Five Reasons The Behemoth is Art and Poetry in Theological Prose

The Behemoth Magazine

You may not understand The Behemoth’s orthodoxy because you are viewing art and poetry, not a theological exegesis or apologetic argument.

I have not been all that excited about any [Christian-based] magazine publication in a long time, though I do read most of them in some form or another. I don’t read any in paper form anymore (yet, most of you still snail mail it out to me every month in a colossal waste of paper, but that’s another topic). Most publications are pretty good. They range from hard hitting news around the world all the way to fluff on whether the Church should use Twitter or listen to U2. Many of them have great journalistic and editorial articles, but they seldom conjure up thoughts like, “I just can’t wait until the next issue hits my iPad.” Never has one actually brought me to the point of wanting to write a review about the publication itself either, until now.

Enter The Behemoth. What actually sucked me in to this publication was this article, Hitting a Major League Pitch, Looking at the physics, you’d have to say it can’t be done, not its namesake article based on the Genesis giant. My first thought was, “Could it actually be that someone of faith pulled in the statistical grace and beauty of baseball as might be written by a Roger Angell, and the poetic dance of words as might be felt by a Mary Oliver, and then tied it, weaved it, knitted it into the story God is writing Himself here on earth?” For the most part, yes, that is my overall opinion and review of The Behemoth and that was all it took for me.

So, from a reader’s perspective, what is it that makes The Behemoth a successful publication? Why do I look forward to each issue?

1. Typography

In our world distraction rules. I look and seek out those things that have gone the extra mile to create a clean, clutter-free, pleasing, distraction free experience. A “typography” that takes me deeper into the task at hand, not one that conforms to the rules of distraction. That’s what I love about @iAWriter, it’s why I’m writing this on @Medium, it’s what I love about the new ESV Reader’s Bible, it’s why Helvetica still conquers all. They all created an experience using intentional design through sophisticated simplicity. In this case, when referring to typography I use the term in the general sense. That is to say, I refer not to a typeset they choose, but how the designers intentionally choose to interact with their consumer. The designers created The Behemoth with intention, and it shows. On the iPad, The Behemoth is periodical typography eye candy.

Highly important to me, The Behemoth is an all-digital publication (no paper-waste-clutter-junk). Each issue contains four articles, a web-gem-type piece, and each article is around 1,500 words or less, some much less. Word length is very important today. At 1,500 words it’s a real sweet spot that allows a reader to find enough depth to sink in and become briefly lost among the words, but short enough for our small attention spans and brief periods of uninterruptedness. Once you are in and among the 1,500 words, there are minimal headings, no clutter, no flashing boxes, no bolded outtakes, no bullet-pointed tidbits, nothing distracts you from the words themselves. The typography has allowed the story to take over the words.

2. Curation

One of the specifics I noticed early on is how carefully the editors choose each article, and how each article plays on the other. In short, they removed all the noise and choose with intention. The articles for the most part are a mix of high tech and tradition making for many timeless pieces. These can be read years from now and still remain readable not dated. With only four articles to work with each issue they must go through a crazy culling process of possible articles that fit the mission and vision stated for The Behemoth (summed up as Plumbing the depths of God’s mysterious creation and beauty). The articles included often come from an excerpt of a larger work. At first as you read you may think, “All they did was just copy a piece of this book and stick it in here,” but the result has been like reading a carefully chosen anthology of the best of the best of the unknown. In a day where content is still king, curation of content must be its’ master.

3. Wonder

We reside in the age of information and usually think every single thing about every single topic should be a known. It is pretty amazing how the more we know, the more we realize how little we know about how much we actually do know. Scripture is still filled with this awesome wonder. There are great mysteries packed deep into scripture and The Behemoth chooses to display those mysteries to its readers while remaining comfortable with those mysteries, and then allowing them remaining mysterious. After all, we do not have the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2.16), and we should be able to celebrate those mysteries, not always having to explain them away or theorize about them until the second coming. Some things God has hidden from view, and without compromising an orthodox view of scripture, we can look at those mysteries with the awe they deserve. Many of the articles here do the same.

