Tuesday, August 1, 2017

ARTIFICIAL BEAUTIFICATION

“They have gone beyond the limits of impropriety. They have invented mirrors to reflect all this artificial beautification of theirs, as if it were nobility of character or self-improvement. They should, rather, conceal such deception with a veil. It did the handsome Narcissus no good to gaze on his own image, as the Greek myth tells us. If Moses forbade his people to fashion any image to take the place of God, is it right for these women to study their reflected images for no other reason that to distort the natural features of their faces? . . . If the Lord places more importance on beauty of soul than on that of the body, what must he think of artificial beautification when he abhors so thoroughly every sort of lie? 'We walk by faith, not by sight.'” — Clement of Alexandria (150–215 AD) in Christ the Educator, 3.2.11-12

When I came across the above quote recently, it reminded me of my opinion about makeup in my early teen years. I had read and was so impressed by the following verse that I used sunlight to burn its words into a wooden plaque with a magnifying glass:



Despite the fact that this plaque still hangs in our house—directly above our bathroom mirror—its presence doesn’t keep my sweetheart from spending time in front of it trying to beautify her face. Even my repetitive avowal that shes the loveliest woman in the world isn’t effective. Evidently her artificial beautification isn’t for me, or for God. For whom then? For the world? For herself? It may be an unconscious part of a woman’s self-identity....

I’ll never forget a mime routine Red Skelton once did on his TV show. He role-played a couple coming home from a party. First, the wife entered the bedroom and removed her painful high heels, her earrings, her wig, her imitation eyelashes, and the two falsies from her bra. Applying cold cream to her face, she wiped off her lipstick and makeup. Then, wiggling out of her girdle and setting it on the vanity with the rest of her things, she went to bed. When Red entered as the husband, he quickly and easily undressed. But before climbing into bed, he went over to the vanity, looked down at everything his wife had removed, and said, “Goodnight, honey.” How funny it was, and how informative!

My wife knew my feelings about makeup before we married. While she uses it minimally, she shares with most women in America the common habit of facial routine before the mirror. It’s part of her culture, yes, even of her Christian culture. I remember a teacher telling me of his visit to a Christian family in Germany. At the dinner table, the wife, who had just taken a big swig from her beer mug, asked him, “Is it true that Christian women in America actually wear lipstick?” Arbitrary culture is a bigger gatekeeper on morality than Bible teachers want to admit.

But Bible teachers are mostly men, and when lax in marital devotion, they can be blatantly chauvinistic. At the university where I met my spouse, I cringed during one chapel service when the university president defended his wife’s use of makeup by saying, “If the barn needs painting, paint it!” As my sympathy for his wife rose, my respect for him fell. Maybe he didn’t intend to liken her to a barn, but his statement implied an even worse malediction: an aging woman’s face is unacceptable without artificial beautification.

Our culture idolizes the transient state of youth. Cosmetic painting has a hidden but inherent message: youthful beauty alone is beautiful. Beyond red lips, smooth skin and the absence of gray hair, this ideal encompasses other body parts. Historically, the corset was invented to narrow older abdomens to a younger size, while its two upper half-cups gave the bosom a breast-lift. When women finally salvaged themselves from the unhealthy tyranny of the corset, they weren’t wise enough to resist its twin offspring, the girdle and the braziere. These also had health risks. But with girdles making tummies appear youthfully slender and bras keeping breasts looking perky—firm and sticking out, as they were in late adolescence or early adulthood—the risks were ignored.




Joined to cosmetics, in the growing business of beautification, are diet programs, plastic-surgery procedures, and various skin-care technologies, all trying to remove or slow the signs of aging. But these age-erasers are not age-eliminators. They only procrastinate the attitudinal adjustment that all women must eventually make. Thinning, sagging, wrinkling skin is a future reality that every face will, sooner or later, have to face. By embracing that reality now, at any stage of life, a woman can bless herself with the special gift of self-acceptance. Accepting her face, figure and features, her skin, shape and size, along with every other part of her unadorned body, can be a time-saver at the mirror. But personally practicing body acceptance can also be an emotional life-saver, a healer of low self-esteem.

