In Which I Reveal Who I’m Voting For

Who am I voting for? I’ll tell you. But in a rather roundabout way.

I have to begin by telling you about Image, the journal about the arts and religion that has changed and enriched my life in ways too great to measure.

In the new issue of Image, there’s an interview with Marilynne Robinson that is so inspiring I find myself slowing down and reading small pieces of it again and again.

I’ll share an excerpt, but proceed with caution. Marilynne Robinson is one of those writers who, as one of my teachers used to say, “thinks in paragraphs.” Many of us are forgetting how to read paragraphs. We’re accustomed to thoughts broken up into bits the size of M&Ms. We get excited about sound bites, and we throw around quotes that are taken out of context. We like quips, or fragments of  quips. And our leaders, leading the way, seize upon phrases spoken by their opponents and make them mean things they never meant in the first place.

Paragraphs require patience. Good reading… good thinking… requires slowing down.

So, I encourage you to read the whole interview, but here’s a fantastic excerpt. 

I don’t understand why it is that we seem to reject beauty in general. I think science is beautiful — I read as much of it as I can understand and have time for. I think scientists think science is beautiful, the ones working at the more imaginative levels, certainly. As religious people, I think we ought to be sensitive to the fact that the universe is beautiful at every scale. I became sensitive to that question in the first place when I asked my students to intentionally write something beautiful — just a paragraph — and they were flabbergasted by the suggestion. As if beautiful means hyperbolic or sentimental. At the same time, if you show them a passage from Chekov, they say, “That’s beautiful.” Why should it be an invidious term in any context? And then it seems to me that the churches in general have rid themselves of the heritage of beauty as industriously as they have rid themselves of the heritage of intellectualism, and this simply impoverishes them. There is no more to be said: it creates poverty where there should be wealth.

You can read a longer excerpt here.

Marilynne Robinson, author of “Gilead”

That’s the kind of amazing stuff I read all the time in ImageIssue #74, which contains the Robinson interview, is full of great stuff.

What does this have to do with the election? Well, Marilynne Robinson hasn’t been shy about the choice facing us.

But no, that doesn’t have anything to do with who gets my vote. I’ll tell you eventually. Hang in there.

I need to give you another quote first.

Several weeks ago, I heard Gregory Wolfe give a lecture called “Poetic Justice” that was so great, I asked him for a transcript. He told me that some of it would soon be published, and here it is… in Issue #74.

Wolfe writes,

Beware the temptation of moralism, which has reached epidemic proportions in our culture, both within religious communities and outside of them. Righteousness so easily becomes self-righteousness. To my way of thinking, moralism is the opposite of true religion. The antidote to moralism is presence: not “do this,” but “I’m here.”

These are some of the reasons I try to support Image every way that I can.

I love writing about movies for Image, twice a month on their blog Good Letters. I feel right at home, because I am given room to write about something more than the movie of the week, something more than whether or not a film contains something potentially offensive. I have an opportunity to write about more than the screenplay, more than morality, more than whether or not the actors are likely to win Oscars.

I am challenged to write about beauty. Not just pretty pictures, but the beauty of editing, of sound design, of performance. I am encouraged to write about mysteries we can’t sum up in a sound bite.

But I love Image’s community even more than the privilege of writing for them. Every summer, I spend eight days in Santa Fe with them at The Glen Workshop, and for eight years in a row, this has been the happiest, most inspiring week of my year, as artists from all over the country… and beyond… gather to experience art, make art, and talk about art together. (Registration for next year’s gatherings has begun! Come join me in Santa Fe for some adventurous exploration.)

I grew up around people who just reacted to art, rather than ruminating on it. For a time I became one of them. Then I found people who look closer. I regret all of my moralizing, all of the harsh words I used against so many artists, so much art that I did not yet understand. I am grateful Image exists in the world.

And I find that when I concern myself with beauty, I have no more desire to contribute to the snarky, divisive, “us-versus-them” kind of talk that is poisoning dialogue everywhere in this political season. I can’t even look at a lot of my friends’ Facebook pages these days because of the bile, the vitriol, the way people are judging each other. If I try, I feel all peace of mind evaporate in the heat, and my courage, my compassion, my faith burn up in anxiety and anger and contentiousness.