4. Theology

This is where it gets possibly muddy-ish, at least as far as an AIG-theology is concerned (see footnote). Answers in Genesis is a theological site dedicated to apologetics, a defense of the faith (1 Peter 3.15). I love apologetics, it was one of my favorite areas of study in seminary. But as far as I can tell, apologetics is not the main theological focus The Behemoth aspires to achieve, and that’s fine. Not everyone is gifted in apologetics and/or theology. Yet make no mistake, The Behemoth is packed full of rich, deep theological issues. They often view these theological issues from a 35,000 foot level (or even a 135,000 foot level). At that distance, theology can become filled with the beauty of God’s creation in painted colors and glorious views, instead of drilled down to a divisive pinhole debate. I have come to appreciate this stance more and more. In a world of endless criticism and debate you can’t always show the sheer beauty found in sound theology from the micro level. The Behemoth often seems to try to fly high above the fray. [1]

5. Art and Poetry

The previous four points (yes I included five points semi-on-purpose) have now crafted this last point into being. To this reader, the greatest contribution The Behemoth makes to the Body is the art and poetry it has crafted into being. Its as if they are curating a series of watercolors with four new pieces released every other week. This is why if you look at The Behemoth as a theological treaty you will miss the point. It wasn’t until the eighth issue that I realized what gave this publication the intangible beauty missing in so many things today. When I read Hurrahing in Harvest by English poet Gerald Manley Hopkins the artistic beauty bled through the canvas.

When you combine beautifully designed, well curated, theological artistry that points beyond itself to the greatest wonder of all, the Creator God, you get something really special. Kudos to The Behemoth for coming up with this unique perspective, this artistic expression. It brings the reader to a still meditative reflection proclaiming our enormous God (Psalm 46.10). It really isn’t the words or the editors or the writers or the platform, it is of course that they point us back to beautiful words like these:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Please keep moving forward and I’ll keep reading and telling all my friends to go read too.


[1] This article was originally published on Medium.com at http://medium.com/scottfillmer Please indulge me with a few qualifiers to this article.

First, I purposely let time test out this publication for a bit. The first issue of The Behemoth was first published July 24, and now having published their eighth issue time has allowed my ideas to be more formally identified. Anyway, who can really judge a periodical by just one issue, regardless of the baggage one might theoretically think is being brought to the party.

Second, to be transparent, this review is partially a counter-review to the Answers’ article written back in September fresh off the first article in the first issue. While I love Answers own publication, and Answers in Genesis as a whole, I think they missed the mark as far as understanding The Behemoth. I wanted to offer up a different point of view.

Third, this review is not intended to be read as an apologetic defense of all theological issues presented here. It was written to parallel the publication itself. Are there things they could improve? Of course, but that wasn’t really the point either. (For one I would love to see an iPhone 6 Plus version released on Newsstand.)

Fourth, this review is penned without any prior discussion or compensation with any party at the time of this writing. The words here are my own, the opinions stated can be attributed to my own rationale.

Now, if you still have comments or questions, by all means, let’em fly, I’d love to hear your opinions as well. .SF.

Reasons To Chose to Write or Not to Write

Writing on the iPad
Writing on the iPad

So this is the typical blog away from blog post that seems to grace the pages of almost every blog I have ever read. For the first time in the 10-15 years I have been writing on my blog, I took a year off. Though I did stop writing here for a while, I never stopped writing off-blog posts in my DayOne App (the best journal writing app ever by the way) or on Twitter and Facebook. I had wanted to take this break for a while, to get some perspective, and I did. After being away for so long I kept wondering if I would ever come back, what the purpose is/was, and why it even matters if I ever write another word here in a world already filled with so much noise as it is.

When it comes to choosing not to write, I tried find reason behind these statements.

  1. It takes too much time.
  2. There is enough noise out there already.
  3. No one wants to read every thought that crosses the mind, ever (that’s still the case).
  4. Ultimately, who cares what’s “not created” by a writer.
  5. I had lost the freedom of speech on my own blog.

I doubt those questions have answers for the most part, and it is the stereotypical question and response of everyone who wants to start a blog but never does. Ultimately, what’s worth doing is worth doing, even, or especially, if there is no recognizable audience at the time. Blogging is somewhat like doing life together with the rest of the world. It leaves you open to ridicule, criticism, trolls (see a great article ‘Your Opinion is Obsolete‘), and oblivious objecting observers, when not writing removes those negativities. But the easiest thing to do is not to write.

