05 May 2009

Beauty and Truth

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

-John Keats

There is a church i pass quite frequently in my weekly travels. You see, it's along the route that i take when i travel south, to Elk Grove. If nothing else, i will pass it when i go to work and when i go to church. This church is one of those churches that are peppered across the country, the kind with the lighted sign out front with the weekly sayings. You know the ones. 'Eternity is a long time to be wrong.' 'Without Jesus, there would be hell to pay.' 'God answers knee-mail.'

I don't like these signs.

Their purpose is to at least get people thinking about God and at most come to church on Sundays and start following Christ. The three i wrote above came from the site One-Liners for Reaching the Lost. In all honesty, i have no clue how those are reaching people who don't know God. If i wasn't already a follower of God, a simple sign wouldn't pull me in or deter me from my way of life.

If i were the sign-guy, the one who recreates the sign each week, i wouldn't try to think up something catchy or something that rhymes. I would put up something simple each week, something like 'The Word became skin and bones to live a life alongside us,' or even 'On behalf of Christians worldwide: We're sorry.'

Instead, the sign outside the church i pass tends toward catchy or rhyming sentences. Last week's said, 'In prayer you lie to God if you don't rely on God.'

I have a problem with this. I also have a problem with the way we perceive language as well that ties in with this bad theology.

I call it bad theology because it tell us that every prayer must be the prayed with trust and reliance on God. Forget those prayers when you question God. Forget about the prayer on the cross when Jesus cries out 'My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?' I think the most honest prayer we can pray is the one that ends in a question mark. I also believe that my God is big enough to handle any of the crap i hold against him.

A couple years ago, i saw a video of a man wearing boxing gloves and shorts, getting into an argument with God as he boxed a sequoia. Every time he took a swipe at the tree, he'd yell at God for something. His doubt and his anger was his fuel, but eventually all of those burned up and he was left panting on the ground, squeaking out 'You win. You win.'

This is honesty. This is prayer. It's not that the only prayer worth praying is the one that relies on God; the only prayer worth praying is the honest prayer. If you don't rely on God, pray that. It's better than 10 insincere prayers that are reliant.

This small rant has a place in this blog about language. This is where my rant and language collide.

Most people acknowledge that OJ Simpson most likely was the murderer of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, even though the jury decided in his favor. (The civil court did not look as kindly upon him, deciding against him.) During the trial, back in the 90s, one of the defense attorneys, Johnny Cochran, famously said 'If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit.' He said it multiple times during the closing arguments. 'If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.'

I won't argue that this rhyme is the reason that Simpson got off. All i can argue is that when something is said or written in a catchy manner, a rhyme for example, people tend to listen closer and more quickly believe it to be true. If that weren't the case, Cochran wouldn't have used the rhyme to argue his case, pastors wouldn't start every point in their sermon with the letter 'J', and signs like the one i pass every week wouldn't work so hard to sound catchy.

You might say it simply makes things easier to remember if it has a certain poetry to it (rhyme, alliteration, etc.), and that's true. Yet, with how our memories work, the more we hear something, or remember something, the more likely we are to believe it as true. So the catchier something is, the more weight it carries on the truth scale.

We have degraded our language to a point that anything reasonable sounding that rhymes or alliterates holds a nugget of truth, no matter the actual merit of what's behind the words. We have forgotten to examine what is said under the microscope Truth and instead examined what is said under the lens of what is Beautiful, thinking them to be one and the same. They intersect, but they are not the same.

Truth is often ugly, that is why it is called 'brutal honesty.' What is beautiful and smooth sounding is not always true. Remember that, even if it doesn't rhyme.

Truth is a bitter friend.
-Nickel Creek

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree with you more Mike...well said! I don't know if people really want the truth these days, I think they want what is easiest, be that right or wrong. However, I don't want to sound pessimistic, because I read things like your blog, and other authors who strive to point out truth in a culture built on lies, and so they should! Keep it up my friend, language is such a powerful tool.