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Monday, October 27, 2008

Refractions 29 - Makoto Fujimura

I was reading Makoto Fujimura's Refractions 29: The Island of the Misfit Toys, Part II - his thoughts on artist Jasper Johns, and was struck by the 2nd paragraph, where he refers to N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope - it seems stunningly appropriate as we explore the Middleton article.

N.T. Wright points out that the popular culture’s distortion of the idea of heaven has truncated the true message of the gospel. He notes, for example, Maria Shriver’s version of heaven, written in her book to children – “is somewhere you believe in… It’s a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk to other people who are there…If you’re good throughout your life, then you get to go to heaven…” (quoted in pg. 17) He argues that the language of heaven in the New Testament doesn’t work that way.” “’God’s Kingdom’ in the preaching of Jesus refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but to God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’” (Pg. 18) Heaven, in other words, is not our final destination (as in speaking of Life after Death) : but the biblical writers spoke of the New Heavens and the New Earth, a reconciled whole in which we will inhabit, work and create (Life after Life after Death). We are called to assist in the creation of this new reality through our earthly lives, bringing justice, mercy and beauty into our broken realities. Instead of people simply “going to heaven,” The Bible tells us that at a future point in history, Heaven comes to us, and earth will be re-birthed in one glorious fulfillment of hope someday. “Heaven,” Wright continues, “is the place where God’s purposes for the future are stored up. It isn’t where they are meant to stay so that one would need to go to heaven to enjoy them; it is where they are kept safe against the day when they will become a reality on earth.” (Pg. 151)

I considered posting the entire essay here, but he has so many amazing insights, you'll want to continue reading his blog.

Further into the essay, he quotes N.T. Wright, shoring up the emphasis on culture-making and how it can impact the full scope of Time.

This pro-culture stance, based on what theologians call common grace, makes sense because our effort to bring beauty, justice and peace into the world is a universal calling. Theologically, I am not a Universalist, one that believes that all roads lead to heaven. But scriptures points to a universalistic bent of culture making that bring beauty and empathy into the world. After all, don’t we desperately desire to know that our efforts to create, to administer justice and to bring mercy into the world, are not in vain. To this longing, N.T. Wright goes further than mere affirmation. He states;

You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are – strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. (pg. 208)

Let that sink in a little...

As Fujimura explores the works of Jasper Johns, he suggests how good work lasts:

Thus, the art of Johns operates in “constant negation of impulses,” ( pg. 84) and therefore, his art cannot be simply “Pop” imagery, and is not readily digestible in the way Warhol’s paintings are. Johns’ creativity demands more of us, and his exhibits are full of maps (sometimes literally, in his series of American maps) that depict visual riddles swirling deeply in the currents of culture. The journey of a viewer on that river can be full of generative discovery. Good art gives birth, impregnated with meaning for future creative journeys.

Do take some time to visit Fujimura's blog, and take some time to read the Middleton article.

Please do leave your comments and questions here - we can continue our dialogue on the blog.


At 10/30/2008 7:52 PM, Anonymous Peter Deeble said...

Wow, this was very cool, and as you say, very relevant to our current series. Thanks for posting!


At 11/02/2008 3:30 PM, Blogger eig said...

One question that springs from Middleton's article is where do Christians go when they die? It is interesting that N.T. Wright believes in an intermediate state (,8599,1710844,00.html) which is like being sleep (Soul sleep?) but Middleton seems not to support (where do believers go when they die?). So we say, so and so went to an intermediate state (soul sleep?)? They went to be with the Lord (He is in Heaven with God, right?).
The issue of using "heaven" has caused much confusion as to what it is, but I think we are overdoing it by saying that using "heaven" as the ultimate destination is wrong and we should repent (Middleton p.97). We need to expand the meaning of heaven and correct the wrong views (i.e., we will have no body and we will seat in a cloud forever-the issue of passivity and how it doesn't do any earthly good). I do agree with much of Middleton but I think we are splitting hairs.


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