Remember Psalm 23? If the Lord is your shepherd, where does he lead you? Beside quiet waters, where he restores your soul. That means he’ll lead you away from the shouting, away from the riot, and into the wilderness, where you can see the words of God in the things he has made.

That’s what Image demonstrates for me, again and again.

And so, I’m voting for Image by subscribing again.

I’m voting for Image and the art celebrated in its pages.

Wait, what about the presidency? Which candidate gets my vote?

I’m not sure yet, and frankly, I don’t much care. Both candidates make me sick with how they desperately say whatever will win them a vote, and then often turn around and say the opposite a few weeks later. So many flip-flops and lies, who can believe anything either one of them says?

“But… if you don’t vote, that’s un-American! That’s giving up!”

Well, in that case, let’s support the arts. America needs beauty, inspiration, elevation, transcendance. I believe that we’ll become better people, and a better nation, if we turn our attention to better art. I believe this will make a much bigger difference than my vote in a presidential campaign.

Maybe you’re interested in who gets my vote. Me, I’m interested in knowing when you last purchased a beautiful painting, or bought a great novel, or encouraged a writer, or supported a musician. I’m interested in knowing if you’ve subscribed to Image. Because that makes such a difference, I see the results every day. We need great art more than we need another fickle president. I’ve seen lives transformed and saved by art. I’ve seen art unite people. I’ve seen it inspire them. I’ve seen the glory that it reveals saving the world.

Have you voted for beauty lately?

I can tell you from experience, beauty brings about change I can believe in.

I want this blog to be an escape from the shouting and the scorn and the snap judgments. I want it to be a place where we contemplate mysterious and challenging works of art in search of whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is excellent, whatever is beautiful, whatever is worthy of praise. I want to hold up something that will inspire you.

Here’s one more quote, and it’s one of my favorites. Madeleine L’Engle said:

We do not draw people to Christ by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a truth that is so lovely they will long with all their hearts to know the source of it.

If you’ve recently seen a movie or a photograph, or read a poem or a novel, that made you call it “beautiful” — not something sentimental or “pretty” or “safe,” but beautiful — please don’t hesitate to tell me about it.

And if you’ve actually had the patience to read this far… thank you. Your capacity for reading something more than a 140 characters gives me hope.

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  • craigdetweiler

    Thank you putting such poetry in motion, Mr. Overstreet. Such brazen beauty is a much needed tonic in toxic times.

  • Bethany

    I’ve read this 3 times now. It makes me tear up every time.
    There is something so soothing and loving and yes, beautiful in words like this, especially at a time like election season.
    So far I think Beasts of the Southern Wild is the most beautiful film I’ve watched this year. Last year it was Tree of Life, probably followed closely by Shame.
    I know you’ve seen all those. I kind-of want to go back and rewatch them all myself now. :)

    Thank you for what you do.

    Bethany

  • Charlotte Vera

    Thank you for this article! It confirms my increasing joy in NOT being American at this point of time. The more I see and hear about the upcoming election, the more confirmed I am in my certainty that I would probably have to spoil my vote.

    As for beauty, I recommend the poetry of Margaret Avison. I can read and re-read the many volumes she wrote during her lifetime. She knew how to put thoughts, both simple and profound, into words that brought them to life and made them multi-dimensional in the minds of her readers. You talk about sound-bites in your article. In my facebook account I have a collection of quotes, sound-bite in size, that leave much to be desired yet still mean a lot to me. An excerpt from one of Avison’s poems is part of the selection:

    Now you have sought
    and seek, in all our ways, all thoughts,
    streets, musics–and we make of these a din
    trying to lock you out, or in,
    to be intent. And dying.

    Yet you are
    constant and sure,
    the all-lovely, all-men’s way
    to that far country.

  • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    Well, Jeffrey – this right here? This is a thing of beauty and I thank you for it. Two newer blog writers that regularly produce words of beauty are Addie Zierman and Holly Smothers Grantham; a handmade kaleidoscope, the ‘bestest gift I got’ for my 7-year-old grandson is spectacular (David Sugich, a local Santa Barbara artist – check out his blog here – http://www.davidsugich.com/ – he even has rainwater sounds when you open it); the view out my bedroom door most evenings about this time of day and this time of year – http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com/2012/10/31-days-in-which-i-am-saved-by-beauty_14.html And a list of good things too long to begin…

  • Gaith

    I think democracy, the idea that every person is in some fundamental way equal, is a beautiful idea, and it’s a beautiful word, to boot.

