Why We Need Beauty: Ideal

Beauty has value because people will pay for it, and yet beauty in our culture is generally perceived to be superficial and insignificant. Within this oxymoron, we’ve seen how beauty evokes substantial responses from people with the attention people give to beauty, the esteem people attach to it, and the price people pay for it. There seems to be a contradiction in claiming beauty to be superficial with the kinds of responses our society gives toward it. Perhaps our responses toward superficial beauty are really symbolic of us grasping for a substantial beauty we sincerely long for. Beauty is an essential quality of reality the human soul needs. Without beauty, the soul dissolves into despair.

Can you imagine a world without beauty? There are places that have been ravaged and abandoned, characterized by devastation, destitution, and pollution. There are conditions of lives where very little beauty is seen because of the atrocities rendered on people. The absence of beauty on a substantial level is real in some parts of the world and in some people’s lives. But imagine beauty infiltrating such places and people, from the beauty of smiles on faces and songs sung in communities to the beauty of art, architecture and arboretums. How would beauty affect societies and souls? I’ve seen how painting three large murals at a low-income, inner-city school enlivens the spirits of the children who attend it. I’ve seen how brand, new textbooks touch children’s hearts. Beauty nurtures the human soul.

One reason for why we need beauty is it expresses an ideal – an ideal hair, skin tone, voice, life, artwork, or character quality. In some cases, sociologically, the perceived ideal can be oppressive, making people feel as though they live in substandard means and need to be like others with more money, wealth, power, and fame. Aside from socially twisted standards that belittle people, ideals can convey noble tenets under a healthy definition of beauty, giving people a vision of something truly great to look towards and strive for. The ideal portrays perfection and pulls people out of complacency and stimulates change. The ideal stirs in people an appetite to be more than what they are presently, to recognize flaws and ugliness that should be recognized and to grasp for greater wholeness. While we hold in the one hand a healthy acceptance of ourselves, meaning we exercise self-forgiveness, self-love and not self-flagellation for not meeting a standard, we also maintain a proper view of the ideal that sets us in motion to better our lives, better ourselves, and better our world. Acceptance alone is flawed if it is a settling for brokenness that should be healed and transcended. The ideal calls for change to the good.

I know it may seem fleeting, because can the ideal ever be attained? Theologically, on this side of heaven, the answer is no. But we’d be moving in the right direction, rather than the wrong direction or no direction at all. We’d be on God’s redemptive, re-creative plan to fulfill his vision of beauty for the world. If we make progress towards the perfect although never arriving, we will still be better than we were before. In the absence of beauty and a view of the ideal, there would be no appetite, no striving, and no movement.

However, considering the ideal brings us back to the question of definition. A person’s definition of beauty defines the ideal in that person’s eyes. Most accept the implied definition of beauty formed by ever-changing currents of commercialism and consumerism. Commercialism and consumerism is influenced by the masses and largely steered by those in power. Those who have more means, resources, social status, and access to prominent figures have also greater ability to influence people’s perception of what is beautiful. Our definition of beauty defines our ideal, which influences what we have an appetite for and determines the direction we move in. But what if beauty, and the ideal, were not socially constructed?

What is objectively real began in creation when God conceived it and manifested it. In creation, God intentionally created the universe to contain beauty, as we can see from His repeated declaration of “it was good” in Genesis 1. So, beauty and an ideal was formulated from the mind of God to be an actual part of our reality. God’s creation and definition of beauty stems from his own character and nature. Everything he created is in harmony with who he is. The universe is ordered because God is ordered and not chaotic. The universe is whole because God is harmonious and complete in his character and nature. The universe is a sensible place, where 2+2 always equals 4, because God is a being of reason. The universe is largely a good, loving, and just place, because God is good, loving and just. The Fall has thrown some of these aspects off balance, but we can still see the universe as largely being good. In fact, the effects of the Fall prods us to strive for beauty because we know that this is not the way things are supposed to be. The world God made is still lovely but we are also far from the ideal. Beauty reminds us that we cannot stay where we are. Since an objective definition of beauty and the ideal is based in God, the journey of discovering beauty is discovering the wonder of God. The quest in becoming more beautiful is a quest in becoming more like God. The appetite for beauty then is a holy appetite, a genuine yearning of our souls. As we wade through various social perceptions of beauty, the ideal beauty we strive for is God’s intended beauty for people and the world.

