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Featuring guest Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura | Creating Beauty from Brokenness

Makoto Fujimura reminisces on the roles of art, faith, and science in his childhood; discusses the relationship between these practices today.


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Kintsugi bowl

Makoto Fujimura reminisces on the roles of art, faith, and science in his childhood; discusses the relationship between these practices today.

Description

Makoto Fujimura is a world-renowned artist often counted among the preeminent figures in the “slow art” movement. Yet Fujimura also has a deep connection to the sciences: he double majored in animal behavior and art during his undergraduate degree at Bucknell University and his father Osamu Fujimura was an influential speech scientist. In this live episode recorded at the 2022 BioLogos Faith & Science Conference, Fujimura reminisces on the roles of art, faith, and science in his childhood; discusses the relationship between these practices today; and presents his vision on how caring for culture can help revive our sense of enchantment with the world by bringing together disparate ways of knowing God’s world.

  • Originally aired on March 31, 2022
  • With 
    Jim Stump

Transcript

Stump:

Welcome to Language of God. I’m Jim Stump. 

On this podcast, we’ve aimed to cover a broad set of topics related to science and faith, evolution and the Bible, climate change, race, vaccines, artificial intelligence, prayer. 

So some of you might scratch your heads a little bit in seeing that our guest for this episode, which was produced live in front of an audience at our big national conference in San Diego, is… an artist. 

But if you know anything about Makoto Fujimura, you know that he speaks with wisdom and insight on a broad spectrum of topics, including, as you’ll hear shortly, science. And particularly as one of the themes we’ve covered many times on the podcast is being human, we thought there could be a really interesting connection between science and art and faith as we consider God as creator, and ourselves as image bearers who also create. 

Makoto Fujimura is a leading contemporary artist. His work has been featured in galleries and museums around the world. He’s also an advocate for the arts and for culture care through the International Arts Movement and the Fujimura Institute. He’s written several books, including Silence and Beauty about one of my favorite novels of all time. And his most recent book is Art and Faith, which forms the basis of our conversation here today. 

Let’s get to the conversation.

Audience please join me in welcoming Makoto Fujimura to the podcast.

Thanks for doing this Mako, I think it will be fun. We’ll talk about some of these connections between art and science in a bit. But as I do with all of our podcast guests, I want to start with getting to know you a little bit more as a person, you are not just your art, nor an abstract collection of ideas and thoughts, but you’re flesh and blood, you have a history, you’re connected to places and of course these influenced you. So if you would start with a little autobiography: Where do you come from? What were you like as a kid? Who were the people that were important to you in your life?

Fujimura: 

Thank you, Jim. And thank you for welcoming me in this live conference recording. It is great to be here. I was born in Boston. I was born there because my father, who was a leading research scientist in acoustics and phonetics, was doing his postdoc work with Noam Chomsky at MIT. He brought generative grammar theory back into Japan. I spent a considerable amount of time in Japan. Prior to that I was in Sweden, in Stockholm for a couple of years, and then went to Japanese kindergarten and grade school. After I returned to the U.S., my father did his main research at Bell Labs in Murray Hill. I was raised in this context of science and innovation. And I became an artist.

Stump: 

How did that happen? When did you first think, I’d like to be an artist?

Fujimura:

I went into my undergraduate years at Bucknell University thinking that I would also try to make it in some sort of science, I started with ecology and animal behavior. And ended up in my first year actually thinking I cannot do without my art. It wasn’t that I took that for granted, but I didn’t really think that my time spent on all these other activities would displace what I loved the most, which was my studio work. My mother was an educator so I always always had a place to create at home. At the end of my first year, I decided to major in art, but I had enough credit in sciences, so I ended up with a double degree.

Stump:

Sorry, I keep pushing you even further back here. Maybe there’s no interesting story here, but I’m going to keep trying. So as a little kid, are you like making doodles that mom and dad hang up on the refrigerator? What do you remember of art as this creative outlet for what you were thinking about?