Because our bodies are temples for God’s presence and incarnations of His image, Christians should have led the way in spreading a sound message of body acceptance. Instead, secular voices have become its loudest proponents. Numerous women have given impressive TED Talks in this area.[1] But the best full-length documentary I’ve seen so far is EMBRACE (2016), by the Australian body image activist Taryn Brumfitt.[2] Without claiming a theological basis for their ideas on body acceptance, these ladies have proclaimed an essentially prophetic word calling for a healthy personal and social repentance (metanoia), a change of mind” about their perceived body image.

Whose thinking should guide our thoughts on the appearance and appeal of our face, our skin, our shape? Shouldn’t it be the mind of the Creator who gave them to us? God is not against beauty. His salvation plan through Christ includes the restoration of physical bodies that will surely outshine the beauty of our youth. But, until Resurrection Day, we live, move, and have our being in these aging bodies, which serve as sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit. At whatever age they’ve reached or state they are in, our bodies are uniquely personal, and each one is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

The next time you shower or bathe, stand in front of the mirror and look with care at your naked body. It has been your closest companion in the ups and downs of life, and it might be physically showing the wear and tear of your adventures. But we should not let a preoccupied focus on chasing lost youth cause us to miss enjoying the present state and achievements of our bodies. Instead, we should rejoice in them, and heed Paul’s injunction to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship,” (Romans 12:1, ESV).

Inspiration for this concluding poem came to me in an art class on “facial expressions” after the professor decried the beauty-care industry’s use of Botox for killing nerves that controlled the facial muscles behind wrinkle formation.

WRINKLES

Please, never treat your wrinkles
    as if they were a blight.
Like stars that shine and twinkle,
    they set the soul in sight.
They’re formed in special places
    as journey-marks, not scars.
God paints them on our faces
    as part of who we are.

David L. Hatton, 3/2/2009
(from Poems Between Birth and Resurrection ©2013)

------------------------------
ENDNOTES:

[1] The following TED Talks are presently viewable on YouTube:
The lady stripped bare by Tracey Spicer
An epidemic of beauty sickness by Renee Engeln
My story is painted on my body by Chantelle Brown
Plus-size? More Like My Size by Ashley Graham
Ending the pursuit of perfection by Iskra Lawrence
The Business of Beauty is Very Ugly by Carrie Hammer
A new standard of beauty by Amber Starks
Beauty and how we're obsessed with the wrong idea by Christina Gressianu
A bold message about beauty by Michelle Serna
Stop hating your body; start living your life by Taryn Brumfitt

[2] Taryn Brumfitt’s film EMBRACE is now available on Netflix streaming.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

PANDORA’S BOX & THE EMPTY TOMB

Greek mythology tells about a woman named Pandora who received a box that was supposed to remain closed. When curiosity got the best of her, she yielded to the temptation to lift the lid. Before she could shut it, a swarm of disastrous curses instantly escaped from the open box, filling the world with tragedy. In the Garden of Eden, Eve did essentially the same thing by eating the forbidden fruit.

These similar stories have another crucial similarity. God told Eve that the “offspring” of a woman would someday defeat the devil, whose deception brought death into the world. The other story tells of what was left behind in the bottom of Pandora’s box. Still awaiting release was something the world—now plagued by sickness, suffering and sorrow—desperately needed: hope. Jesus Christ fulfilled both of these expectations.

The Bible explains the nature of this fulfillment: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” (1 John 3:8b, ESV). It also describes how it was accomplished: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil,” (Heb 2:14, NIV). Through the Incarnation, God’s Son became a true human being to defeat death by His Cross. His empty tomb became the symbol of Christ’s victory over death and His proven promise of our access to eternal life.

As hope was finally released from the open lid of Pandora’s destructive box, so

Hope beckons to a death-bound human race from the open doorway of Christ’s empty tomb.”(DLH)

Forbidden fruit from a lethal tree had led humanity into death’s tomb. The promised Fruit from Mary’s womb died on Calvary’s Tree to liberate us from the realm of death—starting now by giving us spiritual life by new birth, and finishing up later by sharing His own bodily resurrection with us for eternity. This is humanity’s ultimate hope declared by history’s most human-friendly faith!