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Human Dignity is Core to Our Humanity

Respect – why is it a necessary social value and what does it have to do with creativity? We especially recognize how essential respect is when someone treats us disrespectfully. Consider how fundamental respect is. Someone can’t say he/she loves you and yet treats you disrespectfully. While love and respect are not the same things, respect qualifies the authenticity of love. Can you imagine someone telling you he/she loves you but belittles or demeans you, making you feel like you are not worth much? Disrespect makes love suspect. On the other hand, you can still respect someone you don’t love or like. You can rightly say, “I don’t like you, but I respect you.” Opponents can disagree and dislike each other but still respect each other. This illustrates respect is a core social value. Respect is a core value because it is rooted in a core property of our humanness – dignity.

Humans were designed to have inherent dignity as image-bearers. In the practice of making things, made-objects will by the least bear the skills of its maker. On another level, made-objects will bear the thoughts, ideas, and visions of its maker to varying degrees. On the most personal level, if an object is made to be a direct reflection of its maker, like a self-portrait, it bears a unique honor by possessing characteristics of the maker and representing the personhood of the maker. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). God chose humans to be his self-representation. Using himself as the model and paradigm for our design, he poured himself into humans to bear resemblances of his attributes, being a representation of his character and glory. Our dignity is connected to the personhood of God. People weren’t just made with skill and vision. People were made in the image of God. We, therefore, have an image-based dignity, not a dignity based on merits, credits or societal comments. Image-based dignity is grounded not on our achievements but in God himself. That makes our human dignity sacred, and it should not be violated. Since our human dignity is founded in our design, our dignity is inherent. We are born with dignity. Human dignity should be assumed in every person, from the chief operating officer to the homeless person. A person passing me on the street does not have to earn a base level of respect from me. A person deserves my respect simply for being human, because we are both image-bearers of God. Respect is a core social value because our human dignity is inherent.

Who likes being disrespected? When we’re disrespected, we sense a property that is true and precious in the core of our being has been denied. Extreme disrespect becomes more clearly an act of dehumanization. To see my human dignity as something less than yours is to make me sub-human. To deny my dignity is to deny my humanity. Racism denies human dignity. Slavery denies human dignity. Abuse denies human dignity. These injustices attack our image-based dignity, attacking the image of God we possess. Human dignity is a reason for social justice.

On the positive side, when respect, honor, praise, courtesy, and regard are given to one another, we edify each other’s beauty, worth and importance. A wonder of our humanity is in God’s original creativity we were forged in his image to bear dignity.

To dig deeper into the theme of “Human Dignity,” visit Creativity Catalyst at http://www.creativitycatalyst.la

This is Day ONE (2017)