Fujimura:

My mother kept a painting that I did when I was two and a half in Sweden and framed it and gave it to me as a graduation gift, from Bucknell because I had told her that I’m going to try to make it as an artist. That was her answer. She gave me this painting as if to say that I saw your gift early on and I have done my best to steward that gift. You should have this. I have it in my living room, and as I go out of my house into the studio every day, I look at it and I say, well, that’s my goal today. Because it is such a joy filled painting, has no ego, there’s no excess either, even though it is very gratuitous. And lines, you know, and colors that I use today. So my aesthetic was formed very early. And the painting proves to me that at the intuitive core of my being these movements, gestures, colors that which my mother also enjoyed seeing, and my father scientist who, when I told him, I am going to try to make it as an artist, he said, great, because that’s what I wanted to become. So there you go: two parents, perhaps unusual for Asian family, to have this testimony of an artist saying it was my parents who allowed me or maybe encouraged me even to pursue the arts.

Stump:

Well break another stereotype for us here now, too, because Japan is not often known as a hotbed for Christianity, right? How did your Christian faith come about?

Fujimura:

I was in graduate school back in Japan studying this traditional Japanese craft of nihonga, which harkens back to the 15th century. I was very fortunate as an American student to receive a governmental scholarship to study 16th century, 17th century Japanese art form and apply that to my contemporary work. I was placed in this lineage program, you study for a masters, I was there for six and a half years, but it was during that time that I came to faith, explicit faith in becoming a follower of Christ. I call my journey of faith at that point as inversion rather than conversion, because what happened was the painting that my mother kept at two, I probably couldn’t articulate or remember that, but whenever I painted whenever I made anything, I felt this surge coming through me. And I knew that was a gift. It wasn’t mine, but it was mine to steward. As I was more cognizant of what you need to do to keep that side of you alive, then I began to wrestle with this reality of this gift of expression, gift of the arts with my lack of understanding of how that fit into modernity and post-modernity. I wrestled with it seriously philosophically for a long time and not being able to find that there was even a proper place to ask that question in a modern understanding of modern anthropology or epistemology. I searched for an answer and I was reading in Japan, a poem by William Blake, on a cold day in 1987. I remember that moment when it hit me that that experience, this visceral experience that I was finding in a studio, connected directly to the voice of Christ. It was through Blake’s poem, of course, the way he phrased that act of sacrifice that Christ gave for our sakes, but also this interaction with the establishment or relationship that is given by sacrifice for us, for me. That began a whole slew of unraveling of my own understanding of epistemological questioning that I had done for a decade at that point, it inverted everything I had known about asking the question. At that point I actually remember making a commitment, that, if this is true, if this love is there at the base of the universe, I need to find this. So I read through the Bible twice, I am an all or nothing kind of guy. I began attending this missionary church, asked these poor missionaries all these questions that they couldn’t answer, argued about Exodus 32, basically on the whole idea of creating a tabernacle, and they were like, What are you talking about? I don’t think I read that. Eventually, I don’t think I realized that I had become a follower of Christ until a year later. Because I kept on saying no to the idea that I was a Christian. I kept on arguing myself out of the institutional side of faith, while I was so committed to understanding Christ, death, life, death and resurrection, as the basis of everything I was doing. I became this passionate evangelist before I knew what that meant. Later on, when I was writing Silence and Beauty, I was doing some research and I came to find out that… My mother had passed away and I was doing some reflection on her life. I remembered her saying that when I told her that I had become a follower of Christ that I was serving as an elder in the Presbyterian Church in New York City, she said, well, I’m not surprised. What do you mean mom? And she said, you have a great uncle who is a Presbyterian evangelist in southern Japan. You never knew that. Mom, you didn’t tell me this. She said, you never asked. When Tim Keller interviewed me to be an elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, he asked me, so why are you a Presbyterian? I said, I’m a Presbyterian because I was a Presbyterian before I knew I was a Presbyterian. So there you go.

Stump: 

Very nice. Well, let’s explore a little bit of this, see if we can find any connections between art and science in this way. I read through your book, Art and Faith that’s sitting right here, and was looking for points of connection between art and faith and science. I didn’t really have to look very hard, for this word creation kept jumping out in a multivalent way that I think has some really important insights that we can try to draw together here. God created all things through Christ, we humans are created in God’s image. And now we have the image itself that’s loaded with artistic connotations, right? We are at the point of God, the workmanship of God, you create art, scientists investigate creation. I’m curious how you understand this term create or creation in the various ways that it’s used by artists and theologians and scientists? What are the overlapping connotations, at least that you see there?

