By Joseph Sunde
“God somehow demands of us so much more than this transactional nature. It is really about the gift that we’ve been given, and the only response we can give back is with extravagance, with gratuitous beauty.” –Makoto Fujimura
We live in a society that has grown increasingly transactional in its way of thinking. Everything we spend or steward — our time, money, relationships — must secure a personal reward or return.
Even when we give things up for “useless” activities, it is framed in terms of self-indulgence or personal release. We are making “me time,” “emptying our busy brains,” or “rewarding ourselves.” Even our wasteful moments are in the service of balancing an imaginary busyness ledger. Countering our transactional nature will require far more than surface-level tweaks such as these.
In For the Life of the World, Evan Koons discovers that we must learn to appreciate the value of God’s creation in and of itself. If we hope to unlock the Economy of Wonder, we must realize that everything need not be tied to or offered up for some sort of pragmatic use. God wants us to be gift-givers who focus not on scarcity and constraints, but on divine abundance.
In a recent video blog, musical artist Sara Groves touches on these same themes:
Groves points to artist Makoto Fujimura, who also makes an appearance in FLOW, noting that “pragmatism and utility have infected every area of life” and “it’s the artist’s role to push back against pragmatism and utility.”
The space you need to write a song or to create a work of art or to do your work requires almost an extravagant and wasteful space or attitude. We talk a lot about busyness and things like that, but what [Fujimura] was addressing was an undercurrent of usefulness…He wasn’t framing it in a way of consumerism – of buying stuff or comforting ourselves or finding this elusive me time. It was more about making space for contemplation and for time to let God speak to our hearts.
So what might the rest of us learn from that vocational sweet spot?
In God’s eyes, we are all artists and co-creators across varying cultural spheres. He longs for us to relish in the mystery of his divine plan, and that requires an economic imagination that reaches beyond mere utility.
As Fujimura summarizes in Episode 6:
Perhaps the greatest thing we can do as a Christian community is to behold. Behold our God. Behold his creation. The church has exiled beauty from its conversations, and I think that we need to rediscover the beautiful in order to recover ourselves — our humanity. Jesus seemed to indicate that beauty is a door into the Gospel. Beauty is the door…
…God somehow demands of us so much more than this transactional nature. It is really about the gift that we’ve been given, and the only response we can give back is with extravagance, with gratuitous beauty. And we need to tell this story. Not the story of pragmatism. Not the story of utility. This story of extravagance, of gratuitous beauty, is the Gospel. That is the story I’ve come to die for.
Whether we’re stewarding families, businesses, or institutions, what do we lose if we aren’t willing to make space for God to speak into those activities? In our day-to-day activities, making time for that sort of thing is bound to feel like an extravagant waste.