Beautiful


Being at seminary can tend to lend itself to a certain cynicism, fueled by intellectual detachment from the realities of life, a dispassion built upon having to dissect, critique and deconstruct everything. Combined with an enervation resulting from trying to balance too many hours of school, too many hours of work, and too many other things, this world-weariness can often manifest itself in negativity or pessimism (apologists might prefer to call this “realism”). Living in the West in the 21st century, bombarded as we are with millions of images, words, sounds, and messages, it is similarly easy to develop a tough exterior of ennui in order to protect oneself. Unfortunately, in trying to shut out the bad, the negative, or simply trying to defend against the deluge, we can also shut out appreciation of the good, the joyful, and the uplifting.

The song “Beautiful” was birthed one sunny London day in the summer of 2006. I provide this background since it directly impacted the writing of the song. As you may know, sunny days in England are a dime a dozen, so my appreciation of this meteorological phenomenon was particularly heightened. My aim in beginning to write this song was to respond to this reminder of the grace and beauty of God’s creation. And my aim in choosing to rework it for class (Theology & Culture with Barry Taylor) was to combat both the overwhelming cynicism of the surrounding culture and my own tendency towards disinterestedness and dispassion as a tired, final-year seminarian.

I don’t like to be overly prescriptive with the meaning or interpretation of the words of the songs I write. I like making room in my songs for some ambiguity in order that they may mean different things to different people at different times (though I wouldn’t advocate this approach for congregational worship songs). Even for myself, I have found occasion to appreciate this song at different times and in different contexts. All that I will say about the words of the song is that, in writing them, in using the words I did, I was hoping to encourage the listener to open him- or herself up to the beauty, the grace, the God in life.

For the video itself, I turned for inspiration to other songs and music videos that I had found uplifting and inspiring, in particular, Lifehouse’s “Spin” and U2’s “Beautiful Day”, two songs that similarly extolled the beauty in life. In both, there is a sense of winsomeness, a sense of both holding on to life lightly enough and yet being grounded deeply enough that we can appreciate the good in the face of the hard.

To that end, I settled on filming scenes from life, and especially those moments that remind me that life is beautiful. Obviously, as this is my engagement with and response to culture, the moments which are displayed demonstrate some of the things that I find uplifting: two people in love, a family at play, enjoying the company of friends over coffee and basketball, digging into a good book, and being able to express oneself creatively with the gifts God has bestowed. I interspersed this with shots of landscape, of city, and of beach—all of which are part of my life in California, and in all of which I am particularly able to see God’s fingerprints. Others might (and probably would) frame things differently, or show different moments.

My three years at Fuller were simultaneously the toughest and the best of my twenty-seven years, and one of the reasons for the latter was that I was able to seek and find God in it all. Even in the hardest of times, he was revealing himself and the traces of his grace were evident if I would only look and see. Even though I might not have understood what was going on with my life or my future or whatever I may have been struggling with at the time, even though I might not have been able to comprehend why certain things were happening or not happening, I was fortunate to be able to recognize (or perhaps the Spirit was insistent enough to remind me) that God was still there, that beauty and grace and love were still there. Thus, what began as a simple appreciation of and expression of gratitude for a beautiful day became a metaphor and analogy for life, and for the oftentimes-inexplicable movement and work of God.

Feel the sunlight on your skin
Take a deep breath, take it in
Oh my, what a beautiful day
See the clouds swim in the sky
Close your eyes and let it take you high
What a beautiful day

Though you don’t understand
And this grace you can’t comprehend
You know it’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day

This is beauty, can’t look away
And your tears, they fall and fade away
On this beautiful day
Reach out, darling, heaven’s here
It’s all around, it’s coming near
Oh my, it’s a beautiful day

Though you don’t understand
And this grace you can’t comprehend
You know it’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day

Flood the senses
Overwhelm your defenses
Let love teach you how to love again

A time for life, a time for death
A time to run, a time to catch your breath
On this beautiful day
A time to hurt, a time to heal
A time to hold your tears, a time to feel
On this beautiful day

Though you don’t understand
And this grace you can’t comprehend
You know it’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day
It’s a beautiful day

Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

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