Fujimura:

I began the book with this theological concept of aseity, which is a concept that the theologians are now talking about. There’s a basis, which the aseity of God is basically that God is all sufficient, self sufficient. Therefore, God doesn’t need us. God doesn’t need a creation. God doesn’t need the church. And it’s the independence of God from time and space. God exists outside of time and space, all sufficient. Now why is that important? It’s important because if that is not the case in creation, God’s act of creation was not out of need, but out of love. That changes everything. When I think about my struggle as an artist to understand my own creation, and this gift that I felt that I had, as I say, the modernist concept of creativity and imagination cannot account for this. I began to understand that that’s a reversal of how anthropology of modern times allows human beings, because human beings are at the center of all things, right? So that we are the ones that create a need for God. And therefore God needs us, that kind of thinking. It’s elusive, it’s not maybe spelled out in every philosophical discourse, but it’s behind all of the art that I can say, the motivation, the self expression. And yet, what happens in the mystery of creation, even in agnostic atheistic time, is that art itself expresses something gratuitous, that reflects the Society of God more perfectly than sometimes in our preaching. I had this hunting to do in a way or mystery, or at least I searched all the mystery. The conversation here gets very interesting, because one of the great dialogue partners was my father, who is not a Christian. Yet he believed that sciences would be impossible without Christianity, a Judeo Christian base. He had thought through in terms of generative language, especially how languages and speech reproduction cannot account for itself, if the data cannot account for this reality of understanding that the basis of language is this generative reality. It kind of sits at the mystery of outside of time and space, in essence. Anyways, to go into a conversation between art and science with my father was fascinating exercise. Parsing out what does it mean for me as a follower of Christ to present something that is cohesive enough to someone who may not have that theistic faith, but have a basis of understanding of how limited science may be, in light of this sensitive God, I can talk to my father. But it was hard to talk too, sometimes, as a Christian.

Stump:

Historically, I think the point your father was making of the necessity of this view of God and of creation as coming from a Christian worldview, and in a certain sense, if God created gratuitously or just out of love, as opposed to creating necessarily or there being this emanation that flows out, then if it then we have to actually go out and look in the world to see how God may have done it. This seems to be one of the big impulses for the development of modern science was people who had this view of God that led to experimentation and observations, instead of sitting in a dark room and thinking that I could just figure it all out, figure out all of reality as a necessary outcome.

Fujimura:

Darwin, in his journey toward identifying the data points, where he was kind of working backwards, but his faith was dependent on this mechanistic idea, Paley’s idea. He was influenced by watchmakers theory, where you should be able to trace backwards from the data into God. That, to my father, would have been kind of a ludicrous idea because he said, from the get go, you have a cohesive reality only because God has created this reality. It’s the foundation of all understanding, of how you rely on data to bring in an improved mechanism. We would talk about Darwinian evolution and my father’s understanding was not what you would expect the scientists to say about that.

Stump: 

Interesting. You have some other reflection in your book here on making as a way of knowing, how “making is the deepest integrated realm of knowing” you say, and also “the ultimate understanding of the gospel is what we make and what we love.” I’ve been thinking about this and how far we can push that to the sciences, as well, wondering whether a scientific theory is comparable to an artistic creation in this respect. Because we usually say that scientists discover rather than create or invent scientific truth, right? But there’s definitely an element of creativity that’s involved, and insight that’s involved in coming up with scientific theories that explain a wide range of data. So can we say of scientists, as you have said of artists, that they’re involved in making as a way of knowing?

Fujimura:

Absolutely. Prime numbers weren’t there until we discovered it, right? We invented them.

Stump:

There’s a big philosophical debate about that. 