The ancient Christian salutation on Easter morning, “Christ is risen!” declares this awesome hope. The responsive return-greeting echoes our resounding faith in it: “He is risen indeed!” I pray that this hopeful faith be both in your heart and on your lips!

Friday, December 9, 2016

THE FIRST ADVENT: THE INCARNATION

“The Incarnation Blows My Mind!”

The physical nature of the human body and its sexuality are major components in God’s plans. He created the race of Adam as an alloy of matter and spirit. This incarnate amalgamation prepared us to be special mediators between the cosmic and the celestial worlds. As body-spirit beings “created in the image of God,” we were to serve as the Triune Godhead’s unique representatives (Gen 1:26). Our job was to bring physical and spiritual creation under a single, universal, government. So crucial was this divine plan that, when it got off course, God became human to fulfill it.

For over 30 years the Incarnation has never ceased to blow my mind! The eternal Word, Creator of all things, actually “became flesh,”(John1:1-2,14).The Second Member of the Trinity became the Second Adam (1Cor 15:45),“firstborn” (Col 1:15) of a new human race. Jesus Christ is now the human King who will lead redeemed humanity in ruling over “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1).

The Incarnation has magnificent implications for human destiny. But the bodily aspects of God’s strategy have often been ignored. Religious infatuation with Gnostic ideas has exalted the spiritual to the exclusion of the physical. God’s goal is to bring the two into unity, and His express manner of doing so is through the body-spirit nature of humanity.

The Sexual Physiology of the Incarnation

The Bible is biologically correct. Avoiding human sexuality and its anatomical realities as a religious taboo is neither biblical nor theologically Christian. Yet it has caused many to overlook what actually occurred in the Incarnation.

Right after the Fall, God promised a Savior who would be a woman’s “seed”(Gen 3:15)—not a man’s offspring. The virgin Mary descended from Abraham, in whose “seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”(Gen 22: 18). But her DNA also carried the genetic code from Adam, which she contributed to the Incarnation in an ovulated egg. In this way, Jesus sexually inherited from Mary the nature of Adam’s race as half of His unique human nature.

Conception occurred (Luke 1:31), but Mary’s egg was not fertilized by a sperm from Adam’s fallen race. Although authentically human, it wasn’t from a man. Joseph was told, “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Mat 1:20, ESV). Genetically, the other half of Christ’s human nature, was formed by God. This newly created human “seed” is the precise location where “the Word became flesh,” where God entered cosmic creation, where He physically embodied His personal Identity.

Biology and theology dovetail here. God formed Adam “of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature,” (Gen 2:7, ESV). In the same way, God’s Spirit [“breath”] directly fashioned and vitalized this holy sperm. Although truly human, sexually functional, and equipped with the gene determining male gender, it wasn’t a part of our fallen world. It was an entirely new creation and the beginning of a new humanity.

Theological and Sacramental Implications

This was no mere supernatural manifestation. God really became one of us: human body, human soul, human spirit. But in His Incarnation—this strategic union of the old human race with the new one—Jesus came to die. His nature as a sinless new Adam allowed Him to pay for fallen humanity’s sins (2 Cor 5:21). His union with the fallen human race allowed Him to take Adam’s nature [“our old man”] to the Cross with Him (Rom 6:6). The sacrifice of His dual humanity provided exactly what sinners need: freedom from both sin’s penalty and its power.

Salvation isn’t automatic. It resides only “in Christ,” and we access it only by personal faith. (Gal 2:20; Phil 3:9). But Christ’s bodily Resurrection shows that it isn’t limited to the spiritual realm. Nor is faith in Christ limited to heart-belief, for “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation,” (Rom 10:9-10, NKJV). As bodily signs of our faith in Him, Jesus stipulated both Baptism (Mat 28:19) and Holy Communion (Luke 22:19-20). Yet both go beyond illustrating His plan to resurrect and glorify our physical bodies (1 Cor 15:42-43). They exemplify His original intent for the spiritual and the physical to be brought into unity. Trust and obey are as divinely wedded as “one flesh,” and what “God has joined together, let not man separate,” (Mat 19:6, ESV)

As a Christian rite of initiation, water baptism uses the body to declare faith. But Paul goes deeper, expounding its metaphysical ability to unite us with Christ’s death, which is valid only if Jesus actually took our old Adamic nature with Him to the Cross:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5,ESV)
Christ’s words about Holy Communion were so physically shocking that they turned away many followers. Some otherwise faithful Bible teachers still balk at taking them at their face value. But if our personal, faith-filled baptisms put us into Christ, uniting us with His incarnational death of the old human nature, then our ongoing, faith-filled nourishment at the Lord’s Table puts into us His new resurrected life as the Second Adam:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:53-56, ESV)
These words are no surprise. Early on, God said we do “not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD,” (Deut 8:3, ESV). If spiritually true of His written Word, how much more eagerly should we spiritually feed on the living Word Incarnate?

