Daily thoughts on aesthetics and theology, and the entire world in between.

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Brides marrying themselves

This was the news I was treated to several days ago:

A woman has married herself. It was a solo wedding. There she is, standing in front of the congregation, all by her lonesome:


Never mind the larger conflict over whether marriage should be limited

to a union between a man and a woman.

I think when a person marries himself or herself, the real problem

emerges. The real problem has to do with words. When words no longer mean things, that is, when a word can mean just about any thing, the world as we know it largely ceases to exist.

Once words were divine.

Then words were mass produced in printing presses.

Then words evaporated into thin air, or into cyberspace, with a click

of a mouse.

Then people began marrying themselves.


John 1.1 In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and
the Word was God.

Lights "R" Us

When we see something, we become that thing. Seeing an object means achieving a similarity between that object and our inner faculty that allows us to see it. The two become one.

This was how folks in ancient times understood seeing.

And so Paul refers to Christians in this way: “you were once darkness, but now you are light in Christ.”

He does not say we can elect to turn on (or off) this light. He just says we ARE light in Christ.

The logic here is that, if we’ve been enlightened by Christ – if we see the point of His gospel – then we become that light. It is not a mental thing we store in our brains. It is a whole-person thing that characterizes the essential nature of who we are.

Jesus worked under the same rationale. He said this: “But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”

When I was a kid I always struggled with this saying. How can the eye be evil (number one); how can light be in us (number two); and how can that light be darkness (number three)?

Well, number one: The eye is the point of entry of what we see, and what we see, we become. Therefore if we see (entertain) evil things, we become those things morally.

Number two: What we see by the sight of light is the quality of light that is in us.

Number three: If what has entered us (by the light of sight) is dark, our whole being is (it equals) moral darkness. So, indeed, how great is that darkness!

We are too taken by today’s scientific view of light as simply particles and waves with no moral value to them. Light is just stuff that comes from the sun. Or: Light is just something we can turn on or off artificially, independent of any moral essence within us.

But if the Bible is true, we are further away from understanding the true nature of light than ever before.


Ephesians 5.8 (ESV) For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

Matthew 6.23 (KJV) But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

Aristotle’s theory of perception involves big words like hylomorphism and a distinction between potential and actual form in relation to matter. But here is a statement from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that can help; it can be found in an article entitled “Aristotle’s Psychology” and it is in section 6: “Aristotle is happy to speak of an affected thing as receiving the form of the agent which affects it and of the change consisting in the affected thing's “becoming like” the agent (De Anima ii 5, 418a3–6; ii 12, 424a17–21). So there is in both cases a hylomorphic model of alteration involving enforming, that is, a model according to which change is explained by the acquisition of a form by something capable of receiving it.”

a question

We evangelicals pull no punches when insisting on the exclusivity of Jesus as the Way, the Truth, the Life.

The very exclusivity of this claim implies holiness, because holiness means separation from that which is common.

But it is curious that this profound truth carries with it few consequences in material terms. In fact it is no exaggeration to say that, of all of the major religions, the Protestant evangelical edition of the Christian faith might be the only one that provides no well-considered guidelines whatsoever in the way the Christian confession is lived out, is expressed, in material expressions of an art-aesthetic nature, of an architectural nature.

And yet this is the confession that stresses incarnation, God-with-us, as man, in embodied form.

If Jesus is the Way, how should the physical venues in which we live our embodied lives reflect this directionality?

If Jesus is the Truth, what practices of décor, of comportment, of the design of our physical environments, are informed by this Truth?

If Jesus is the Life, how should we then live beyond merely mental conceptions of this truth?

If Jesus is indeed the Life, shouldn’t that life spill over, fill up, even overflow, in an incarnational celebration of all that we are physically and materially?


Matthew 5.16 Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

To the praise of his glory

To most of our ears, this is a redundancy.

Actually it is a redundancy of two unknowns. We don’t really know what glory is; it is just a term for most of us.