Fujimura:

I know, we can go into that. We won’t here, but later on. But yes, right, which is it? That is the way that we should be asking that question, the debate over something that has multiple entry points and multiple ways of understanding it, but at the very least, we should agree that there is mystery to that. In that, it’s this idea that we come into knowledge through perhaps the certainty, rather than being humble enough to say, like my father, at the end of his life, he said, we may not understand language fully, where all his colleagues were saying that in 1970s, early 70s, in Bell Labs, they were saying that we will be able to use the segment that is data that we have gathered with computers fast enough to create speech with a reproduction system, that you will not be able to tell that it’s a machine. My father said, no way. It’s like cutting a frog and stitching it back together and hope that it jumps again; the data is segmented, that’s not how human speech works. Going back to what we’re talking about, we are passing out the reductivist approach of gathering data and assuming that there is certainty there, that that is how a mechanistic universe should work. But when we leave out the ontological mystery of how that data will even be gathered or how the basis of let’s say speech, is being given to us as a gift. That it is not just speech as information, data points, but it is actually a song, actually a mystery embedded in human speech, where all of us in the same room, using that language and communicating to each other will generativity amplify the mystery. Now, that is a different kind of conversation you have with scientists like my father.

Stump:

Let’s look a little more specifically here, then between maybe your art and something like our understanding of evolution, because I think there’s some really interesting touch points that come from your book in that regard as well. Colin has a few images he’s going to put up on the screen here of you creating your art. For those who are listening. We’ll put some links to those in the show notes. One idea here is the relationship of time to creation. You call your own work, slow art, and that it fights against efficiency, which I think is a really interesting phrase. Lots of people worry about God creating through evolution, because it takes so long and it appears to be inefficient. So give us a defense of creating slowly. Why is that a better way of making?

Fujimura:

Yes. Because slowness harnesses something that… We assume efficiency comes with speed, but slowness actually harnesses a deeper integration of whatever the data point we have. What that means is multiple variables can come into play in building a set of data that we may not be able to account for if we don’t have the time stretched out. In a sense what we’re talking about… When I was in undergrad at Bucknell, one of the textbooks that I have kept is Sociobiology by E.O. Wilson. A masterpiece. There’s a little paragraph in there, which caught my attention. Now, this was before my theistic days. I don’t understand how to answer this question, but it’s about altruism. How does altruism come to be in studying ants? And then sex? E.O. Wilson asked this question in a way that I think opened up something in me and perhaps to him as well, because he’s asking a question, not about the end result, but he’s asking a question about the process, he’s asking a question about what happens when altruistic behavior comes to surface? Is that at the end consolidated as a mechanistic? Or is it because all these variables play in the slowness of time, something that we cannot account for. Even that way of explaining that, something that you can’t explain, I began to wonder if, because of my father’s influence on me, certainly, that there is something more to science than just figuring out mechanistically how to fix a problem. There is a deeper questioning that we can do, if we allow it, that allows for perhaps something that modern understanding of creating certainty mechanistically or using the segmentalist data cannot account for. Slowness of time is one of them. My personal response to that is, as an artist, I wanted to select a method in which it took time for me to create my own paint, pulverize pigments, do 100 layers before you start to paint, paper that requires certain care so that how to even use stretch paper, depending on the climate, depending on where you’re doing it will change. All these variables will require for me to slow down. My father would come into my studio and sit in front of my painting for literally an hour, just looking at it, beholding it. To me, as I think about his life, that was the greatest gift that he has given me. He knew that all good things, good understanding, requires for him to be humble before whatever it is that he’s beholding, whatever it is that he’s trying to understand. This notion of standing under to understand, don’t stand over it, because that’s overstanding.

Stump: 

This process of creating I’m really interested in to to hear you talk a little bit more about because it seems maybe to many of the rest of us that if you need paints and you need paper, you go down to the local Michaels or the local art store to buy them was instead of pulverizing the minerals yourself and creating them. Is there something in the process itself that gives you joy? And it’s not just, you can probably see where I’m going here with relating to God is creating, this process. Because if you do the math, homosapiens don’t appear until 99.998% of all of natural history that we have. We as Christians who think there’s something important and special about us, you have to think well, what’s God doing the whole rest of the time? Talk to us as someone who creates yourself through this long process. You’re not just saying, oh, this long process. I can’t believe I have to do this. Is that giving you joy? Is that part of the love you spoke of earlier as well, that we can see God?