    To my mind, the problems with our politics are mainly due to a dearth in democracy. In my home state of California, the state Constitution requires legislative supermajorities to create new taxes. Lawmakers wishing to lower taxes only need to represent a majority of the electorate, but a larger group is needed to raise them. That’s not democracy, not really.

    In the national context, Americans tend to throw the word “democracy” around willy-nilly. Even Cenk Uygur, a tremendously astute commentator, often bemoans a recent decline in democracy. But we tend to willfully forget that the Senate, in giving each state two Senators regardless of their populations, creates a massive representation imbalance. Some voters have more than six times the Senatorial representation of some others. A majority of the country is represented by less than a fifth of the non-”People’s House”. That’s not democracy, not remotely.

    I find a lot to admire in the US Constitution, especially given its historical origins. And there are certainly parts of it that I find beautiful. But there are those, and the official doctrine of one sect in particular, who see divine inspiration in its pages, a veiw that strongly implies, and indeed all but states flat-out, that if living persons tried to rewrite significant parts of it, that that act would be ungodly. Such people give a great but flawed legal document a veneer of perfection – a document that is not democratic, and never has been. It is republican; it creates a republic, not a democracy. Sadly, the term “republic” has been almost expunged by contemporary political discourse, maybe because we’re loathe to acknowledge how undemocratic our national government really is.

    I wish that I could have asked both candidates in Tuesday’s debate whether they’d support democratic constitutional reform. One could call that an unfair question, as equal and fair representation would almost certainly mean short-term trouble for the party more popular in low-population states, but then, the current *reality* is unfair. I can’t imagine either candidate endorsing such a notion even if he did think it a good idea, because the inertia of the status quo is, due to the rigidity of the Constitutional amendment process, nearly impossible to overcome. So real democracy will almost certainly remain just an idea.

    But ain’t it a beauitful one?

    … Finally, Jeffrey, I can’t help but wonder if you have any close friends or family in the military, for whom a president’s foreign policy can be a matter of life and… well, you know. Even if politics doesn’t thrill you, I think the charitable course would be to form an opinion and maybe even engage in a bit of volunteerism, if only on their behalf, as well as that of the other, similarly vulnerable among us.

  • http://www.dawnwheat.com Dawn Wheat

    Jeffrey,

    Thank you for this. Three films that had elements that really resonated with me recently: Moonrise Kingdom, Paris and A Very Long Engagement. Two are French. I also aquired a painting and a photograph from two friends, that are both very beautiful and meaningful for different ways (one is a landscape and one is a non-objective abstract painting.)

    Dawn

  • http://kareneeart.com Karenee

    Amen! I vote for beauty too, for very similar reasons. Let politicians fight inside their pit. It’s ugly there, and I want none of it. If truth and beauty were ever there, they were slain long ago and few seem to care.

  • Cooper Williams

    As a college freshman/classicist/novice filmmaker, it does a heart good to know there are still Christians who care about influencing the culture. I’m no expert in politics and I will always have a lot to learn, but I can’t help but think that speaking truth and beauty to others is miles more important than quibbling over who runs the world. Because no matter how anyone votes, neither Romney nor Obama will ever run the world. God reaches people through truth, goodness and beauty, not policies and laws. Your approach to that in this article meant a lot to me.

    As for beauty in particular, I’m glad to say I’ve experienced an exceptional amount of it lately. Sinister, Black Swan and Breaking Bad all come to mind in this last week. Most of all, the 2008 film Let the Right One In was heartbreakingly beautiful; I watched that two nights ago (it is often unsentimental and not pretty, and certainly not “safe”). I figure you’ve probably seen it, but if you haven’t, I strongly recommend.

    May the Lord send more beauty your way, sir. Thank you again for the refreshing point of view.

    • Cooper Williams

      Hmm. Well this is embarrassing. I only just realized that Jeffrey Overstreet wrote this article; of course you’ve seen Let The Right One In. I thought he was linking to a third party, and didn’t bother to read the author’s name. Clearly, I am confused about mixing usage of the second and third person here. Ah, well. Suffice to say, another wonderful article, Jeffrey.


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