This is Day One, the first step onto a new course, the first page of a new chapter. Beginnings allow us to have closure with the former and breathe in the freshness of starting again. The first step bears such weight that it ought to be matched with an artful approach of both confident excitement and reverent trepidation. Without the first step, a course does not happen. Day One sets a course in motion. A new beginning tells us that things don’t have to be as they once were, that positive change and new productivity can be pursued. It is a moment for empowerment to say, “I can move forward from the former mistakes and mishaps of the previous chapter and enter into a new era of development and opportunities.” A new beginning is also the marker of continuation, because it tells us that the end has not yet come, and, therefore, we must not give up or lose hope, because there’s still more of life to be lived. We need to richly harvest the lessons of our mistakes and mishaps of the past to fill our vat of wisdom in order to not reinvent the same chapter we had just lived. We must propel ourselves from Day One with fierce intentionality, clear and open eyes, and focused resolve to vigorously begin a new course. But we also should feel the gravity of this first step and embrace it with healthy fear and trepidation, for out of this fear burgeons a respect for the course. Like experiencing the wonder and warmth of a blazing fire, a healthy fear teaches us to respect something so grand. Like a hiker standing at the trailhead of a journey into the mountains, we need both a certitude that we will conquer this mountain and a deep reverence for the mountain, or else we will not be ready to meet it. Without a healthy fear for the grandness of the path before us, we run the risk of underestimating what the journey will require of us, repeating former flaws without change that comes with decisive effort, and trivializing the course with a mundane attitude as though this will be just another year. Excitement and confidence coupled with humbleness and respect for what’s ahead is how we should stand on Day One as we push forward from this step into a new adventure. Let us trek this year with fervency to know the triumph of productivity, progress, and development. Let us seek the greater glory that is more than what’s about ourselves. Let us create more goodness in the world and re-create more beauty out of brokenness with insight and care. Let depression not consume us. Let despair not overtake us. Through the highest heights and lowest points, let us know greatly the reality of promise. Even if we traverse through the darkest valleys, let us be led by the light of hope. Let us listen better to God, who woos us daily and speaks tenderly to us in the depths of our souls where nobody hears. Let us think more intelligently, love more sacrificially, accept love more humbly, care more genuinely, heal more bravely, and wonder more child-likely. I have a feeling this course will be a brilliant one, full of drama no doubt but also beauty and wonder await to be uncovered. Here we stand on Day One.

Beauty This Christmas

The Christmas season is a time that’s both celebratory and somber for many, as we celebrate hope and joy and close the year, like ending a chapter.  We tend to wonder about the worth of the past year and feel the excitement and intimidation of being at the threshold of another new year.  I find there’s one thing we desire to be the sum of ourselves through the journeys we travel — that is to achieve beauty.  Beauty, however, is more than a superficial covering, but a triumph over the broken, meaningless, hopeless, and regretful.  This is beauty marked by truth, the good, wholeness, and dignity, under the rich classical notion.  This beauty is fought for by ourselves and, at the same time, bestowed on us by those who treat us with love and respect.  To fight for beauty in ourselves, in our lives, and in our journey, we need the fierce courage to create beauty in our lives and the humility to find and receive beauty from others.  So as we come to the closure of a year with a celebration of joy, hope, and peace, I invite us to capture the beauty that was gained this year.  Do something this Christmas that makes you more beautiful.  Relish in the beauties of this year.  Marinate in the company of those who nurture greater beauty in you.  Above all, wherever your path has been as you arrive to the conclusion of 2016, allow this Christmas to remind you that you are far more loved than you could possibly imagine by a creative God who has envisioned a beautiful life for you.

Creative Urge: I Gotta Do It

Ideas float through our minds like an autumn breeze carrying colored leaves. Inspirations revisit our thoughts, stirring our imaginations to feats of wonder. We move on with our daily functions, taking care of practical needs, but we ponder over the ideas again. Though we forget about them during the humdrum of our routines, we’re aware of the ideas sitting in the recess of our minds. Whenever they visit us in our daydreams, we sense the urge to embark on the ideas that have taken residence in us.

The urge is a natural compulsion towards creativity – to paint that painting, write that story, make that craft, learn that instrument, design that invention, build that construction, or test that recipe. The idea calls to us because ideas desire to go from conceptualization to birth, to be giving life by manifestation into tangibility. The idea does not want to remain invisible and aware to the world. It wants to have form and function, where it can be seen, heard, touched, used, and experienced by others, including yourself. The urge comes from our God-given calling to creativity (Gen. 1:25, 2:15). The urge does not come from a fluke or superficial part of us. It comes from a core part of our identity that stems from the very design of who we are by God’s intention. God went from ideation to creation in the invention of the world. As image-creatures of the Creator, the creative call renders us unsatisfied with remaining in ideation. An urge moves us toward creation.