Fujimura:

It’s connected to love, because time is not this linear progression of events. Time, actually, biblically, kairos time is different from neos time, than chronos or neos. Kairos time as eternity built into that moment, so you might be laboring for years and years to prepare something and then all of a sudden, discovery happens, where there’s an explosion, an opening, that would only happen if you had spent that time preparing for that moment. But it seems like every other notion of slow labor, it’s no longer slow or no longer tedious because it becomes such an accentuated reality of seeing something new for the first time. I want my work to capture that sense. I know David Brooks is coming tomorrow. David, I asked him when he first entered my gallery in New York, I said, David, you can see my painting for about 15 minutes, would you be willing to just sit in front of it, just like my father did. But he didn’t know my father. And to David’s credit, he did that. At the end of 15 minutes, he said, I cannot believe my eyes. You mean after 15 minutes of just staring at it. He’s saying, when I walked in, it was a green painting; now, I see an entire cosmos. Somatically, something opens up. Is that 15 minutes tedious? Perhaps. But we don’t talk about that, right? We talk about that moment of discovery when the whole entire cosmos opens up to you and all of a sudden, you’re ushered into this portal of understanding the cosmos and the way that we are meant to experience that fully and being present before it. The time is very different in that equation.

Stump:

So there’s another aspect of that long time, at least long from our standpoint, and something like, most estimates are that more than 99% of the species that have ever existed have gone extinct. We might also think of that as an inefficiency. I wonder if we might see it as something different as something of the lavishness of creation. All of these species that got to exist that couldn’t evolve, existed at one time, that might be one way of thinking about it. But there’s no getting around the fact that evolution as a means of creation involves some suffering, involves some death. I don’t know that we are ever going to have a fully satisfactory answer to why God might create that way. But I wonder if maybe we can point to some answers that aren’t completely satisfactory, but at least bring us into the space where we start to have some insights for maybe why that could be. You discuss in the book this ancient Japanese technique of kintsugi. Is that how I pronounce it? 

Fujimura:

Correct. Kintsugi. 

Stump:

Tell us about this artistic technique, and how it may gesture toward understanding how God may take the brokenness of this creation and make it into something even more beautiful.

Fujimura:  

Kintsugi is a venerable tea tradition. And that goes back to 16th century Japan and beyond. But there’s a very important critical moment in Japanese history where this one tea master, Sen no Rikyū began to speak against the dictatorial persecution, oppression, and war mongering that was going on in Japan. This was literally called the war period in Japanese history, Sengoku Jidai, where Rikyū came in as a tea master and created a ritual of peace. In the midst of this very conflicted political reality, he managed to carve out a tiny little tea house where he would invite the most powerful people into the tea house, and one to one and he would just serve tea without saying much. But in order to get into the tea house, there’s a little hole called nijiriguchi, which is set up so that any samurai coming into that tea house will have to remove their sword, otherwise they can’t enter. So it is literally a place of shalom, a place of peace. And out of that tradition comes this tradition of kintsugi kin is gold, tsugi means to mend, tsugi also means to pass on to the next generation. And it’s this art of taking broken pottery, sometimes very important teaware will break in Japan because of many earthquakes and tsunamis. And the family of tea masters will often hold on to the fragments of an important teaware for several generations, and then they will give it to Japan lacquer master, urushi master to mend. But the urushi master doesn’t just fix the bowl to make it look like it was never broken. The urushi master decides on how the fracture, depending on how the fracture is done, to accentuate the brokenness just like this, and highlight and to make the fractures beautiful with gold. The end result kintsugi bowl is far more valuable than the original, even though the original may be very valuable. So this idea of new creation, the idea of thinking about as Christians post resurrection appearances of Jesus, he comes not just as a human being full human being glorified, but he comes back as a wounded human being with nail marks. That’s a remarkable reality. And so I think of kintsugi as a way of understanding new creation, the post resurrection journey that we ought to be on ourselves, where our fractures and our woundedness, our hearts broken, can become an entry point into something more beautiful, because God is the ultimate kintsugi master.

Stump:

That really is beautiful. And I don’t want to press this metaphor too far, but I can’t imagine that people are taking their valuable tea sets and intentionally smashing them just in order to take to a kintsugi master. But rather, this is seen as this is something hard and tragic that has happened, but that we’re able to create something beautiful out of that tragedy.

