Are Light and Darkness Mutually Exclusive?

Daniel Siedell wrote a piece recently critiquing Thomas Kinkade’s work. He basically raked Kinkade over the coals for not being enough like Dostoyevsky. My take on the article is that Siedell thought that the absence of pain, the absence of evil, the absence of the Fall failed to allow any sign of grace to shine through all that light. I suppose he has a valid point, but does all art have to mirror Dostoyevsky or someone like Flannery O’Connor for it to be considered grace-filled?

A clue might be in a quote Siedell attributes to Kinkade: “I like to portray a world without the Fall.” This appears to come from a Christianity Today article from 2000. You can read more of what he says there.

The beef with this statement from Kinkade is that is not the world we live in. And for that to be a goal is a misrepresentation of the truth. But Kinkade also says: “The world is very dark, but in heaven there is no dark.” Unfortunately, that brings up another problem: his paintings are not about heaven. They deal squarely with the scenes of earth.

Two questions: First, should we be concerned about an artist’s theological purpose if it is contrary to the way the Bible relates the world to us? Second, is Kinkade guilty of some sort of artistic heresy that we need to stamp out?

The answer to the first is yes—if the artist is intending to speak as a believer in Jesus Christ. His purpose should match up with Scripture, and this is irrespective of what we might think of the art. So does Kinkade break any theological rules? As long as we know and are aware of his purpose: fantasy, can we not then move on to whether or not it is good art? Tolkien wrote, in my opinion, a masterful work called The Lord of the Rings. He explicitly said that it was not meant to be an allegory—many have ignored these words and gone on to show how Christian it was. It may have been, but that was not his purpose. His purpose was to create a fantasy story, complete with other gods, other creators besides the creator God of the Bible. Whatever we think about the quality of Kinkade’s work, in purpose, is it different than Tolkien’s?

The second question is not so easy to answer because it involves all the people who love his work, and there are lots of people who love his work. But why do they love it? Do they need to love it only if it reveals the biblical concept of grace? Or is it ok to love it because it makes them feel good? Ultimately, our creations should point others to God. And when fallen humanity sees God, the Bible indicates that one of two responses is typical: “Woe is me for I am undone!” and “Oh the depth and riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” The response in various grades is either despair at our own condition or praise and adoration at our changed condition.

If Kinkade’s work draws us to heaven, and in the scenes of everyday life, we get glimpses of what life will be like: a present shadow—ironically achieved with light—of our future reality, then he is not guilty of such a vile act as Seidell accuses him of. If, however, his viewers are drawn to what might be here on earth, are made to loathe their existence here based on what they think their earthly life should be like, are left more focused on their own failures instead of God’s glory, then we should be more cautious in praising his work.

But that is an individual experience, is it not? Are we to become thought police for everyone who reads Dostoyevsky and sees only despair and never grace and then accuse Dostoyevsky of avoiding grace? I haven’t surveyed the landscape on what the Kinkade lovers see in his work.

For me, however, what Kinkade brings up is nostalgia: the idea that times used to be better. And that is patently untrue. Man has always been fallen. Man has always been depraved. Man has never been happy and comfortable in his cottage by the lake in static reverie. That is not to say that we consistently wallow in a joyless existence either.

So my take: if all the art you imbibe is Kinkade-like art, you are not getting a complete diet of art. It would be like eating sweets all day. And if we do that, we will enjoy the taste to our detriment and eventual death. So have some Kinkade if you like that sort of thing and it turns your eyes to heaven, but don’t forget your body’s—your soul’s—need for someone like Dostoyevsky.

Blooming, I Mean Cultivating, Where Planted

Some things we talked about Sunday morning and this blog post got me thinking about Genesis 2. God placed Adam in the garden (a pre-fall garden) and gave him a task: till (or cultivate as it is sometimes translated) and keep. After the fall, God placed him outside the garden and told him to till.

At the end of the OT, in Malachi, we read that the people don’t really care about the things that God cares about. The prophet says that the people no longer serve (the same word in Genesis 2 for till) God or keep (same word as in Genesis 2) his charge.

