Saturday, July 27, 2013

On Bon Iver, Ecclesiastes and Rob Johnston, Part 2

So, this is Part 2 of the series. You can read the first here. The last post ended this way:
My life is very much meaningless.
But here's the is also very much beautiful. I have immensely enjoyed my life. Sure, there have been seasons that have not been so great, but I have really enjoyed my life. There are so many things that are great and beautiful about it.

And the story of redemption...mmm...c'mon boy. That is the stuff of legends. That is the story of the hope of hope descending down into a temporal space and time redeeming all of this meaningless toil. That is the story of turning ashes into beauty. And I enjoy it.

For some reason this reminds me of my favorite painting, Lyonel Feininger's Near the Palace. Here it is for you to check out:

I discovered this painting in a Barry Taylor course. I don't remember exactly what the course was called. But I remembered we approached theology through painters who also had biopics done on them. As part of the course we went to the Norton Simon, which was amazing. I went a few additional times once I found out it was free for students. Each time there was something new I discovered that I liked, but every time I would come back and just stare at this painting for probably 10-15 minutes, maybe even up to half an hour. It's beautiful to me. And I haven't found a lot of people who see it the way I see it.

These beautiful, almost geometric lines create this rich contrast. It seems mathematical, yet conveys a deep, resonating emotion inside me. The rich tones, the steeple. The father and the son (at least that is who they are to me). The breaking of the sun onto an otherwise dark time of day. It's beautiful...and yet melancholy. It's perfect. It's Ecclesiastes.

It says to me that yes, in the arch of my life, much is meaningless, but I have love, I have beauty, I have hope. I have life. This meaningless life is beautiful. And that is what Rob was trying to get at. That is why he was saying that Ecclesiastes is so relevant for this generation, for this time of life.

Let's revisit the last Scripture I shared on the other post, Ecclesiastes 8:15 - "So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun." The writer, who has already said, "Meaningless, meaningless. Everything is meaningless," commends us to enjoy life. And that is this word reconciling thing that we are called to do.

In our lefthand we hold this notion that everything is meaningless. In the right hold we hold this commendation to enjoy it. To eat. To drink. To be merry. To find joy in our toil. And that is why it is okay that in the scheme of things our lives are meaningless. But meaninglessness does not mean valueless. And that is where the turn comes.

As Christians, and we share this with some other religions, we have this understanding that God is in the business of redemption. Somehow in the midst of everything that is meaningless God sees value. God saw our lives, saw the trajectory of demise, rejection, hate and war that we had engaged in, stopped and thought, "You know what...even still, I want them. They are worth the sacrifice of everything dear to me."

Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums.
In a way, it's like we are all in a Wes Anderson flick. Now I know some of you are thinking, "Who is Wes Anderson?" and others are thinking, "His films are a bunch of arthouse, bourgeois decadence that lacks any real merit or substance." To which I would reply, "But it's so pretty." (Nothing like a solid, scholarly critique derailed by kinderspeak!) But hear me out. Anderson creates these worlds where beautiful people are screwed up. Where talented people plateau and digress further than they have any right to. In other words, we find in Anderson's films a picture of our world as it really is. We don't achieve what we want. We get caught up in patterns that infuriate us. Things get to the point of meaninglessness and then something worth holding onto comes along, shakes us out of our stupor, and something so unlovable catches our affections.

And I would say this world is where God steps in, takes hold of us and makes something beautiful. The finished product doesn't look radically different from the initial clay, but the interior gets shaken. The redemption doesn't come with the tools of a cosmetician, it doesn't happen as an outpatient procedure, but it occurs. And that is part of this story of redemption. But then with that comes this invitation to help make others beautiful. And that is real some real beauty happens. We get to step into the meaningless of others lives and speak value.

And so, as I started, saying life is meaningless, I end by is meaningless, and wonderful, and beautiful. And somehow those things merge (or as my friend Jonathan said the other day "swirl" into the truth. Somehow this beautiful meaningless life is how it is, and how it should be. And that helps keep us from our little god-complexes and taking ourselves too seriously. And helps us enjoy the menial things that captivate us, creating moments that no one else can understand because somehow these beautifully crafted moments capture all that we are and will be...even if that is meaningless. 

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