Authenticity

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

What exactly is beauty and why do we care?

Recently my kids took me to see a film. In it, one of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses portrayed a low-class, manipulative, rather loose woman. The film’s plot seemed shallow and pornographic, designed more to offend than to enlighten. I left the theater upset and annoyed, not entirely understanding why.

In his book, Visual Faith, William Dyrness (2001, 81) writes:

“Our modern images feature surface and finish; Old Testament images present structure and character.  Modern images are narrow and restrictive; theirs were broad and inclusive…For us beauty is primarily visual; their idea of beauty included sensations of light, color, sound, smell, and even taste” .

As the old adage goes, beauty is more than skin deep. When it is only skin deep, we take offense as I did during my recent trip to the theatre.

Beauty More than Skin Deep

In clinical pastoral education we were taught to look for dissidence between words and the body language of patients that we visited.  This disharmony between words and body language is, of course, a measure of truth.  In like manner, the Bible paradigm of beauty is that the truth of an object matches its appearance.

Dyrness (2001, 80) writes:  “the biblical language for beauty reveals that beauty is connected both to God’s presence and activity and to the order that God has given to creation.”  The human spirit, although undefinable, is obvious by its absence:  a beautiful, living human body emptied of its spirit is no more than a repulsive corpse.  Morality works much the same way:  “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion” (Proverbs 11:22 ESV). 

In biblical use, beauty is almost indistinguishable from the modern concept of authenticity. In both concepts structure and character complement one another. The surface appearance reflects a harmony within. The beauty we observe in nature reflects fingerprints of our divine creator.

Measure of Truth

Authenticity provides an interesting measure of truth. The gap between form and substance can be subtle, requiring deep discernment. A brilliant sermon can signal inner emptiness like a gold watch without tarnish may signal the substitution of gold plating for gold. Authenticity is a kind of Archimedes principle,⁠1 a measure of the volume versus density of an idea, person, or piece of art.

Authentic communication is frequently less perfect than other communication. Because of original sin, we intuitively expect every human being to have flaws. Flawless communication appears too good to be true because it masks our underlying humanity, a kind of audible lie.

Biblical Authenticity

The call for authenticity begins in the third verse of the Bible that reads: And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) Unlike our proclivity to sin as revealed in our flaws, God’s words and actions are in perfect harmony. The contrast between heaven and earth could not be greater. Unlike heaven, which Revelation reminds us needs no light other than God (Rev 21:23), earth requires illumination that God immediately creates.

God pre-existence relative to creation implies is underscored in the name that he gives Moses in the burning bush. ‎אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (Exod. 3:14 WTT) that can be translated either as “I am that I am” or “I will be who I will be.” Or in vernacular English: “I am the real deal” which implies authentic being—something that cannot be wholly copied. By contrast, human beings, as images of God, always strive for authentic being, but because of sin never quite get there.

Jesus talked a lot about authenticity and about its inverse–hypocrisy. Perhaps his most famous statement about hypocrisy began with an admonition: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt 7:1) We frequently judge people by our own estimate of the degree of their hypocrisy. Howard Thurman (106), in a book with an ironic theme of authenticity, observed about the woman caught in adultery:

[Jesus] “met the woman where she was, and he treated her as if she were already here she now willed to be. In dealing with her he ‘believed’ her into the fulfillment of her possibilities.”

For Jesus, the tension between our desires and actions measured not just our authenticity, but also our proclivity to sin. Anger leads to murder; lust leads to adultery (Matt 5:22, 28).

God’s Easter Eggs

From statistics we know that correlation does not indicate causality. A theory is required to suggest why a measured correlation suggests causality rather than random association. If sunspots are associated with weather on earth, what explains this relationship? If the beauty we observe in nature reflects God’s fingerprints, does this indicate that God is good or are we simply projecting our thoughts on natural landscapes? 

Authenticity fits into this discussion of causality because the harmony of form and appearance is entirely arbitrary—the world could just as easily be an ugly, inhospitable mess. 

God’s goodness and superabundance serve as trademarks on all his work. The simplicity of mathematics in a complex world likewise appears like another one of God’s Easter eggs—scientific discoveries intentionally placed where his children would find them.