Anticipating the Second Advent

The Son is back in heaven sitting beside the Father. But now a Human Being fills the seat. Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection introduced physical humanity into the Trinity. Jesus left to obtain a Bride. As in the first Adam’s deep sleep, when God opened his side to create Eve (Gen 2:21-22), so in the Second Adam’s sleep of death on the Cross, His side was opened to create the Church.
(Revelation 19:7-9)

Our destiny, as redeemed humanity, is corporate marriage to God, whose genetic conception on earth wedded Adam’s flesh to a new humanity. His bodily Resurrection empowers those who receive Him to become God’s spiritual children by new birth (John 1:12-13). But we join all of creation in eagerly longing for redeemed humanity's full manifestation, when we receive “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom8:19-23), bodies that match the resurrected body of our Bridegroom (Phil 3:20-21).

The first Advent brought us the Incarnation, and because of it, the second Advent will bring us a Wedding. When Jesus returns to reign, those united to Him by faith will be literally taken into the Trinitarian Family as in-laws. Forever married to our Husband-King, the incarnated God-Man, we will be the new humanity ruling with Him over all the realms He has ever created or will create.

In the meantime, to those who don’t have this faith and hope,
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Rev 22:17, ESV)
And I join the Apostle John in praying this last prayer in the Bible: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20, ESV).

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

IS TRUMP 'A Dark Horse'?

(SEE my previous post)
Maybe it’s a coincidence... maybe not. But this morning, I felt God confirmed my immediate prayer on learning that Trump was president-elect. With neither rejoicing nor remorse, I had prayed, “God get a hold on that man’s heart.” Then after breakfast, I went back to work on next Sunday’s sermon.

I usually don’t click on my computer Bible program’s daily “Devotional” tab, but today I did. It was set to “November 9 - Morning” in Daily Light on the Daily Path. Here’s the verse chosen for that day:

I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. — Psalm 89:19

That was striking! Earlier in this election year, when already depressed about its prospects, I felt God telling  me, “It will be ‘a dark horse’.” When I was a boy, my dad told me ‘a dark horse’ was someone unexpected and unconnected to the political machine, who would come on the scene suddenly and take the lead. Well, that description fits Trump, especially the ‘dark’ part.

Feeling apathetic as Election Day approached, I wondered about how God feels—hardly ever getting to make clear-cut choices between bad and good alternatives in human history. He always has to decide the less evil of two or more evil situations. In this sin-cursed world of selfish human interactions, there’s no possible human scenario He can allow to happen that isn’t subject to some sort of ‘bad’ worming its way into it.

That’s how I felt about this election. My vote was powerless to bring about ‘good.’ I could only choose between the lesser of two evils, reluctantly following my own flawed human judgment about “the lesser.”

Yet, as far as the election results are concerned, this Scripture verse says my spontaneous prayer was right (theologically correct!). My voting job isn’t over. As a responsible citizen of God’s Kingdom, I must keep casting my vote before the King, praying, “Lord Jesus, grab hold of that man’s heart.”

Isn’t that always our Christian duty: to pray for those in political leadership? So, let’s pray that God will lay His “help upon one that is mighty.” If God has allowed Trump to be ‘a dark horse’—an “exalted one chosen out of the people”—then let’s vote in prayer that God cleanses the darkness from his heart and guides him to follow His wise and just ways in leading this nation.

Friday, October 14, 2016

"ANYONE ELSE? ANYONE!"

(“Pastor's Parcel” from The Moving Spirit devotional newsletter, 10/2016)

I’m a pastor concerned about God’s Kingdom, but also a citizen who cares for our nation’s welfare. Like the ‘voter’ in this cartoon, I’m worried. Am I alone in feeling unusually depressed about this presidential election year?