Fujimura:

Absolutely. You’re not actually glorifying brokenness to that extent. Nakamura san, the kintsugi master, who co-founded Academy kintsugi with me and my wife Haejin says, we have enough broken things in the world. You may think coming into a kintsugi workshop or experience that you don’t have anything broken. But that’s not true, we just don’t know how to look for it. We have built this cultural facade, wearing masks to look perfect, to look like we are whole. In fact, all of us, I don’t think anybody can say today, especially after the pandemic, that we’re not broken. But how we see that, how we tend to it and mend that, is critical for the future of understanding our culture. Science has a great role to play here, because the pieces cannot fit together if the physics doesn’t work, if the rushi doesn’t hold. So, it’s critical that the engineering part works in tandem with the aesthetic part. This is a perfect example, actually, of science and art coming together. This was done by one of our kintsugi instructors, Eva Crawford, who is an artist in Charlotte. She brought this with her to India, where Haejin and I went, where her organization Embers International, is literally rescuing girls out of red light districts, girls and boys, and educating them. To them too how their lives will be seen, justice is not complete when they’re just rescued. Justice is when they see themselves as beautiful. So how do we do that in education? How do we do that together collectively here in America? Well, that’s the question of post pandemic journey.

Stump:

That’s beautiful. Well, I want to shift to talking about what you’ve called culture care. I think that’s a really interesting phrase, which has a fruitful relationship to science and faith concerns about creation care, how do we care for what God has created? But now you’re asking how do we care properly for what we have created with culture? And to explore this topic a little bit, we’re going to bring a couple other people into the conversation. So Colin is going to introduce our first.

Hoogerwerf:

Our first audience question is from Sarey Martin Concepción, who works for one of our sister organizations, Blueprint 1543.

Martin Concepción:

Hello. So I’m wondering, there’s sort of this perception or reputation in the public square, or in our communities, that science is sort of responsible for the de-enchantment of the universe. The crisis of modern people to feel like there’s a lack of meaning in lived experience and that science with its cold, hard facts, is responsible for a lot of that. So I’m just wondering, if we want to bring the culture along with us in a more holistic, integrated way, could the arts perhaps have a role to play in holding these different domains of knowledge together and being less siloed, and less guilty of this de-enchantment phenomenon?

Fujimura:

Thanks for that. Artists are just as responsible for disenchanting, perhaps even more so. But, first of all, creation care requires, in my mind, cultural care, especially in America. Because if you don’t have cultural care, if you don’t have language to understand the divide and fragmentation that we’re experiencing in culture, and create a new set of vocabulary, how to talk about those fractures, like kintsugi, we end up in culture wars not culture care. Culture wars will displace what is good and beautiful and true about creation care, and push it to the margins where extremists fight over funding, fight over why it’s important. And we will not be able to care and steward creation, because it’s basically mired in culture war realities, where the culture becomes a battle ground rather than a garden to tend to. So culture to me is an ecosystem to steward. I do not separate actually between culture and nature. In the same way that I think whenever you separate and categorically divide these elements, you start to lose the conversation. You start to lose the song, you do, in fact, make it into a mechanistic enterprise, where you argue over who’s right and who’s wrong and the categories become smaller and smaller. Pretty soon you’re fighting over things that you never thought you would have to fight over. I think a project of cultural care is to rely on poets and rely on artists to expand the language to in a sense sanctify imagination, so that we have a collective generative base of language to speak about the realities of what is happening, the real issues in front of us, what I call the Ground Zero realities facing us today.

Stump:

Colin, you have another audience question queued up for us here.

Hoogerwerf:

Yeah. Our next question is from David Lahti. David has been a guest on the podcast before. He’s the associate professor of biology at Queens College City University of New York.

Lahti:

Hello, and thank you for these wonderful insights. It’s been an inspiring discussion. I’m interested in this analogy between creation care and culture care. In particular, when we think of creation care, God says his creation is good. And so our task is merely to recognize that and then anything that follows from a recognition of the goodness of creation is our care. However, when we make the analogy, there’s a certain variation that is introduced by humans in our cultural phenomena that is not so clear cut. So we could talk about variation in quality or variation in beauty, but let’s just talk about variation in goodness, there’s a moral ambiguity about the products of human culture. How does that complexify culture care? And how do we make the decision as to how much to preserve or what to preserve in culture?

