What if we answer ugliness with beauty?


I’m not a poet.
I’ve written some poems. A few of them are passable. My talent lies more with stringing sentences together, interweaving sarcasm, self-deprecation, and the occasional moment of all-out, open-eyed sincerity.

But I love poetry. Poetry can express in six or sixty words what takes me sixteen hundred…and I still fall short.

On Friday, Kim gasped. It was about 6:35 AM. She pointed out the kitchen window. The red of the clouds reflecting the sunrise literally took her breath. We stood for twenty or thirty seconds, “oohing” and “aahing.” Then she continued getting ready to go teach.

But I keep going back to that moment. I keep thinking about that gasp.

The best description I’ve heard of “worship” is: a natural and appropriate response to something that puts us in a state of awe.

I believe that behind that sunrise and those colors in the sky is a God who loves us and writes poetry in the clouds.

I’m not debating whether or not God “makes” sunrises. I’m saying that moment of awe is real. It is authentic worship when it makes you gasp, whatever you might see in or behind it.

Yesterday, I saw a photo an elected official shared on social media which I consider so vile I’m not going to identify it here. I felt my stomach knot the instant my brain registered it. Anger and possibly even hatred welled up in me as I continued to stare at it. A picture is worth a thousand harming words.

Both those moments stuck with me.

I cannot choose what that person posts. Oh, that I would have that power. “All shall love me and despair!”

I don’t. I won’t. I can’t control another human being. Most days I have a hella time controlling myself.

I’m up every weekday morning in time to see the sunrise. I can look out that window. I can take thirty seconds out of my day to watch clouds turn from grey to pink or red to yellow-orange

I’m also “on” Twitter almost every day. I can look at vile pictures. I can read the seething, roiling comments. I can take hours from my day to do this, if I choose.

Many days I wonder if ugliness and hatred are winning. In the world. In my heart.

But here is truth: I do not possess the Ring of Power and thus cannot defeat this ugliness in the world.

I can choose what I take in. What I worship.

I know that’s a strong word. Writers do that kind of thing to make a point.

You might think you don’t worship anything. You might also tell me, “Mike, that was just looking at a picture.”

When I saw that photo, I had a natural, appropriate response: I was in awe of how horrible it was. I still am. I don’t call that worship, but it gripped me more than I wish it did, more than I want it to.

I’ve had a wonderful, mostly peaceful weekend with my family. We decorated for Christmas. Annalise has shoulder surgery tomorrow, so we wanted to spend good time together. Also, we’re quaranting so she doesn’t catch anything before her surgery (yes, that’s in the pre-surgery instructions). Kim and I have had some great time together and laughed a lot.

These are moments of beauty in my life. I can’t always create them, but I can take time for them. I can see them. I can soak them in.

I can live them.

What if we answer ugliness with beauty? What if, instead of raging and joining in with the spitefest–however reasonable it feels, however appropriate in response to the evil we behold–we instead look for beauty, for poetry, for laughter and moments of joy, and call attention to those. I mean, what if we first call our own attention to those and then share them with our people, our community, our sphere?

I want–I mean I am itching–to tell you about this photo, to dig up my harshest, most righteously indignant prose to excoriate the pusillanimous, contemptible cretin who staged and shared it. I can feel my pulse quickening at the thought.

Give me that Ring. I will set things right.

But the more I relive these two moments, the clearer it becomes: I choose whether I steep my soul in beauty or ugliness. I choose upon what I fixate, where I invest my energy, and consequently what I will amplify and spread in the world.

Yes, of course there is a crucial discussion about remaining engaged, about confronting evil and standing with those suffering oppression.

But I think I’m addressing something else here. No, of course we don’t bury our heads. We don’t ignore the evil as long as it isn’t harming us directly. But most of us aren’t erring in that direction, are we? Certainly most of the people still reading my stuff aren’t pretending there’s nothing wrong with the world (well, nothing except these folks who won’t shut up about white nationalism, misogyny, systemic economic injustice, et al).* No, we’re the ones feeling the ooze start to saturate our souls.

Every day, I try to figure out how to keep my head above water, make some difference in the world, and remember to breathe in the beauty around me. Remember to read the poetry God’s writing on the walls, in the sky, through our laughter.

I need to spend more time in this worship. I need to answer all this ugliness with the beauty that isn’t as loud–the sunset Friday morning wasn’t trending–but does surround me. I need to choose more wisely what I take in and, consequently, what I can offer back to the world.

And you?

*See, that was an example of sarcasm.

2 thoughts on “What if we answer ugliness with beauty?

  1. Rhonda Sizemore

    Double Wow! You have captured the struggle, Mike. But today I worshiped. I attended a spectacular, moving performance of Messiah. As I wept through the Hallelujah Chorus and the ending chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb”, I allowed the music and sound and words to wash over me and through me. Speechless with the Glory of God. Amen. It doesn’t happen often enough. but I will search for it even as the evil (both inside and outside) dogs my heels. Thanks for ALL your words!

  2. matthew hudson

    Meditation is a prelude to worship. The things we meditate on, throughout the day, will eventually earn worship from us of one variety or another. There isn’t necessarily a finite well of worship within us, but some forms of worship are more likely to exhaust us than others. I won’t follow this down the predictable caution against idolatry, but I did want to point out that your use of the word worship wasn’t as hyperbolic as you may have thought it was.

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