And praise is something we do on Sunday mornings when, frankly, we feel like it. (Shall we go to the Arby’s for lunch after “worship?” They have the 5 sandwiches for 5 dollars deal ...). This is the level of praise for most of us.

But Paul uses the term “praise of his glory” three times in one of the most out-of-this-world chapters in the New Testament: Ephesians 1.

The man saw something. He saw a vision in that prison cell, even though he didn’t write about his vision directly. He just wrote about what he saw in the vision. He saw the cosmic Christ.

And he saw the implications, which amount to this:

If Christ is the anchor of the entire creation – the theologian Hans Boersma calls it the “Christological anchor”; I love the term – if Christ is indeed the anchor of all of creation, that glorious condition must be EXPRESSED.

The expression is the praise.

This is not too complicated. When we smile because of the assurance of God’s love, it is glory expressed. It is the praise of his glory. This doesn’t have to go on in a church building.

In fact, if it is not going on outside of a church building, the church part is just the prelude to Arbys. It ain’t much.

When we live, resigned to the fact that He is God and we are not, and we sense the relaxation which that brings, it is to the praise of his glory. Sense. Sense is of this world, this (still) wonderful world. Sense is what can be seen, what can be touched, what can be handled.

Doesn’t that RING A BELL?? "That which we have heard, which have have seen, which our hands have touched … of the word of life…" Doesn't it say that somewhere...?

The aesthetics of this life, the actions, the expressions, the ART of it, the SENSED beauty of it all … this is (or can be, it can be, say that it can be) to the praise of his glory.

We don’t see glory itself much in our present condition.

But we sure can make everything around us the praise of it.


Ephesians 1.4-6 ... even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1.12 ... so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1.13-15 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,

1 John 1.1-2 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us

Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).

He must be wiping all of our tears away NOW

Time is here, and then it is gone. Minds better than mine have mused about this conundrum -- Augustine, for one, in Chapter XI of his Confessions.

As I get old, this matter has been profoundly weighing on me. I’ve come to a conclusion of sorts: it cannot be as simple as this. It cannot be that what I experienced a year ago, or a minute ago, is GONE.

They are not gone. My experiences are not gone. They are somewhere; just not here. But then … even as I write this, even here is not here.

And so if I only dwell on the here, woe is me.

As a matter of fact, to dwell well – to really DWELL – requires that you take in more than just NOW and HERE. For example, it takes about three years in a new house before that house becomes a home. What has happened? Well, the accrual of all of your experiences in that house has transformed that house, that land, into a home in which you dwell. The house has become you; you have become the house. The sum is HOME.

… In my father’s house are many dwellings; I go to prepare a place for you …

Here is what I am thinking: it is the totality of what the inner man has been made by all of his or her experiences that somehow goes into eternity.

But eternity is also here and now. This is another mistake we make. We think we live the moments of life now. And then when we die … eternity. But this is logically incorrect. Eternity can’t be eternity if it starts to be eternity only tomorrow. Eternity is eternity by virtue of the fact that it is NOW.

So how can time be gone; how can our experiences all be gone; if eternity is now?

And so we need to live in the fear of God. And all that I do today – ah, I am writing again on my recliner – should be done, should be experienced, with the expectation that I will someday experience it again more fully.

Think of it: it says that God will wipe away all of our tears someday in the New Jersusalem. But how can it be ALL of our tears if he is only to wipe them away someday?

For it to be ALL of our tears, He must be wiping them away NOW.


John 14.2 In my Father's house are many rooms ( μονή dwellings). If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

Revelation 21.4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

And in the fourth hour of the night, he came to them, walking on the sea

28" x 36" Oil pastels on craft paper,

with photocopy inlays of:

Christina's World, Andrew Wyeth, 1948

Young Woman with Water Pitcher, Jan Vermeer 1665

Ospedale degli Innocenti (Foundling Hospital), Filippo Brunelleschi, Florence, 1419


Matthew 14.25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.