Fujimura:

Yeah, thanks for that easy question to address [laughs]. Yes, we can create beautiful paintings or create weapons of mass destruction. What is the responsibility of any creator? How does the Creator seize what we do? In Genesis two, we are told that in Eden, this is before the fall, Adam was asked to name the animals. The way I understand the path into new creation, that was the beginning of Adam realizing that what was what God wanted to do was to teach Adam that he was missing Eve. But really, in that process, Adam began this function of a human being to name things and create categories and to begin to understand Eden as a place of making himself. Whatever he named the animals, God emphasized God’s delight in what Adam named, so he didn’t say, are you sure you want to name that giraffe? No, he said, yes. I talked about in the book how I saw this poster in the subway, in New York City, once that the Bronx Zoo has 4000-some species. That’s at least 4000 yes and one big no. So that really began this process of human beings being involved, asked by God to be involved in God’s creation. Of course, the fall made this much more complicated, because what we can do now is to create weapons to kill each other. And we do. How does that naming continue after the fall? It certainly continues, but we’re creating the Tower of Babel and the Golden Calf instead of a tabernacle, so that there’s always that tension in human society. But what I would say is critical here is that the naming is now even more important, not because of what we can do, but because of what God has instituted through Christ, and through the Spirit. The Pentecostal reality of the Spirit coming in to empower fallen human beings to speak the truth in love, that has opened up a way in which all of our naming becomes far more important, in fact, to the extent that God wants us to be a critical base for new creation. I mean, what I just said is so mind boggling. You would think well, that can’t be true. God is depending on us to create, in order for new creation to be assured, and so you have to think about that. But I think we started with the aseity God, the utter independence God. We can also talk about the incarnation of Christ as the beginning of this dependency of God. Christ was utterly dependent on creation, on Mary and Joseph. What does that mean? There’s a huge paradox at work simultaneously operating, which I think, these two, this possibility that human beings in this new reality of new creation, in Christ, we’re new creation, as Paul says, that reality is breaking out in front of us. But God waits until we make to show up. Somehow, sciences and the arts are supposed to play not only a huge role, but perhaps one of the ways that we can understand both the independence of God and dependence of God and move into the interdependence of new creation, is by understanding how we come together. Scientists and artists and philosophers and educators, all of us need to come together to understand how this relationship, this mystery, can bear itself in a world full of fractures, and yet that is what’s going to mend and create something new. God is actually telling us, I am going to wait until you figure this out. Until you come together, and you create something for the glory of my name, to name that which is already broken, we know that, maybe shattered beyond description. But I have given you all that you need to accomplish something, and then I’m going to use that in order to bring in the new creation.

Stump: 

I have one more topic on my outline. The last topic is appropriately about the last things. You have a really beautiful section in your book on eschatology and draw heavily from the eschatology of our mutual friend Tom Wright in your work. You suggest that art can prepare us, you’ve touched on some of this already, let me just see if I can pull it out one more time here. You suggest that art can prepare us for God’s New World specifically by creating beauty. I’m interested to hear you talk a little bit more about the actual creation of beauty as a way of preparing us for God’s new kingdom. And then to reflect a little bit on the role of science in this which you pointed to some but is there an analogous role for science perhaps, is discovering truth, a way also of anticipating the New Kingdom where all things will be made clear to us?

Fujimura:

Yeah, naming is part of scientific discovery. And then understanding how it fits into the whole. Part of the understanding of new creation, I raised this example in the book, I was listening to my friend, Andy Crouch, talk about the Eucharist. He was talking about how it’s like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of expertise. It’s very difficult to make good wine and it’s actually pretty difficult to make good bread. For those of us who tried to during the pandemic.

