“The shadow proves the sunshine” – Switchfoot
The Hobbit is only a good book because the peaceful life of Bilbo Baggins is disturbed. If not for the tension, the conflict, the peril, the despair, and the evil, this book would not be the great story we know.
The beauty in the broken is a principle that artists, authors, musicians, etc., have discovered and rediscovered throughout the centuries. This principle exists as a reflection of the beauty of the love of Jesus on the cross. The cross is the ultimate union of victory in defeat, life in death, hope in despair, beauty in the broken. The cross is the stone which impacts the pond, and the countless songs and poems and stories and movies which have used tension and resolve are the ripples in Creation and History. The cross is not one among many stories involving conflict and resolution. The cross is the prototype; it is the real thing. All other stories, including the Hobbit, including Sigur Ros’ “Glosoli,” including my insecurities that I overcome, are images and signs that point to the story of Jesus. They are re-dramatizations of that once and for all Gospel. That’s why they are beautiful.
A good example of this is the phenomenon of distorted guitar. One of the earliest uses of distorted guitar occurred when Willie Kizart from Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm used an amplifier which had been damaged in transportation to record “Rocket 88.” Distortion is literally the sound of a busted amp. Now the sound is all over the radio, and we pay good money to get a precise distorted tone. Art couldn’t get more upside down and ironic. Congratulations, hipsters.
This principle is spread throughout the world of music. DJ’s use the sound of a broken record systematically. I’m not sure if any loop in Radiohead’s “The Gloaming” is not some kind of malfunctioning sound. This is the norm these days.
Why is this? Why are humans so compelled by the idea of beauty in the broken? Why does it cause us so much delight when we see things that are useless being restored and reused?
I think that the reason is that these are images of the Gospel. They are an image of the way God takes broken and lost human beings and restores them. He does not turn a blind eye to our sin. He displays the glory of his grace.
But those of us who are immersed in the hipster culture of SE PDX know that Irony has a remarkable way of betraying itself. Nothing is more plastic than contrived brokenness. The Gentile quickly becomes a Pharisee in his romanticized marginalization (Romans 11:20). The layman makes a parade of the fact that he’s a layman. None of us escape. We are all Pharisees.
Still, humans are indeed compelled by brokenness. There is something seriously profound about this breakdown of all things. There is something seriously profound about Johnny Cash, about his rugged voice, about his simple songwriting and simple chord progressions. These are little dramatizations of the story of Jesus. But distorted guitar, just like clean guitar, is not God. Nor is Johnny Cash. Jesus is God.
The hipster nay-sayers are just as frustrating as the optimistic poppy people. The story of Jesus is both death and resurrection. There are two sides to things not because Truth is relative, but because neither of these sides are themselves the Truth. Jesus is the Truth. And the two sides are only getting at different angles of his fullness.