Sacrament and Art and Stickley Recliners

Sacrament is the overlapping of heaven and earth expressed in a visible fashion. Defined in this way, all of nature is sacramental, because God’s presence is everywhere-present (omnipresent) in nature. And so the Apostle Paul says that men are without excuse who deny God, because his presence is everywhere evident in creation.

This presence of God is added to in the New Testament by the unique development of God-become-man, Jesus Christ, coming into the word. It says that Christ tabernacles (the word means to dwell) among men. This localizes the everywhere-present presence of God in a way that does not compromise His everywhere-present presence. This localization of God-with-us is one reason for art.

At least it is one opportunity for art. We make art to celebrate the localized presence of heaven on earth.

Now, this truth raises enormous problems in relation to Christian practice. I am referring to religious images. The Eastern Church has long held that religious images – icons – are a special form of art because of their ability to convey the viewer into the divine presence. The Western Church’s view of this matter is a lot more complicated. On the one hand it rejected the Eastern view, holding that physical images of the divine amount to idols. On the other hand the history of Western Christianity (Protestantism aside which, after all, is a recent development) is filled with religious objects. We would not have art history, and we would not have architecture history as most people understand it, without art sanctioned by Western Christianity.

(In other words, I would not have a job as a professor of architecture, of art, of philosophy of aesthetics, and of all of that other stuff for which there are no grant monies to go after; but I digress).

Now add to this Protestantism, which historically has been the most vocal against religious images of any kind, and we have the ambivalent attitude most Christians today have towards art in relation to the practice of their faith.

And the consequence of this is a disjuncture between anything that is material-physical with Christian life. Because I am Protestant, I am mostly thinking of my peers in this category. Whatever worship is, it has little to do with the materiality of our lives. We have mental images of “worship” as something done on a Sunday morning, standing up and sitting down when told to do so by the guy with the guitar up front, and singing pre-printed songs. Many wear jeans and flip-flops; at some places it is de rigueur for the preacher man to wear casual clothing; I have even heard of Mickey Mouse shirts.

And the architectural space in which this activity takes place matters NIL.

The historian Johan Huizinga, in his The Waning of the Middle Ages, makes a key observation about religious images.

“The spirit of the Middle Ages … longs to give concrete shape to every conception. Every thought seeks expression in an image, but in this image it solidifies and becomes rigid. By this tendency to embodiment in visible forms all holy concepts are constantly exposed to the danger of hardening into mere externalism. For in assuming a figurative shape thought loses its ethereal and vague qualities, and pious feeling is apt to resolve itself in the image.”

The Eastern tradition of being conveyed into the divine presence by icons stresses the moment of encounter. Ideally, at that moment, the materiality of the art object goes away. Thus the art-thing is not an object of veneration, as the Western criticism would have it. But on the other hand, the art-thing is there, with its candles and incense and all the rest of it. And to the one who is not in the moment, it is, problematically, a religious something or other with no actual power.

My point is that true sacramentalism can never be resident in objects alone. It must begin in the heart, a heart hungry for the moment of being in tune with heaven’s presence on earth. And heaven’s presence not only in a general way, but in a Christ way, in which he is here, with me, in this place, at this time, in this nice Stickley recliner on which I am writing. In moments like this, whether it is in front of an art object or whether it is sitting at meal, or whether it is writing these thoughts, sacrament and art meet, because heaven and earth meet.

For the possibility of these moments, I set my table with honor and care; I work on my art with expectation; I look out at the nature around me with quiet humility; I treat all men with eager expectations of honor and redemption.

And I am blessed by this Stickley recliner not as a haughty display of “taste” in expensive furniture, but because it is of an excellence that is becoming for the moment in which You are with me.


Romans 1.20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

John 1.14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

J. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages [1942], Doubleday Anchor, 1954, page 152.