Stump: 

I’m trying. [laughs]

Fujimura:

It takes a while for you to figure out how to bake even a simple bread. I was listening to him talk about this in terms of practice of making something good, how long it takes, and I just had this revelation like, oh my goodness, that’s the hours you’re making. Because God waited until we learned to make wine, we learn to make bread to show up. That’s the table. That’s the most important presentation, God, as Tom Wright says, God didn’t give us a lecture or God gave us a meal. But in order for this to happen, we had to spend 10,000 hours of failure,  of trying to make good wine and good bread. And that’s, I think, how the new creation works. If we go to 711 and buy it, I guess we could, but I don’t think that’s the intended meaning of how God created in us the slow reality, the fabric of the growth of how our hands, build to make something beautiful, and good tasting. In order for us to enjoy that, that is fundamental to God’s presence in our world. And more importantly, new creation doesn’t happen until we do that. That tells me, at least as an artist thinking about this, that what I do matters in the studio, that the invisible, hard work of preparing, so that that one line can go on on a silk well. And by the way, it’s not just my labor, but the labor of these artisans in Japan, who created this ink stick that took generations of knowledge, 100 years, really, of creating this one stick, and then curing it and waiting until it’s just right. That’s part of this, too. All combined cultural reality is full of these signposts of the new creation, that we need to pay more attention to in the church, certainly. And we need to understand that anything good that’s worth waking up to, and being excited about, takes time, sometimes generations, to cultivate. This understanding of what I do in the studio matters, that single line can lead too even though I am unable to perhaps finish that painting, God is going to complete, not just that painting, but is going to create a new world out of that. That whole notion is essentially why we cannot be preaching just about redemption and restoration of us entering into God’s domain through God’s sacrifice. We forget that the reason why we’re here, because we have been redeemed, is to partake in this adventure, partake in this journey into new creation. That God is actually wanting us, waiting for us, to draw that single line so that God can open up a whole universe through that line. 

Stump:

That last line that you gave there, I think is really important because too often I think people when they sometimes hear this eschatology of Tom Wright upon the first hearing they might think that we ourselves are somehow going to bring about this new created order all of our own. But what you just said there is that what we do matters. It’s not as though God is going to create this new creation ex nihilo out of nothingness but rather in the same way of kintsugi, of taking what we have done and transforming it into this new creation. So it’s not as though we can do this all on our own either, right?

Fujimura:

Totally. What we can do is very little, I mean, we’re naming the animals. God made the animals, we’re just naming them. But somehow the whole thing is inverted, the journey is inverted, when Christ became a babe in the manger. God would rather risk everything and be completely dependent on our creation to exist. That’s so far beyond what our daily understanding of what God did, right? But that’s the entry point into something so beyond the scope of understanding, even the best minds will not be able to understand this. So my father was right, there is mystery of creation that we just tapping into. When you study language, just by studying language, you understand that you are humbled by what you observe there. At the end of his life, he was even more humble about the capacity of human beings to be able to understand human speech. To me that leads me to understand that, yes, I’m a follower of Christ, and I understand this redemptive journey that I have been fortunate to be on. But that’s just the beginning of the mystery of what I will discover and being able to bring that into the darkest places of the world, like what my wife is trying to do in India, it doesn’t… Everything is upside down, you see the beauty and joy in these children. That doesn’t make sense, in our understanding, our conception of what justice is. That for me is a way that the entire project, the human project, but how the sciences should operate, we should be looking for upside down things. We should be just as innovative in observing and creating, and we should have artists join that process, because they’re the ones who may have observations that we need to discover something new. This understanding, you know, it has to be done in community, we need to journey together and then somehow God is going to use that single line to open up a new portal.

Stump:

Thanks. Well, I think we’re out of time. There are several more avenues. I would love to walk down and hear you talk about, but we will leave that there for now. And I ask our audience to join me in thanking you for your work and for your art and for being with us here today.

[applause]

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation, the Fetzer Institute and by individual donors who contribute to BioLogos. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf. That’s me. Nate Mulder is our assistant producer. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. 

BioLogos offices are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the Grand River watershed. If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum or visit our website, biologos.org, where you  will find articles, videos and other resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening. 


Photos

Featured guest

Makoto Fujimura headshot

Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura is a leading contemporary artist whose process driven, refractive “slow art” has been described by David Brooks of New York Times as “a small rebellion against the quickening of time”. Fujimura served as a Presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts from 2003 to 2009, and authored 4 books, including Art+Faith: A Theology of Making (Yale Press).