I encourage us to create. If our ideas will promote the good, making someone’s day a bit more fruitful, adding a little more effectiveness to someone’s productivity, simply giving a measure of joy and peace in someone’s heart, or illuminate a view of God’s character and gospel, you ought to satisfy that creative urge. It will require commitment, application, and investment. These are necessary to satisfy the urge. You may procrastinate. You may get lost in the pragmatics of life with bills and taking out the trash. You may distract yourself with mindless activities because you tell yourself you need to relax. But the creative urge will revisit you, begging for birth. You will keep hearing yourself saying, “I gotta do it,” until it is done.

Call For Creativity in the Present Destruction

The recent 7 deaths got me thinking about creativity as it pertains to righteousness. The good is the intimate outcome of creativity. When the good is devoid of righteousness, which is inseparably related to justice, the good is compromised. The good may still be there but compromised in its realization. The final consummation of the good is still not fully in our grasp. As Creativity Catalyst seeks to bring about the good of human flourishing as intended by God when he called us to be His stewards of the earth as His image-bearers, the specific aspect of righteousness in society has to be addressed in light of society’s brokenness. Creativity has to speak about righteousness, justice, mercy, and moral goodness into the destructive forces charged by fear, anger, insecurity, and hatred.

When I read about the Dallas sniper who shot 5 officers who did him no harm but they were shot because they were of a certain profile that fit his overall paradigm of hate, I’m gripped by the seething brokenness embedded in our society. Then when I read that he served our country as a veteran and in the Army Reserve, the murderous actions made even less sense to me. I thought about my father who, as an immigrant, served in the Armed Forces for over 20 years for the protection of our country. And here we have a fellow military service personnel waged war on other officers in uniform who were also sworn to protect people.

Our nation has been shaken to reconsider the state it is in. Technology and medicine advances, but souls are still in dire desperation and seeps into societal rampage. If we are to be creative – truly creative, we have to create works that presses forward towards goodness in the real context of present destruction. But the destruction is far from simplistic. It’s complicated and muddy. There’s a lot to be sorted through. A lot to be understood.  The creative process has to knead through the messiness of brokenness that motivates wrongful actions as well as to inspire redemption of our society.

So I call on my fellow Creativity Catalyst team to be creative in speaking into the present darkness. Draw drawings, paint paintings, write poems, shoot a series of photographs, make 30-second videos, compose a song, or video record a jogging journey that speaks about righteousness, explores brokenness, and grasps for goodness. Come up with something medically related, an educational component, or a business product that creatively addresses the social ills reflected in the specific destructive incidences. Let our creativity be a voice that speaks into the darkness and illuminates light. I’m calling us to create something by August 15 that we can share. Our creativity begins in silence, is formed in the studio, and then is voiced in society. So that, we might press forward toward the good.

Adoptive Dad 24: A Disturbing Adventure

I wanted to take my 2.5-year-old son on an adventure in Stanley Park, Vancouver to find a big head, about the size of a person, carved out of a tree trunk. I showed a picture of it that I found online to my son. He immediately got excited. I asked him if he wanted to go on an adventure to find this “Big Head,” and he was ecstatic. This is my and my son’s first time to Vancouver. My wife’s second time but she had not been to Stanley Park.

When I showed the picture of the carved head to a staff person operating a tour service in Stanley Park and asked her where I could find this, she was shocked that she had never seen this before. That made finding it more intriguing.  I asked the woman at the information booth and she said, “Finding it will be tough, but I can point out the area it is located in.” The mystery enticed me even more to find this head, accentuating the feeling of going on an adventure with my son. She marked it off on the map for us and off we went! I showed the map to my son, told him this was our “treasure map” and pointed out the spot on the map. He would from time-to-time hold the map, walk with it, and pretend to read it. He ran on the trail, chasing me and me chasing him. We saw colorful ducks.  We saw a swan sitting in a huge nest it made for itself. We came across a turtle, held it, and took pictures with it. A very well-mannered raccoon kindly approached us, and we took pictures with it. After an hour and a half of trekking, we finally came to the area. I said to my son, “We’re here. The Big Head is in here somewhere. Let’s look for it!” That’s when we entered the unexpectedly disturbing.