Authenticity as Critique

Years ago at a dinner party Ruth Graham learned that an older gentleman sitting next to her was the former head of Scotland Yard, the British equivalent of the FBI. Because part of his responsibilities included dealing with counterfeit money, she remarked that he must have spent a lot of time examining counterfeit bills.

“On the contrary, Mrs. Graham, I spent all of my time studying the genuine thing. That way, when I saw a counterfeit, I would immediately detect it.” (Lots 2000, 3)

When authenticity is present, glimmering substitutes appear gaudy or cheap, a kind of visual lie.

References

Dyrness, William A.  2001. Visual Faith:  Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic. (Review)

Lotz, Anne Graham.  2000. Just Give Me Jesus. Nashville: Word Publishing. (Review)

Thurman, Howard. 1996. Jesus and the Disinherited (Orig pub 1949). Boston: Beacon Press.

Footnotes

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archimedes.

Authenticity

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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Why Exercise?

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Soccer, 1983
Stephen W. Hiemstra, Soccer, 1983

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:18–20)

Why Exercise?

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Which spiritual discipline should I focus on?

Sin distracts and separates us from God. The spiritual disciplines of highest value target sins to which we, as Americans, are especially vulnerable—sexual immorality and gluttony. Both are sins against the body.

Where Does Sin Begin?

Jesus is clear when he says that sin begins in the heart. On the question of adultery, he says: “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:28) This statement is immediately followed by hyperbole about chopping off body parts that lead to sin [1]. This transition from heart to body is an example of how the body and mind are unified [2].

Unity of Body, Mind, and Spirit

The best example of the unity of body and mind applied to spiritual disciplines is found in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out. Nouwen describes our spiritual journey as a unity of three dimensions—reaching inward to ourselves; reaching outward to others; and reaching upwards to God. In ourselves, we move from being lonely to becoming content in solitude. With our relationships with others, we move from hostility to hospitality. In our relationship with God, we move from illusion to prayer (Nouwen 1975, 15). The paradox of this unity in three dimensions is that progress in one dimension makes progress in the others easier.

Spiritual Movements

This linkage of spiritual progress in different dimensions is especially important in dealing with sins of the body. Sins against the body invariably involve mild to severe addictions—obsessive behaviors that we repeatedly engage in. When we allow ourselves our “little indulgences”, they spread to other aspects of our life. Bad behaviors turn into bad habits that turn into bad lifestyles. Undertaking a “fast” in vulnerable areas of our lives can nip bad behaviors early in the process. Gerald May (1988, 177) writes: “It all comes down to quitting it, not engaging in the next addictive behavior, not indulging in the next temptation.” Physical discipline, accordingly, works to cleanse the whole system.

Why exercise?

The simple answer is because your body is the temple of God. We are under obligation to ourselves and to God to keep our temple clean. A more nuanced answer is that the physical disciplines grant us strength to discipline other, less obvious, areas of our lives. The body and the mind are inseparable—physical exercise is a kind of beach assault on our island of sin [3]. Beach assaults, like the one on Iwo Jima during the Second World War [4], are risky but the payoff is huge. Ironically, when we exercise we often exhibit less interest in food, alcohol, even tobacco because we are more relaxed and self-confident.

Assessment

In clinical pastoral education we were taught to look for dissidence between words and the body language of patients that we visited. This disharmony between words and body language is, of course, a measure of truth. In like manner, the biblical paradigm of beauty is that the truth of an object matches its appearance [5]. Did I mention that body and mind are closely bound together?

Footnotes

[1]  I wonder, which body part is really in view here?

[2] Macchia (2012, 104) writes: “Your personal rule of life is formatted and reflected in your . . . physical priorities (the care and training of your body, mind, and heart).”

[3] Reynolds (2012), who writes almost exclusively on a biblical perspective on weight-loss, notes that the first sin in the Bible is a temptation involving food (Gen 3:1–6).

[4]  Japan is a family of islands. In February 1945, United States amphibious forces landed on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. There they engaged the Japanese military in one of the bloodiest battles during the war.

[5] “Our modern images feature surface and finish; Old Testament images present structure and character. Modern images are narrow and restrictive; theirs were broad and inclusive…For us beauty is primarily visual; their idea of beauty included sensations of light, color, sound, smell, and even taste” (Dyrness 2001, 81).

