A United Methodist pastor with over thirty-six years of pastoral experience, Rev. Wayne Plumstead describes what he has learned about the aesthetics of religion from the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, founded by Eli Siegel.

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Location: Bloomfield, New Jersey, United States

The Rev. Wayne Jack Plumstead holds a BA from Drake University and an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary. Ordained a minister in the United Methodist Church in 1973, he has served since 1991 as Senior Pastor at the Park United Methodist Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Prior to that time he served pastorates in Lower Berkshire Valley, Bayonne, Arlington and Jersey City, all in New Jersey. Rev. Plumstead credits the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism, founded by Eli Siegel, with having an invaluable influence on his theological formation. He has given many public seminars at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City. In 1994, the Board of Global Ministries invited him to give a presentation at a consultation on Developing Multicultural Congregations in San Antonio, Texas to assist national church staff in developing strategies for congregations in transitional communities. In 2000, he was invited to give the opening sermon at the first meeting of clergy in the newly formed Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. And, in 2002, the United Methodist Publishing House printed an article he authored in its national magazine for United Methodist clergy, Circuit Rider.

Friday, July 03, 2009

A Message to My Visitors

Hello Friends!
On this blog I will be posting writings of mine and others that tell what I have learned from the philosophy Aesthetic Realism, founded by the American educator and poet Eli Siegel in 1941, about the relation of religion and aesthetics. What I learned has revolutionized not only my way of seeing religion, but my entire life as well. I am pleased and very excited to share it with you all.

Aesthetic Realism is based on this principle, stated by Mr. Siegel: "All beauty is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves."

I'll begin with part of a paper I wrote in 1979 describing one of the first lectures I heard Eli Siegel give on religion.

I Learned Something New About Religion!

I remember when I learned for the first time that which I now see as the very heart of religion: its basis in aesthetics. It was in an Aesthetic Realism lecture given by Eli Siegel on November 25, 1973.

Mr. Siegel stated: "We have an attitude to the world and towards the first power in the world. The history of religion backs up the idea that there is a tremendous, deep thing in mind working to like the world. So far, it has taken a religious form. It will take an aesthetic form also. All of aesthetics can be used to make more logical, credible, scientific what religion has gone for."

Before I met Aesthetic Realism aesthetics hadn't meant very much to me. But in my Aesthetic Realism consultations during 1971 and 1972, I began to see that what made art beautiful--opposites as one--is what I was also trying to do in my own life. Now, I was hearing Eli Siegel say: "Aesthetic Realism sees the making one of opposites as the beginning of meaning in religious fact. There are many passages in the Bible showing that. God is to be feared and loved. He is in your heart and he made the mountains."

Then Mr. Siegel said this very large thing: "If people can accept the idea that Christ has been seen as the visible representation of the unseen God and therefore, since the relation of visible to invisible is an aesthetic matter, that Christ is in the aesthetic field, I think Christ will be seen better. Aesthetic Realism says Christ is the physical embodiment of a general idea called God. He is like Tennyson's flower in a crannied wall, for all art is the physical presentation of the invisible."

I was learning why Christ has moved people for centuries, why he has made for emotion as large as any that has ever been in the world. In his very nature Christ put together the opposites we are trying to have one in ourselves. What does it mean to be able to see criticism and kindness, toughness and gentleness, truth and imagination, humility and pride together beautifully as one in a human life? How much hope can that give us for ourselves?

I thought about my parishioners. Did this have any relation to the emotion they were hoping to have about Christ? Yes! I began to see that what brings a person to church each Sunday, though he doesn't consciously know it perhaps, is his need to put opposites together in himself and his feeling that Christ provides the key. What, after all, does it mean to become more "Christlike?" Is this an aesthetic as well as an ethical process?

"What was on people's minds about the time of Christ?" asked Eli Siegel. "Never was there such a desire to feel God and the world could be one. There is no religion that is not aesthetically impelled. Religion can be shown to be in man's mind powerfully and, in the deepest sense, truly. The need for man to feel he is in relation to all things is very great."

This lecture stirred me and I felt privileged to be hearing it. I had all my life felt that Christianity was beautiful. But as my study of religion progressed (along with my experience of the world) I became skeptical about its truth. Through lectures like the one I am describing it is not too much to say that my religious emotion was reborn. Seeing the logic of religion, its aesthetics, enabled me to feel something I thought I never would: that I could love God on a basis that is honest and wide.

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