I was somewhat inspired to get back to writing here after reading Roger Angell’s “Five Seasons” this past off season, the start of the Auburn baseball season, and the honest reflections of another sports writer who recently lost his job. Then for some reason, I became responsive to that inspiration after reading Joe Posnanski’s post about what was on his book shelf. It had nothing to do with the list of books he calls great (which was great), but by his opining about his office and how long it took him to come to the point. Great writing is like that. It’s the journey to the finishing point that creates the pleasures of wading through the details. You almost want the writer to slow down because you know the end is in sight.

As a writer (that is the act of writing something original… I make no claims to be on the level with the likes of Angell or Posnanski), the one on the list that bothered me the most was the last one. Once you start writing to please, or to not offend, the writing becomes less real, contains less of me. I still haven’t figured this one out. I admire those who have found the answer, or have ignored the question all together and just plowed ahead.

In the end, I hate being just a consumer of material. I read countless blogs, news articles, books, and other writings where the authors’ purpose was only fulfilled long after it was written. The purpose of the written word is, to be read, by somebody at some time, even if the knowledge of that purpose is never know by the writer himself. So… I write.

To Honor a Local Artist Cindy Massey and Her Murals

Murals by Cindy Massey at Cornerstone Church

As with all things, change is inevitable. Change is actually the one thing that actually stays constant, and this week we began an extensive remodeling process that would bring the vision of Cornerstone Church together. After more than a year of planning, in February 2012, Cornerstone opened its first off-site location, called our Cornerstone Church at Lee-Scott site. The leadership of the church envisioned a multi-site church, a single church with multiple locations, one where the worship experience, the DNA of the church, would be the same no matter which site you visited. To accomplish this, among many other things, it was decided we needed to remodel the kids area to match all other sites, present and future, which brings me to this post.

Back in 2005, a few years before Deb and I arrived, our local church started to execute plans for a new building. As you can imagine there were so many different aspects of planning and visioning that went on among the staff and executive council at the time, and one of those areas was what we call Kidztown (our children’s area). A vision was put together by the then youth and children’s director for what type of environment would greet the kids visually when they came into the Kidztown area. This vision included a fun themed design of murals with different shops and stores for each room.

Once the theme had been envisioned the hunt was on for an artist who could make this vision come to life. Cornerstone Church decided to hire a local artist, Cindy Massey, to make this vision come alive on the walls of the kids area, and she did. The amazing part of the story is how God works through the church body because after she finished painting the walls of this new church building her family started coming to Cornerstone, and they were some of the pioneers who started the new Lee-Scott site! For about seven years now the kids have walked through the halls of her artistic work, which covered just about every inch of wall and window space we had.

So, here, to honor the work of an artist we hired to cover the walls of the church with beautiful murals, I present a small sampling of that work. Please keep in mind, this is one artists rendition of another artists work (kinda weird), so, along with the thousands and thousands of kids who graced these halls, this is what I will remember about her work. I know Cornerstone appreciates and values the work she did, and I’m glad I can showcase a bit of that here. Thanks Cindy!

This Week’s Project 365 with Sunsets and Storms

Abstract Sunrise Out My Office Window

For the last few weeks when I finally got around to reviewing the images for my Project 365 (see gallery of all P365 images here) I always seem to have a unique sunset or sunrise photo I like. The above shot wasn’t actually an official P365 image, but I really like how the abstract, somewhat pastel, sunrise turned out. This shot above was taken with my iPhone out of the window of my office-study around 6am while I was doing my daily routine of reading.

This week was a super busy week all around, and the images are really from all over the place. Two images in this set are part of larger posts, one of Deborah, which was posted yesterday, and another below is one image in a full set of images to be posted later in the week. These images represent my week well, and they are really all over the place, but my favorite image really has nothing to do with good photography, it has to do with the power of a yellow sticky note. I’m not sure I’ve ever received a more encouraging note on a computer left for me to fix. On a day I had almost no extra time to do anything I was handed a computer that didn’t work because of an unfortunate coffee spill directly on the computer’s keyboard. This note, and the fact that the computer was actually able to be cleaned up and get it fixed within about an hour was such a great end to my work week.