REFERENCES

Dyrness, William A. 2001. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Macchia, Stephen A. 2012. Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

May, Gerald G. 1988. Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. New York: HarperOne.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Reynolds, Steve and MG Ellis. 2012. Get Off the Couch: 6 Motivators to Help You Lose Weight and Start Living. Ventura: Regal.

 

Also see:

Christian Spirituality

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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Dyrness: Beauty is Structure and Character, not Surface and Finish

Visual Faith
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

William A. Dyrness.  2001. Visual Faith:  Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What exactly is beauty?

Last fall my kids took me to a film.  In the film, one of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses portrayed a low-class, manipulative, rather loose woman.  The film’s plot seemed shallow and pornographic, designed more to offend than to enlighten.  I left the theater upset and annoyed, not entirely understanding why.

Introduction

In his book, Visual Faith, William Dyrness writes:

Our modern images feature surface and finish; Old Testament images present structure and character.  Modern images are narrow and restrictive; theirs were broad and inclusive…For us beauty is primarily visual; their idea of beauty included sensations of light, color, sound, smell, and even taste (81).

As the old adage goes, beauty is more than skin deep.

Beauty More than Skin Deep

In clinical pastoral education we were taught to look for dissidence between words and the body language of patients that we visited.  This disharmony between words and body language is, of course, a measure of truth.  In like manner, the Bible paradigm of beauty is that the truth of an object matches its appearance.

Dyrness writes:  the biblical language for beauty reveals that beauty is connected both to God’s presence and activity and to the order that God has given to creation (80).  The human spirit, although undefinable, is obvious by its absence:  a beautiful, living human body emptied of its spirit is no more than a repulsive corpse.  Morality works much the same way:  Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion (Proverbs 11:22 ESV).

Art as Cultural Window

While Dyrness does not dwell on social criticism, he sees a lack of artistic imagination as an impediment to renewal of faith—especially in a society that is constantly stimulated by visual images (155-156).  He cites the Prophet Joel:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions (Joel 2:28 ESV).

As barriers between high class and popular art are lowered, we see the democratization (all flesh) of art that Joel prophesied.

Background

William A. Dyrness (www.fuller.edu/faculty/wdyrness) is a Professor of Theology and Culture at the School of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.  Visual Faith is written in 7 chapters:

  1. Development of the Visual Arts from the Early Church to the Middle Ages;
  2. Development of the Visual Arts from the Reformation to the Twenty-First Century;
  3. Art and the Biblical Drama;
  4. Reflecting Theologically on the Visual Arts;
  5. Contemporary Challenges for Christians and the Arts;
  6. A New Opportunity for Christian Involvement in the Arts; and
  7. Making and Looking at Art.

These chapters are preceded by a list of illustrations, a preface, and an introduction.  They are followed by a conclusion, notes, bibliography, and indices.

Need to Explore Christian Art

Dyrness describes his objectives as to—extend and enrich a Christian conversation on the visual arts—and he immediately relates this conversation to the dialog on worship (9).  Following Simone Weil, Dyrness observes that people are drawn to God through affliction, religious practices, and the experience of beauty.  He then goes on to argue that because modern life has banished these first two draws, the church is limited to the third draw—beauty—in attracting people to God (22).  Dyrness concludes arguing for renewal in three areas: a new vision for the arts, renewal in worship, and a restoration of the Christian art tradition (155).

Christian Art More than a Hobby

Dyrness speaks against the perception that interest in the arts is a Christian hobby practiced particularly by Catholics and mostly avoided by serious protestants.  He argues persuasively that both Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin saw God’s artwork in creation as infinitely more interesting than human artifacts (59).  In fact, Calvin’s outward focus in ministry—the whole of creation belongs to God, not just the sacred images of Jesus and the communion table in the church (the inward focus in the Middle Ages)—profoundly influenced art from the reformation period forward.

Assessment

Visual Faith is a fascinating book.  This review does not and cannot capture the subtly and freshness of Dyrness’ writing.  My own interest in the visual arts and Dyrness’ work arises out of my need to understand how to appreciate and incorporate visual art in online ministry.  In a visually sophisticated world, we need to understand images and how they shape our own thoughts.

What exactly is beauty?  Dyrness’ Visual Faith is a good place to start the conversation in searching for an answer.

Dyrness: Beauty is Structure and Character, not Surface and Finish

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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