Friday, May 24, 2013

Thoughts on Beauty

Beauty—be not caused—It Is—
Chase it, and it ceases—
Chase it not, and it abides

- Emily Dickinson, #516 

Though this was taken in Thanksgiving 2010, it is nonetheless a picture of where I am currently at. See the door on the screened in porch? See that screen panel just to the left? Behind that, sitting on a wicker couch with floral patterned cushions, I sit with my Macbook, some Yogi coffee, my bible and no shoes. My view (you know, beyond the screen) is a cove on Lake Wiley that is currently only shared with one, maybe two neighbors. It's the house of my infamous Uncle Flavius and Aunt Gigi. They are pretty cool people. And though I love spending time with them both, some of my favorite moments when I come to visit them involve sitting in this same spot, usually with a fire going in the fireplace, listening to the sounds of silence. Well, not padded room silence, but birds calling, waves lapping on the shore leaves rustling and the occasional animal wandering through the yard that you see here covered with leaves. In one word it is beautiful.

There is no lack of words concerning beauty. Girls are beautiful. Food is beautiful. Lawns are beautiful. Houses are beautiful. Music is beautiful. Cars are beautiful. An encouragement is beautiful. 

In some ways beauty has become this catch all for positive emotional stirring. And that is kind of cool. It means that the only way we can own beauty is by owning what we behold as beauty. But even with that being the case, beauty is something that has caused war, destruction and the plight of many man, woman and culture. Beauty can arouse jealousy, suspicion and anger, which are as opposed to beauty in my mind as you can get. And the problem exacerbates whenever those emotions lead to conquering something or someone to own their beauty.

This is portrayed well in Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge. Duke vs Christian. Both appreciate the beauty of Satine. One it would seem loves her purely, the other, views her more like a mounted head above the mantle. Basically, the intent of enjoyment is different. The Duke wants to have sole control of Satine and her beauty, even yelling at one point, "I don't like other people touching my things!"

Christian on the other hand is shown as the one who's love of her beauty is pure. He could steal her away from the Moulin Rouge. They could start a new life, because all they need is each other. Now instead of this being a critique on Moulin Rouge, or how effective Luhrman was in juxtaposing these two men, I simple write about this to say, as Dickinson wrote so clearly ages ago: chase beauty and it ceases, chase it not and it abides.

There is beauty that exists today that flourishes on its own. It is unadulterated. But when it is captured, and attempts are made to increase that beauty it fails. Think of how many movies show the nerdy girl, show her become pretty, and then show that her nerdiness is what made her pretty after all (but she can still keep the makeover, because that is where Hollywood draws the line!) 

Think of how many lakes or ocean shores are run over with shanty houses, dive bars and tattoo shops, because people want to be in a beautiful place. We all get this. We all understand that beauty is to be observed and not conquered, but we still at times try to conquer and own beauty.

I think of my friend Julia from seminary. She was really wise about some of my issues that I couldn't see. She asked me why I was always buying books and music and movies. I justified myself, saying I wanted to have these things around. I wanted them physically near me so I could partake of them at any time. Now, Julia may have been really trying to help me see that it is not always financially the best to buy and buy and buy, but years later, what I am understanding, is that Julia taught me that ownership of certain things decreases value and beauty. If I own and accumulate all these beautiful things, I tend to ignore them, I tend to consume more beautiful things. I also tend to call things that are mediocre beautiful, just so I can justify having them. Then, I move on, forget about that thing and consume something else.

Yesterday I posted about Eddie Vedder. The man makes beautiful music. But there is something striking about his evolution. Vedder has somehow transcended genre and makes the music he wants to make. That probably makes label execs nervous. "You really want to make an album of ukulele songs, and your guest vocalists are going to be Cat Power and Glen Hansard? You know Eddie, we appreciate you recording and all, but this? This is the album you're gonna make?" I think Vedder was able to do what he did because he owns the beauty he creates. Sure, someone else is capturing it, but Vedder has enough sway and stay that the suits allow him to get away with it. And that is how a lot of art used to be (and I hope still is!). Artists made the art that they wanted. Benefactors were an issue, but certain artists did their thing.

So to close, I want to tell you about two beautiful film projects. I know it is odd to call something unfinished beautiful, but these are my friends. And I know my friends...and love them. The first is a documentary in process of a family picking and up trekking across the states. They're gonna love on some communities and be loved on in return. This is an amazing family, and it's going to be a great adventure.

The second is another set of friends who are trying to start the conversation about sex and church. It is a really interesting project. I'm proud of both of the Matts and other friends who are doing these and other projects, and thankful there will be even more beauty in the world because of them.

So, as you go, enjoy some beauty...share some beauty. And if you see me, remind me that beholding beauty is enough, I don't have to own it, I don't have to conquer it. I can just enjoy it.


  1. thanks for the shout out. you give me too much credit though :) loving the blog. keep it up! you're very thought-provoking!

  2. No problem from. You helped teach me a lot my friend. Miss you!