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (the 1938 movie) left me deeply suspicious of politics. A later film, Dave (1993), echoed the message that rich business interests control both elected officials and the media. If true, then such powers this year made sure that a ‘Mr. Smith’ wouldn’t be running. J. F. Clarke said, “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman, of the next generation.” Controlling interests never want true statesmen in office.

Pessimistic? Yes, but it reminds me of optimism about another kind of vote. Political debates can distract us from important outcomes that depend on us personally. Each of us has spheres of influence, areas of direct responsibility. In these, our decisions effect ourselves, others, and eternity. Only we can make these choices. It’s our soul’s vote alone.

With the choices offered by our media-driven political system, I’m sure God won’t judge our success in life by our apathetic or reluctant voting. But if we join our cry to the cartoon lady’s “Anyone else...,” Jesus might reply, “How about electing Me as Executive?

Christ is indeed the best Choice for life’s administration. He can balance our budget without taxing our energy. He’s a Commander-in-chief who will defend us against spiritually foreign foes. His governing offers “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as well as peace —but it’s a peace that begins in us, as we obey His law of love. Let’s cast our prayer-vote for Jesus to run the country and our lives.
Pastor David Hatton

Monday, September 19, 2016

POEMS BETWEEN HERE AND BEYOND - Introduction

Signed copy may be purchased through Tictail
(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet. I still am. Getting my poetry published in more than homemade binders had been a dream for years. Health challenges and the rise of modern book-publishing technology merged to motivate me to make the effort. Now all five of my poem books are published in paperback and Kindle editions.

I wanted to put the introductory essays for each collection on my blog. If you want to know what makes me tick, my poetry tells it better than a biography.

This "Introduction" and the concluding poem are from my fifth book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
Poems Between Heaven and Hell;
Poems Between Darkness and Light;
Poems Between Death and Life;
Poems Between Birth and Resurrection.)

“Introduction” to
Poems Between Here and Beyond

Ancient Chinese wisdom aptly pictures humans with feet on earth and heads in heaven. We inhabit two worlds, one tangible, measurable, concrete; the other intangible, difficult to measure, often elusive. Men and women are body-spirit beings, participating simultaneously in two modes of existence: material and mental. We’re not spirits wrapped in flesh or bodies with souls, but a marriage of them, a wedding of the animal and the angelic, an amalgamation of the chemical and the transcendent, a unique union embodying God’s image.

We can’t escape being replicas of our Creator. If we try denying our God-likeness, human art betrays us in paintings, plays, novels, songs, poems and other creative works. We image a Supreme Artist. Or if we try denying God as the Decider of “good and evil,” we empty our own personal moralities of meaning. We can’t remove an Ultimate Authority from the human equation without forfeiting the divine certainty that we are “very good” parts of creation (Gen 1:31).

Confidence in a Self-revealing God gives us a much more solid and human-friendly perspective. His existence (God reveals Himself in Scripture as “Father”) makes creativity and morality not just gifts but callings. As image-bearers of the Designer and Judge of all things, we were meant to mimic Him. He calls us to create new designs and to live holy lives.

Communicating truth is also part of that divine image. God is love, and love communicates. So, the God of truth and love is also a Communicator, sharing truth with us and infusing into us a persistent attraction to it. This explains why human creativity is often an attempt to communicate, using story, song, poetry, music, dance, drawing, sculpture.

Perhaps our greatest purpose in imaging God is to be His ruling representatives. He made us mediators, belonging to both the cosmic and celestial worlds. Ultimately, His revealed plan is to bring both realms under a single, divine government administered by human servant-leaders.

This coming reign has a human King, in fact, “the King of kings and the Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16). The Old Testament foretold His First Advent—the transcendent God’s incarnation into creation as a human being “to reconcile all things to Himself” (Col 1:20). The New Testament culminates in His Second Advent: the God-Man’s return in His resurrected body to reign over “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). Although this renewed universe awaits future fulfillment, it has already begun in the hearts of those following this Savior, Jesus Christ. In a real sense, the future is already here while still on its way.