There is no Frigate Like a Book from the Pen of Emily Dickinson

The more I try to learn and understand how prose and poetry works, the more I realize that I can’t recapture the the years of ignoring virtually all literature from my childhood. It’s like starting in grade school again and working your way up, only now you don’t have time to do so because of bills and life and work and school and family and so on. This part of literature now gets relegated to learning a tiny snippet then when another writer (Lenard Sweet in this case via Viral) points out how important poetry is, then picking it back up again and learning a little more. I’ve done this for almost 5 years now, and I’m not sure I’ve learned a whole lot, but I’ve learned more than if I never picked up poetry at all.

Lenard Sweet in his book Viral spends a great deal on the importance of poetry in one chapter, and then goes on to show how much the Google generation has rejected this form of literature (and mine too for that matter), to replace it with the world of images and graphics. But the more our world, culture, and societies as a whole forget how to write in cursive, the more we should continue to write in cursive ourselves, lest we forget the power of words. Same goes with poetry, and especially in our churches!

If you are a Christian, no matter how much you try, you can’t get away from the fact that God’s way of communicating with us is in words, and the greatest poetry ever written is found in Scripture. It’s no wonder. Poetry, in one form, is a way to say something that can’t be said in words, and much of Scripture is just that, too great for words. There are countless examples, but I like the this reason from the book of John… “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (3.12). The Spiritual world of God uses poetry for a good reason, it helps to explain the unexplainable, something that needs a parable to show its depth.

I love short poems that are easily digestible at this point, it will take me years to work up to appreciating Shakespeare, but here Emily Dickinson explains the power of a book.

There is no Frigate Like a Book

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll.
How frugal is the chariot
That bears the human soul!

~Emily Dickinson

It just conveys so much more meaning to compare the power of a book to a warship of immense power and beauty. Much like a product of my generation, I know my weakness in understanding literature is the image. Being a photographer for so long, the image is what I created through capturing light, not an image in my mind through capturing words read. Trying to relearn how words express their own images, without the need for a graphic is quite hard in the 21st century, I can’t imagine how hard it will be in the 22nd century, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

What's More Useful to the Glory of God Than 95% of All We Do?

Amos 9:5-6

I’m guessing you didn’t think poetry was the answer to the question in the title, but it is. Poetic language and the language of prose put together in a sentence is sort of a misnomer, since they basically mean the opposite, but such is my relationship with metric and non-metrical language. Over the years I have tried to study poetry here and there, written some, read some, and every once in a while, appreciated some. I seem to have this back and forth argument with myself on the importance of poetry. In one respect, I find it useless, confusing, hard to understand, and not worth the time to learn. On the other, I do find it speaks to all aspects of life, and could be more important in affecting change than much of what we do in our every day lives. A post on Desiring God called Piper and the Role of Poetry in the Christian Life says it like this:

Poetry is not the answer, but it is a greater part of the answer than 95% of what we do with our time. Woe to me if I think souls are saved by me or them becoming poetic. But few are damned by it. And of the thousand things we fill our days with, this could be more useful to the glory of God than what we do most of the time.

So according to Piper, and some may disagree, poetry is more useful to the glory of God (the very purpose of our existence says 1 Peter 4:11), than of large majority of our other endeavors in life, or put differently how we spend our time. This is actually a pretty bold statement if taken at face value with no context. To understand this statement, it’s important to look at what else we do with our time, and how if at all, those things are more or less useful to the glory of God than poetry. I suspect many would say that statement is absurd, and dismiss it altogether, but God himself doesn’t do that.

Of course a great deal of Scripture is poetry. So that tells me right there that God finds poetry important, regardless of what I think. Some of the greatest poets in history were writers of Scripture. Of course being inspired I would say they had a little help, otherwise how in the world could any individual mind come up with and make Psalm 119 work other than God? If you have never attempted to create a perfectly metered acrostic (forget one the size of Psalm 119), try it, you will quickly see it isn’t all that easy.

To answer the question I posed in the title I think can only be answered by someone who has a great deal of knowledge about poetry, and can define its worth. For many of us, we just don’t have a strong enough understanding to say one way or another. Our time isn’t readily filled with words on a page in metric meter, it’s more filled with screens presenting video and media. This all got started from a quick read through Amos 9.5-6, which is an incredible short piece of inspired poetry.