The area was just off the main path. A couple of dirt paths led into the woods. The paths criss-cross and wound this way and that. So we wandered around in there, looking at the picture shown online and tried to find the tree trunk with the giant head. Inside the woods, I was reminded of Fangorn Forest in Lord of the Rings – Two Towers. There were other people in the woods as well. My first thought was that these people were also here looking for the giant head! We followed one or two of them, thinking they knew where it was, but it turned out that they would back track the way they came. In fact, there were quite a number of individuals meandering in these woods. They appeared to be walking aimlessly. Of course, I think we appeared to be walking aimlessly as we searched for this head. Some individuals that sat on logs and others wandered. I thought they were there for some solitude. There was a tent pitched in one area. And there were some that walked together in two’s. After 20 minutes of us searching with no success, an older man approached me.

“What are you looking for?” he asked.

I kind of didn’t want the reward of discovery to be taken from me, so I didn’t say I was looking for a giant, wooden head, carved in a tree trunk. “We’re just looking around,” I said with a smile.

He took a couple steps closer and said, “This area isn’t safe.”

That was weird, because I thought, Well, what are you doing here then? “Not safe from what?” I asked, thinking maybe he was referring to animals, like snakes, or the ground being too uneven and slippery. But again, what was he doing here then?

“What?”

“Not safe from what?” I repeated. “What’s not safe here?”

“This area is for men,” he stated.

Now I was puzzled.  I looked around the woods. “What do you mean it’s for men?”  Were these guys monks?

“You figure it out.”

My wife, who had been searching in another spot not far from me, approached. I said to her, “He says this area is not safe, that it’s only for men.” My wife had the same surprised, puzzled look I had.

I asked, “Why would an area for men be unsafe.” I know. I wanted to really drill in on this and get to the bottom.

“This is place is for gay men,” he clarified. “By law, you have a right to be here, but I’m letting you know that it’s not safe for your wife and your son. You should stay on the main path.”

I politely thanked him for letting us know, because we were clueless about what we walked into. I suddenly did notice that there were only men in this area.  We came across more than a dozen. I was reluctant to leave still, because we had an adventure to accomplish with our son! But nonetheless, we started to make our way out. And sure enough, as we were about to exit the area, a man who was wrapping up his tent shouted something belligerent at us. Once we were back out on to the main path, we saw one stranger walk up to another stranger, exchange a few words briefly, and walked off into the woods together.

My wife and I were disturbed by the experience. I was extremely perturbed that a group of people could capture a beautiful, public area for themselves for their diabolical purposes, adulterate it, and prevent others from being able to share this place. This was Stanley Park, one of the main attractions of Vancouver! We had more than a legal right, by law, to be there.  We had an inherent right to the beauty of the place that is part of this earth.  The man who warned me was respectful, but he made it clear to my family and me that we were not welcomed. We didn’t belong, as that was reinforced by the other man shouting at us. There was a part of me that wanted to finish our search for my son, but I didn’t know what we could’ve walked into while peeking around in the woods. So we did the prudent thing and walked away. My heart sink the most when our son asked where the big head was, and I told him that we couldn’t find it. We couldn’t complete our adventure.

Nearly three hours from the time we started on our adventure, we made our way back to our rental car and drove to our next destination – the famous Totem Poles in Stanley Park. When our son got out of the car, he saw the totem poles and said, “I found the big head!” He ran to the wooden totem poles with the many large heads carved into them, thinking that was what we had been looking for all along. My heart was lifted at seeing his joy and his sense of completing our adventure. On our drive back to the hotel, he said with reassurance, “Daddy, Daddy, we found the big head.”

I replied, “Yes, we did.”