Truth is beauty
I came back from holiday in time to attend a wedding. All weddings have staple expectations with individualities. The bridegroom’s mother gave us an individuality when she said in her speech, “He has an eye for beauty and honesty.”
If that is true, and he maintains it, he will be well equipped for this marriage. More than that, he will be well equipped for life. And any of us who develop an eye for beauty and for honesty will be similarly well equipped. Consider: beauty has to do with appeal, in more than the visual. A man’s love for his wife; a woman’s love for her husband; a parent’s love for a child; a true response to the fatherhood of God: all beautiful. Keats’ line that “beauty is truth” may not be sufficient at first glance — we’ve all met corruption disguised in attractive packaging — but there’s enough in it to warrant some reflection, and that reflection quickly leads us to the fields of genuinely true things that are beautiful indeed.
And if the groom’s mother’s second identified quality, an eye for honesty, is real in her son, then this is a lucky bride indeed. Honesty demands appreciation, for love given by wife and world, and by God. It allows no easy answers, no glossing over with convenient or apparent, a struggle to turn the good into better and the better into ideal. Honesty is surely the very basis of the universe, for God is truth. “I am who I am.” An eye for honesty and beauty will take us where we all want to be, and where many don’t know how to approach.
Those who don’t know how to approach include, of course, a lot of us in the church. The groom’s father said, in his speech: “Love’s about humility and love’s about courage.” I don’t think he’s a church-going man, but he might as well have said “grace and truth.” The challenge to us all, not just newly married couples, is to be courageous enough to pursue truth and humble enough to allow difference.
I said I’d come back from holiday for this wedding. No holiday is real unless it has some good reading, and this time mine had included some Garrison Keillor. Keillor is essentially a whimsical man and his writing is most variable but he makes some telling asides, often while reflecting on my sorts of people. And the lines that caught my eye this time read: “Smugness … the sin of the Midwest, that extra topspin you put on the truth when you know they know you’re right; the vanity of the modest … we are good people and we are mean, fractious, susceptible to envy, suspicious, cruel.”
It looks harsh. But we all know the little inner surge that makes an extra thrust when we’ve got someone cold in our debating sights, and the temptation to just so slightly overstate our case because we can, and it feels good, not because it’s helpful or kind or, in the best sense of the word, true. I suspect that a lot of otherwise well directed evangelism founders, not on the issue of accuracy, but on the rock of genuine consideration, of courtesy, of humility; a casualty of the “extra topspin” that just makes us feel good, even the most modest of us. As for being paradoxically good and mean, fractious, suspicious and even envious and cruel, we all know that’s true. I have often pondered why the meanest mail I have ever received comes almost exclusively from those seeking to defend the truth, and I think I know the answer. But it’s better for me to ponder why I so easily become mean in my reaction to that same mail. The bridegroom’s father just may have touched on that, too.
He commented favourably on the singing of the hymns, saying “usually it’s a dull mumble at these sorts of things.” Evangelicals generally don’t go in for a lot of dull mumbling, and when the praise is real, that’s good. But if it’s over-singing because we have to sound enthusiastic no matter how we might be feeling, then maybe it’s not so good. Time again for some honesty.
Another year is now well under way. Among its options, let us commit ourselves deliberately to developing our senses of honesty and beauty, for the sake of the church and of the world, and for the sake of God himself, and for the sake of ourselves.