and very much spiritual issues.

When Park Avenue Christian Church was engaged in a $1.3 million restoration project while I was Associate Pastor there, J. Irwin Miller, CEO of Cummins Diesel Co., preached at the service celebrating the conclusion of the work on the stones, steeple, and stained glass windows. In his message he used the New Testament story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with the sweet and costly perfume from the alabaster jar (Matthew 26).  Miller proclaimed that an integral part of our stewardship to God is offering the Creator our very best, and that includes gifts that are beautiful, creative, and exquisitely crafted.

Beauty, like most aspects of life, is a careful balance between humble stewardship and vain wastefulness.  Beauty, also, “is in the eye of the beholder!”  What this means for a congregation like ours is not that we should start requiring people to wear suits and dresses to worship, line the walls with Monets, Cassatts, and Rembrandts, nor should we start pumping money unthinkingly into beautification of the building.  What it does mean is that we spend as much time thinking wisely, strategically, and communally about the aesthetics as we do about the mechanics of our life together.

In our individual lives, this means seeking healthy living habits (but not some imposed image of what is pretty).  The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you… therefore glorify God in your body.”   We live this out by bringing healthy dishes to potluck suppers, supporting one another in exercising and quitting smoking, and advocating for fuller health care for all members of our society.  While we do this we celebrate all bodies as gifts from God!

Likewise, regarding our facilities, in the same way we find experts to do plumbing, electrical work, and roofing, we should consider consulting experts in historical buildings and fine arts to help us as we beautify the building.  And we do this thoughtfully and systematically, always maintaining balance in our mission and ministry.

One of the gifts I bring to this church is a deep commitment to holding together core values that are often unfairly pitted against each other.  Social justice and community outreach do not have to be chosen over and against historic preservation and beautification.  Even the poorest amongst us want to be awed by splendor and inspired by beauty.  There is the moving story from the author Robert Fulghum that captures this melding of purposes:

“The Good Shepherd” and “The Widow’s Mite” windows, photographed by Don Hudson

“Once there was a traveler from Italy who came to the French town of Chartes to see the great church that was being built there.  Arriving at the end of the day, he went to the site just as the workmen were leaving for home.  He asked one man, covered with dust; what he did there.  The man replied that he was a stonemason.  He spent his days carving rocks.  Another man, when asked, said he was a glass blower who spent his days making slabs of colored glass.  Still another workman replied that he was a blacksmith, who pounded iron for a living.

Wandering into the deepening gloom of the unfinished edifice, the traveler came upon an older women, armed with a broom, sweeping up the stone chips and the wood shavings and the glass shards from the day’s work.  “What are you doing?” he asked.  The woman paused, leaned on the broom, and looked towards the high arches, and replied, ‘Me? I’m building a cathedral to the glory of Almighty God.’ (1)

Rainbow & Leprechaun by Bobby Horrocks

I love Franklin Circle Christian Church because here we celebrate in real and lasting ways the rich and unique beauty of all God’s children.  Can we continue to do that while working towards intentionally and faithfully offering our communal best to God, from the beauty of the crayon drawings of our children to the sparkle of our stained glass windows to the exquisite love we have for one another, our blessed savior, and the God who created it all?  May it be so.

 

(1) Robert Fulghum, It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It (Random House, 1997) pp. 72-73.

 

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