This kingdom context is where I live, think, preach, and write poetry. Along with others in Christ’s Body—His Bride, the Church—I serve as one of the King’s royal ambassadors in a familiar but foreign land. It’s familiar, because He created it, sustains it, and plans to fully renew it. But it’s foreign, because human sin and selfishness have misshapen it. His kingdom has come, but it’s still coming. Jesus initiated God’s salvation plan, but we still pray for His reign’s full consummation, using the familiar words He taught us: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Christians live in a world of already but not yet. So does everyone else, even if unconsciously.

As I’ve aged, I’ve become more aware of the body-spirit nature of humanity. The here-and-now of the material world is quite blatant. We spend time and energy maintaining the body and its health, engaging in labor and leisure, accumulating and managing possessions. But the beyond of the spiritual world impinges on these material dimensions of life with a long list of immaterial values and virtues, some of which are listed as fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

While our spiritual lives anticipate a destiny hereafter, our future afterlife begins here and now. Christ’s First Advent firmly planted the future’s presence in historical time. His earthly work established an ongoing beachhead of God’s Kingdom in our fallen, sin-scarred world. Tradition calls this holy battalion the Church Militant—Christ’s loyal followers still engaged in earthly spiritual warfare. The Church Triumphant comprises that group of faithful souls who now rest from life’s labors, awaiting a reunion with their physical bodies promised by Christ’s resurrection. Yet, by that mystery described in the Creed as “the communion of saints,” these departed believers are still surrounding us as “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), watching our progress in faith and cheering us on to victory. Christians live between a present here and future beyond.

All my previous poetry books are “poems between.” While this introduction explains the name of this fifth one, its title certainly doesn’t account for the wide variety of themes and thoughts expressed by the poems included—some written years ago and some included merely for comic relief. But this long preface does describe where and in what frame of mind most of them were written. At this stage of my life, I feel even more keenly my location in this “between” mode of living. Yet, although less active now, since my retirement from hospital nursing, I also feel in the midst of dynamic momentum.

We never move through time; time moves through us. Our present is without dimension, sandwiched between an irrevocable past and an unfurling future. The now dividing them cannot be subdivided, but it can be wasted. We can ignore our calling as God’s image-bearers, squandering the remaining days of our sojourn between here and beyond in trivial pursuits. I pray these poems paint pictures, sing songs, preach sermons, tell tales that will stimulate awareness of time’s limits and encourage decisions of personal involvement in the present and future reign of the King.

— David L. Hatton

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

BABIES

All babies bring from heaven
Some vestiges at birth
To modify the burdens
And daily grind of earth.
Angelic light still gleaming
From eyes that know no guile,
They capture us with wonder
And charm us with their smile.

When parents are devoted,
Their inborn love protects
These precious little infants,
Just as the Lord expects.
But this is not the reason
He calls adults to share
Their sweet maternal nurture
And strong paternal care.

God sends us helpless babies,
So innocent and dear,
To challenge selfish habits
That we’ve picked up down here;
To lift us from our folly
And fill our empty cup;
To teach us precious lessons
And help us to grow up.

— David L. Hatton, 10/5/2015
(Poems Between Here and Beyond, © 2016)

For more single poems from this volume, visit my website's “Poetry Page.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

CREATIVITY AND BEING

Several things in life can launch a search for ultimate meaning. Two facets of that search are the quest for identity (“Who am I?”) and the discovery of purpose (“Why am I here?”). Our human tendency to create is an excellent doorway for entering that search and exploring the answers to those two questions.

The fact that toddlers naturally become amateur creators, before ever pondering questions of identity or purpose, partially answers both questions. If human creativity is inborn, it points toward an answer to who or what humanity is. This relationship of creativity and being is best illustrated in a two-step process experienced by very young humans.


In the first step, when infants start recognizing that their hands belong to them and can function under their control, they start moving and manipulating other objects in the world, things that they learn are not a part of them. If babies could articulate this profound lesson philosophically, they might say, “I and the world around me are not synonymous. I can do things I want to it, and it can do things to me I don’t want. Ouch! That steel pole is hard!” This is why only adults who forget childhood wisdom pretend to lose their personal identities in pantheism: “I and the metal pole am ONE. The lump on my head from running into it while meditating must be maya, just an illusion....”