It seems that regardless of where we are, we have been tasked with taking care of things that God has entrusted to us. And God has placed each of us in a particular culture so that we might cultivate it, add order to it—redeem it as Jake talks about in his blog post. And if we buy into the fact that everything does matter, then we must look at our surroundings, both physical and spiritual, material and immaterial, living and inanimate as part of what God would have us till to God’s glory. We really must not separate the sacred from the secular and try to order our lives that way.

But surely the neighbor’s marriage is more important than my yard needing mowing, right? Well, if we think it is an either/or, that is a false dichotomy. Both should be attended to with the same purpose: bringing order from chaos. Sure, when faced with a yard that needs mowing and an urgent phone call from the neighbor, I will choose the neighbor, but that doesn’t mean the yard is less important in its need for order and redemption.

And we must not forget that those mundane tasks require the power of the Spirit to order just as much as the neighbor’s marriage.

An Apology Because I Don’t Trust You

Dr. Robert Spitzer has apologized to the gay community for a ten-year old study which claimed some gays could, through reparative therapy, go straight. He now says the study was flawed because how can one know for sure if the people who claimed to have changed were actually telling the truth. He says this despite earlier believing that certain aspects of the accounts couldn’t simply be dismissed. All fine and well. Except for one thing. If we can’t trust someone who claims they have gone straight, how can we trust someone who says they are gay?

Does he think the people who claimed they had changed were lying, confused, deceived, pressured? Why can’t those same criteria be applied to those who say they are gay? I know, I’ve heard it before, why would anyone claim to be gay and undergo such backlash by family, friends, the church? Why humans put themselves into situations where they are persecuted is multifaceted. But what is clear by a cursory view of human behavior both now and throughout history is that humans often do things for inexplicable reasons that bring them trouble. And they often do things for inexplicable reasons that allow them to remain “safe” and out of trouble, as is claimed of those who were changed through reparative therapy.

To say that those who were changed from gay to straight were wrong—for whatever reason—invites the same query of those who claim they are gay in the first place. For good or ill, this conversation needs to have a level playing field.

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters

This second book in Riordan’s Percy Jackson series is not quite the book the first one was, but do seconds often meet up to firsts? The humor seemed a little more forced than the last book, or maybe we are just getting used to his style, and therefore, it it not as funny. Still, there are plenty of fun monsters to battle, another quest to attempt—sort of, a few twists and turns, and a god who finally appears to be on Percy’s side. The book got better as it went along, and the new characters (Tyson, Hermes, Polyphemus)  were a welcome addition to the cast. Riordan added a love-to-hate character as well: Tantalus. Not sure if we will see him again, but the grasping the burger at the end was a priceless addition to the story. The writing is certainly not White or Wilder or even Andrew Clements, but the story is fun and clean, and one gets to learn a little mythology along the way. We are looking forward to starting Curse of the Titans tomorrow night due to the cliff hanger at the end. To Riordan’s credit: didn’t see that one coming!

Interpretation and Dialogue?

After President Obama’s announcement that he supports the right of homosexuals to marry, people have weighed in on both sides with renewed fervor. Or does it just seem that way? The dialogue (if we dare call it that) has been going on for a long time; though, I’m not sure dialogue is the right word. It is more along the lines of sound bites and rehashed phrases with little substantive argument on either side, at least in the public square.

For instance, NPR has an article front and center today—2nd article, middle column. The article shows people on both sides of the issue using the Bible for their purposes. The article even has someone quoting the oft used line,

“‘When you read the Bible, you can find justification for almost anything,’ she says, ‘including slavery, the subjection of women and an argument that the sun actually revolves around the earth.'” The she is Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest in California. This is true of course; you can find justification for almost anything—if you take things out of context, which is what many Christians do who are on both sides of this issue—and lots of other issues as well.

For instance (rabbit trail alert!), someone this morning sent me a link for a man who was coming to the area to talk about prophecy. So, I went to his website to confirm the fact that I wasn’t going to hear him. He too was weighing in on the homosexual marriage issue (ok, so it’s not that big of a rabbit trail), but with a different slant: why Jesus was coming back soon. And he used the Bible to show why. But his use of the Bible was no different than Susan Russell’s. He, too, pulled things out of context. You can read the article here, but here is a summary of his logic.

