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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Beauty and Sheep

I had the great privilege of listening to one of my heroes this past week at Q. I took rough notes and thought I'd share them in case something magic jumps out at you as it did for me.

Makoto Fujimura starts his 18:00 session at “Q” in NYC by putting a piece of paper over the large countdown clock with Chinese symbol for “Beauty.”

At first, the crowd chuckles believing this is Makoto’s act of artistic defiance and disregard for the time—or, at least his attempt at drawing the crowd’s attention towards him without being distracted by the digital reminder.

He has something different in mind.

“The function of the arts is to mediate and steward time.” He’s given us a metaphor.

Makoto explains before Christianity reached China, it was already imbedded in their culture the very language that unlocks the beauty of Christianity.

The beauty character/ideogram that now covers the clock (which we can still see shining through the paper by the way) is made up of two characters which roughly translated means “greater sheep” (lit. Sheep/large).

Beauty has something to do with a sheep, says Makoto. A sacrificial sheep.

Kul Shin Voo and Larry Hovee wrote a wonderful exposition entitled, “The Lamb of God hidden in the ancient Chinese characters” wherein they explain : : :

The Chinese have recognised the spiritual symbolisation of a sheep in their society for centuries. For example, the filial act of a young sheep to kneel down in order to suck milk from its mother’s udder is used even today as a reminder that the Chinese people are supposed to humble themselves and respect their parents. There are general agreements among Chinese scholars that the sheep represents truthfulness, kindness and beauty. Besides these attributes, the sheep or the bull (representing loyalty) were the sacrificial animals to be offered to ShangDi. Emperor Tang, the founder of the Xia dynasty (1787 BC) disguised himself as the white unblemished sacrificial animal to take upon himself the sins of his people such that ShangDi would forgive them and send rain to stop the seven years of drought. The rain came in response to Emperor Tang’s humble actions on behalf of his people. Thus, the ancient Chinese understood that the sacrifice of the unblemished sheep and bull would take away their sins. Did the ancient Chinese believe that the way back to heaven was through the sacrifice of the unblemished and kind sheep?

Makoto discusses the “Problem of Beauty” using an interesting choice of words when he describes beauty as “difficult.” Beauty transcends our understanding of truth and what we believe in.

Makoto quotes “Beauty, sooner or later, brings us into contact with our own capacity for making errors—Elaine Scarry—On Beauty and Being Just.

Mokoto discusses “The Paradox of Beauty” by telling of his own conversion story in the most poignant quote of the gathering; “ . . . every day, I sought higher transcendence through the extravagant materials. I found success in expression through Nihonga materials. And yet the weight of beauty I saw in the materials began to crush my own heart. I could not justify the use of extravagance if I found my heart unable to contain their glory.”

Mokoto discusses “The Presence of Beauty” and our obligation as artists—The Chinese call the USA “the beautiful country.”

Beauty is equated with love, explains Makoto. “Christ cannot be talked about outside of Beauty.”

“Use the ideogram of Beauty if you are ever sharing about Jesus with the Chinese—not simply the ideogram for love.”

One of the most “beautiful things” he has ever seen was a picture of the rescue workers climbing out of the fallen towers. Sacrifice is inherent in Beauty.

Makoto ends with a great take-away for those of us leading artists and influencing artists in our churches. “We need to see more ways to reach into the artist’s creative process beyond asking them to make logos for our church.” It isn’t “bad” to ask them to do this but it is not enough.

Go here for a great article on Mokoto if you aren't familiar with him. You can also visit his site here.