The lesson children learn naturally is profound, because it verifies their existence, their being. Descartes was close, when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” But his idea needed the help of later existentialist philosophers who said, “I do, therefore I exist.” A positive response to the question of individual being, “Do I exist?” is easily demonstrated by a small child: “See that toy block. Watch! I’m putting it on top of another one. There, see? Who did that? I did! I exist! I am!" Such young logic lays the “am” groundwork in the question “Who am I?” But the “who” of individual identity needs further definition. This leads to the second step.

Manipulating the world, through moving toy building blocks around, is rudimentary creativity. As humans grow, they become more skillful at it, utilizing other media. Architects stick with blocks, but get more sophisticated at stacking them. Painters keep improving in how they push wet pigment around; sculptors, in how they shape clay or stone; writers, in how they shuffle words into poetry, plays, prose, and political speeches. Thoughtful observation of this creativity in almost every example of human work makes it obvious that no one arranges building blocks in exactly the same way. We may imitate other creators, but there’s always some personal uniqueness, even in how we copy them.

While the search for identity may last from the cradle to the grave, the effects of it outlives us, as we touch others with our personal uniqueness and individual creativity. The truth crystallized in John Donne’s “no man is an island” means that, as individuals, we are making history now and will remain a part of history afterwards. Our creativity is important; it counts. But counts for what? Why is it important? What’s the purpose? “Why am I here?

Perpetual “Why” questions on youngsters’ lips can drive parents crazy. In this world where “no man is an island,” they see myriads of creative works by other individuals. “How” questions may gain answers about the way things were made or their manner of operation, but kids go on to ask, “What’s it for? Why was it made?” These questions seek the goal, the purpose, the objective. Human works of creativity—sometimes alone but more often in a concerted effort—are meant to accomplish or provide something. Creative work says, “I’m not just unique as a person, but my individuality makes an important contribution.”

This two-step process in simple, youthful logic offers one possible explanation for Jesus saying, “Let the little children come to Me... for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” (Mat 19:14, NKJV). Their little feet are on the right track. If our individual, purposeful creativity points to ultimate meaning, then there must be a Creator with personal individuality Who has an important purpose for all of His massive creativity in this gigantic universe.

The One whom the Bible calls “Maker of heaven and earth” has personally identified Himself by the name “I AM.” Our human identity crisis ends when we allow the great “I AM” to answer our question, “Who am I?” Basically His answer is: “You are an image of Me. You are My image-bearer.” Our significance as individual creators finds ultimate meaning by trusting that our Creator,  the Maker of all things, individually designed each one of us exactly as He did. “Why are we here?” Our unique, purposeful creativity is a result of His. And when our discovery of His unique, purposeful creativity ends our search for ultimate meaning, it will open us up to an eternal exploration of that meaning. Then we’ll answer Descartes and the other philosophers. “I am, therefore I think! I am, therefore I do!”

I want to conclude with a poem. It’s a favorite of mine, and never seems old or boring to me. You see, everything I’ve said above is not hypothetically contrived but authentically realized. God made me on purpose, and within that purpose was poetic creativity. More than that, He has let me know numerous times that I’m writing for Him and for others, and not just for myself. As far as I'm concerned, that immortalizes my creative effort. So I never tire of it myself or tire of sharing it with others. See if it speaks to you:
CREATOR
Someday you’ll compose a song or sing one very well,
Feel a thrill of satisfaction in a tale you tell,
Draw a picture, paint a portrait, shape a lump of clay,
Plan and build a dream-house, act a part within a play,
Plant a lovely flower garden, set a gem in gold,
Cut and piece and sew an outfit new and sharp and bold,
Tinker to invent a gadget saving people time,
Write an essay or a story set in prose or rhyme,
And, while feeling fresh fulfillment where you have achieved
In the goal of each ambition by your mind conceived,
You will pause when all about you birds are singing, too,
Wind is whistling, stars are shining, everything you view
Whispers softly hints behind them of a happy Mind,
As if all that is around you stands both sealed and signed
By a Person, Great Designer, One you imitate
When you follow yearnings to be skillful and create.
— David L. Hatton, 2/22/1992
(from Poems Between Darkness and Light ©1994, 2014)