Beauty in the Storm

Photo by Charles Redfern

It seems America is zig-zagging on a freeway lane called “bizarre,” with a maniacal clown behind he wheel. The clown blares: “Crazy is good! Thoughtfulness is bad! COVID’s a hoax and masks are for commies! And sick the woke inquisitors on the heretics! And don’t say black lives matter ‘cause that means you hate white people! And holler everything with exclamation marks! IN CAPS!”

I admit it. The shrillness exhausted me and I was rendered mute. Thus this blog’s silence for over a month as I searched for something more than mere lunacy. All my own thoughts came with exclamation marks and CAPS – and we’ve had our fill of that.

Then I stumbled on David Brooks’ eloquent sermon, preached July 5th to an empty National Cathedral. Suddenly, I found my blogging voice again – even if it only parroted Brooks. His message: Jesus.

Brooks saw Jesus’ stark relevance in chaos – especially when viewed from an angle: “There are many different lenses through which to see Jesus. There’s the Florence lens of Renaissance art, the pale wispy white guy with his two fingers raised. There’s the Oxford Jesus of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, the masterful Azlan always in the control.

“My background is Jewish. So I see Jesus through a Jerusalem lens. To see him in that lens is to see him embedded in the Jewish world of 2,000 years ago. That world is nothing like the peacefulness of an American church pew. It’s nothing like the quiet domesticity of a modern Bible study. It was a world of strife, combat and fractious intensity.”

The ancient Jews yearned to wrench themselves free of empires, so “everything was fraught, semi-hysterical and tension-filled. Desperate gangs roamed the land. Minor league revolutionaries were perpetually rising up. NT Wright lists seven separate revolts between the years 26 and 36, about the time of Jesus’s ministry.”

In other words, the maniacal clowns hogged the roads.

“When you see Jesus in this context,” says Brooks, “you see how completely bold and aggressive he was. He lived in a crowded, angry world yet took on all comers. He faced stoning in Nazareth. He offended the rich of Capernum. John the Baptist was beheaded for leading a ministry and Jesus walked in his footsteps … Jesus walked into a complex network of negotiated and renegotiated power settlements between various factions. And he challenged them all with a stroke. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he pierced through them and went right to the core. At a moment of elite polarization, he was bringing access to the kingdom directly to the poor. He was offering triumph directly to the downtrodden. He fit in with none of these factions and plowed through them all.”

The key line: “When you see him in this context, you see that beauty is more powerful when it’s in the middle of the storm. It’s beauty in the storm. That is powerful enough to inspire a leap of faith.”

This is not the faith of sweet sentimentality. “Faith itself is a storm. It is pushing toward the beauty you tasted amid the storms of life. It is making that beauty, not an interruption as Chris Wyman says, but part of your life.” He elaborates: “Religion is not at the outset of refuge of grace and mercy for the despondent and the desperate, an enchanted stream for crushed spirits, but a raging, clamorous current of man’s consciousness with all its crises, pangs and torments. What keeps faith alive during storms like now are the awareness of beauty, the essential goodness at the ground of our being.”

We can view America through the Jerusalem lens: “Our country is in a storm, or maybe an earthquake.” Jesus brought beauty into the first century’s storm; we can bring his beauty into the present by emulating his actions. “These actions and these acts of beauty, like the Sermon on the Mount, like the Lincoln Second Inaugural, often involve flipping the script, upending values. On one level, these acts of beauty and pure gift and loving care are radically illogical. They are vulnerability in the face of danger. They are gentleness in the midst of bitterness. They are compassion in the midst of strife, but these are the acts that have the power to shock. These are the acts that have the power to open hearts. These are the acts that have a power to shock a revolution in our culture and in our consciousness.”

So Jesus really is relevant. In fact, his path leads us off the freeway lane called “bizarre” and back into grace and sanity.

I thank David Brooks for reminding me why I love Christ so much.

Listen to the entire sermon. It lasts less than 15 minutes.

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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