The Memory Magician

I’ve just watched an episode of PBS’ American Masters series on the life and artistry of Andrew Wyeth, son of notable children’s book illustrator N. C. Wyeth. In describing the younger Wyeth’s work, the term “magic-realist” was several times used – his paintings capture realistic but haunting imagery with strangely sharp detail.

One of the fascinating aspects of his work is the extent to which he captured, not painted photographs of real scenes, but observations drawn from memory. Wyeth was a dedicated observer, and would take his observations back to a canvas or sketchpad in a room; the artist himself spoke of art being a blend truth and (not beauty but) memory.

Equally fascinating was the fact that most of his artistic life was spent in only two places: Chadds Ford, PA, and Allen Island, Maine. At each residence, he became close friends with neighbors whose lives and dwellings formed the source material of countless sketches and paintings. Much made out of seemingly little: it shows that much is hidden in the small things of life, for the eyes willing and able to see.

Memory is an imperfect mirror. Every memory is turned, lightened and darkened, grainier or smoother than what had been, and in that way it is good fodder for the artistic vision. If you possessed such a talent with paints or with words, what memories would you draw upon to capture the things you care most about?

Speech After Long Silence

Nearly six years passed since last I wrote on a blog – in the life of a blog, surely this is equivalent to an epoch or two.  The voice I read in previous posts is strangely familiar but distant, too, communicating with unusual clarity, deftness of speech, and a winsome romance of language.  I’m not certain he exists anymore.

If he is truly gone, what has taken his place?  Some phrases float through my mind: a man of less romance and more bitter truth…a pragmatist…a heart folded by painful years.

But as I have heard that speech after long silence is right – and in part, out of curiosity as to whether this blog still functions, I publish! and surrender these brave, these wounded words unto the void…

Take All or Mis-Take All

There is another way to describe the idea that I addressed yesterday. I wrote about what matters most to God, stating that the communication of Himself, His full nature and character, is of greater importance than simply communicating His love for mankind, because we cannot comprehend His love apart from the whole reality of Himself.

This points toward a wider reality: you cannot know a piece of Christ. He is whole, or else you mistake Him. What I mean is that you cannot know Christ only in parts, knowing only His love or His patience or His peace by itself, to the exclusion of the other less mild elements of His character such as His righteous judgment or His fierceness toward sin or His rage against corruption. We use words to distinguish facets of a person, but these facets are lost if divided from the whole. You cannot know the patience of Christ without knowing also His rage, or know His peace without also His zeal. The truth of one gives hue to the other.

So then let us take Christ wholly as He is. He is Christ, pure and full.

What Matters More to God

God, help me both to think and to write clearly, to express no thoughts for the sake of pleasing man but only those thoughts which will challenge men toward greater faith.

The other day, I read an opinion piece in our local newspaper. The author began by declaring the throngs of individuals living in our area who both believe in God and accept homosexuality as a fully acceptable lifestyle. However, the final line especially caught me: a group of young people are affirmed for supporting the LGBT community, with the claim that justice is on their side.

The author then claims the following: “God – who can do nothing but love – is, too.”

There is much that might be said to this. There is first the boldness (read “audacity”) of putting such words and thoughts into God’s mouth. In another light, this statement is essentially a religious teaching about the assumed nature of God.

I certainly have many thoughts in response to this treatment of God, but these would best be shared directly with the author and in a context of personal communication rather than through an indirect or incendiary blog post. However, one question this comments points toward is, I think, important for Christians and non-Christians everywhere to consider…

Which is more important to God: that every human being knows He loves them, and feels His love for them, experiences it, or that every human being knows who He is, His nature and His character?

Look again at the author’s statement above. He assumes that God is on the side of individuals engaging in homosexuality because “[He] can do nothing but love.” (He earlier defines this affirming attitude toward homosexuality as the belief that “Gay and lesbian folks are fine just the way they are.”) The writer’s theology hinges entirely on what he perceives to be the love of God: this love defines the character of God for him.

This is why the question above is so crucial. Is the Christian message, the gospel message, ultimately a declaration of the love of God for all mankind, or is it a declaration of the full character of God to a humanity that knows Him not?

Some might say this is a false dichotomy, as the character of God comprises love; but this is where the subtle folly enters. Consider first how much of the Word, which is itself an index card to the library of His fullness, is devoted to character discourse rather than sentimental discourse. Let’s be clear: God does love every person who has ever been (John 3:16). But rare are the open declarations of love, while statements of His nature and character run throughout the Bible. The phrase “I am the LORD” appears 188 times in the ESV, while God Himself declares “I love you” (so precious!) only once, in Isaiah 43. His love is elsewhere described and confirmed – yes, He loves – but first and foremost He is the LORD. And this is not merely to express His name: this is to communicate His character, the very Who He is.

This matters for a very important reason: we must know His full character, know Him as God, know Him as holy and set apart, Original, Righteous and True, and we must know this before we know His love for us because apart from His character, we would not know what love is! We would apply everything we believe about love to God Himself, ignoring those facets of His character which do not align with our view. But love is not a constant force apart from God, to which God mostly adheres in His dealings with men; this would be as much to say that love is God. The reverse is true – God is love – and so we must know the fulness of His character, all of His thoughts and passions and ferocity and meekness if we are to know what love is.

Our local author has confused the two. Many young believers are doing the same. But God will not be parsed or reduced, and He would rather people reject Him for Who He is than “accept” Him for who He isn’t. Consider the whole character of God; take in all of His words. His love and His holiness are complete, and completely intimate with each other. If His whole heart were to tell humanity that He loves us, no matter what we do, the Bible might have been much, much shorter. But He loves us enough not to leave us as we are, not to tell us we are “fine just the way we are.” We are not fine. We don’t know what love is.

I hope we all surrender to the holiness of the God who loves us dearly.