1) God destroyed Sodom for their homosexuality. 2) The author says, “Jesus said as the days of Lot so will it [sic] be the time when I return to the earth.” 3) Therefore, since homosexuality is prevalent now as it was then, Jesus must be returning soon.

Ok, let’s break down this logic. 1) While homosexuality (actually, I think there is an argument for rampant sexual perversion, not just homosexuality) was evident in Sodom, that is not the reason for it’s destruction. The sexual perversion of the day was a part of a greater spiritual issue. In Ezekiel 16 we read that Sodom’s pride, material prosperity, and love of pleasure (including sexual perversion) was her downfall. The author has failed to consider the context of not only Genesis but the narrative of the Old Testament as a whole. 2 & 3) The author takes the “days of Lot” phrase out of its context in Luke 17. Jesus was not referring to their sin, but to their going on with life without a care in the world. They were simply going on with the daily activities of life without ever realizing that they were in peril. That is how it will be when Jesus returns, nothing unusual going on. This is sloppy logic and sloppy reading.

Now back to Russell’s quote. The slavery issue is beyond complex. I think she is wrong—with qualifications, but this post would get really, really long, and that misses the point. The other two: subjugation of women and the earth revolving around the sun (did she really say that?) are another issue. People have believed the Bible says this in part because, I think, Christians have acted that way. Therefore, we assume the Bible gave them permission to do so. Yet, the Bible does not, anywhere give Christians permission to subjugate women, nor does the Bible say the sun revolves around the earth, any more than I say it does when I remark, “What a beautiful sunrise!” To use the subjugation of women issue when bringing up homosexuality is not to give the Bible a clear reading. To use the sun/earth example is a subtle attempt, without any rational support, to paint people who are opposed to homosexual marriage as flat earthers, i.e, ignorant. The irony there is palpable.

What is interesting is the author of the article also jumps into the fray, saying that the Bible condones polygamy (which again comes from a failure to read the Bible in context), without giving any justification. Which is another problem I have. People on both sides of issues invoke the authority of the Bible without giving any meaningful proof. And then people say, “You can justify almost anything with the Bible.”

Actually, you can’t, and to throw out that sound bite in hopes of silencing an opponent shows an inability to engage in rational conversation in hopes of changing someone’s mind. We have lost the art of civil discourse in this nation. And we have lost the art of rational discussion. My hope is that we could return to a rational, civil dialogue and engage the Bible in its context without picking and choosing what we like.

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What the People Want

The French elections have brought an end to Sarkozy’s presidency. I am wondering how far away we are here in America from the types of comments that were reported. It seems at least some of the people didn’t really like the president-elect Hollande, but liked Sarkozy even less. With the debt crisis in Europe (and here as well), one would think that people would vote economics. But it seems that maybe they just don’t have what it takes to endure the pain that will cause. So at least lets be happy while the ship sinks.

“Another Paris voter highlighted this anti-Sarkozy vote, saying she’s backing Hollande, even though his program is ‘suicidal.'”

And the same idea, though worded a little differently…

“‘He’ll raise the minimum wage, increase civil servants. But France is already in debt,’ said Florence Macrez. His fiscal reform project will only increase the pressure especially on the middle class, she added.”

What this screams is not a love of socialism, as some will undoubtedly say, but a vast hopelessness. I would agree that socialist agendas (Hollande wants to raise taxes and increase government spending) have led to the debt crisis, and that people do get used to being cared for by the government to their own detriment, but this just feeds an existence that has been fed so many lies for so long that what has resulted is a hopelessness that pervades all.

The humanist philosophy, which at one time said that man was the measure of all things, has turned on itself and now detests who man is. And the masses have believed it (at least about everyone else). So now they just seek for things to be calm, as one voter put it:

“On behalf of my compatriots, I felt quite insulted. He was so aggressive. I hope things will calm down.”

I met a woman in church one time who said she was leaving because the new pastor seemed too excited. She said church was a place to be calm. She just wanted to come and not be bothered, not convicted, not forced to think. She just wanted to sit and have someone soothe her for an hour. I don’t know if that is the sentiment of the French, but those quotes certainly make it seem that way. Hopefully Hollande can soothe them all as the ship sinks.