Written on the Walls Behind Bars, Part 2

In Front of the Bars at a Children's Prison in Africa

A continuation shot of Part 1, this shot is Part 2 of 3 and was taken just on the other side of the window bars and shows the extent of the mural on the wall. The wall depicts a family, possibly their witch-doctor, and the love they have for their missing child.

Most Beautiful Dogwood Blooms of any Recent Spring in Auburn

Dogwood Flower Bloom in Spring

OK, so this will probably be the last post of the Spring showing our Dogwood bloom or our Wisteria, but I just love the colors so today it’s my Photo of the Day and my P365 :2012 photo [Day 114]. I don’t know if it’s all the rain we got over the winter or that I’m just another year older, but this Spring has been the most beautiful I can remember in a long time. The Dogwood blooms around Auburn were, and still are spectacular this year. The one pictured above is from our yard and is just screaming of the beauty of creation.

This photo was taken handheld, and is seen basically straight out of my Nikon D7000 camera body, with a little added saturation processing from Adobe Lightroom. You can see the full exif data from over on my Flickr site. The background blur comes from the lens I was using, a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G version (a very fast and inexpensive prime lens), shot almost wide open (i.e. f/1.4) so the depth of field was very shallow. The purple and green, two incredible contrasting colors for a white flower, come from our purple Wisteria blooms and the trees in the background. This wouldn’t necessarily be considered macro photography (see my previous examples here), but it was shot at the lens’ minimum focal distance.

Hope you have been able to get out and smell the roses this Spring, even if they are in the form of Wisteria and Dogwood blooms.

Understanding Exposure is More than Just Point and Shoot

I thought I would do a little photography 101 slash book review for this Saturday’s post. Only one more week before Auburn opens the 2011 football season so today is sort of the last “free” day before the fall goes into full swing, so to speak. The changes in photography over the last 10-15 years has been amazing to watch, and I’m glad I started shooting when film was the only option. Just about anyone can pick up a digital SLR today that is capable of taking photos that weren’t even possible a few years ago. Thankfully, it still takes more than just a finger pushing a button to take shots that look like more than just vacation photos. It’s quite possible to take great shots with a point-n-shoot and lousy shots with a professional camera (my nephew who is 12 takes amazing shots with his $150 Canon PowerShot SD1300).

One of the aspects of photography that attracted me to the art years and years ago was how easy it was to take a photo, and how hard it was to master the art. Just like anything worth doing, it takes a lot of time, study, experience, and a determination to get beyond the basics. One of the very basics of photography, and also one of the most difficult to master, is exposure. There are three basic elements to exposure in photography that make an image possible. These have never changed since the very first piece of film was exposed to light. For a “proper” exposure you need a combination of aperture (lens opening), shutter speed, and ISO value (film or sensitivity speed). Today’s cameras all have what is called a “P” or “program” mode that automatically calculates all three of these in an instant and creates what it thinks is the proper exposure. The only problem with that is the meter always exposes for a “middle grey”, or average, which attempts to take every lighting situation in the frame, average it out for medium, and that’s the “proper” exposure. That not necessarily bad, or wrong, and it’s probably how about 90% of all images shot are taken, but it also doesn’t always make the most exciting photograph either.

The two examples above I shot in the fading sun over the Atlantic, and both are considered to be improperly exposed according to the camera meter at the time. One is significantly “over exposed” (too light or bright) and one “under exposed” (too dark). I took several shots back to back and the “properly exposed” shot was quite boring. I love how both of these shots show a different mood and many different details. What often determines a “proper” exposure is what you are trying to create when you take the shot. What story are you trying to tell often determines what exposure best portrays your vision when you pull the trigger.

If you are interested in learning more about exposure and how light is used in creating an image I recommend the updated edition of Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera by Bryan Peterson. I have no affiliation with Peterson but I did read his first edition that came out many years ago and recently finished the updated version published last year. Peterson goes through an easy to understand explanation of how to best use exposure in your photography beyond just pulling the trigger. Anyone who is interested in improving their photography should start off with Peterson’s book and move out from there, it’s a great place to start.

The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art :: Photos

After shooting in Auburn for more than five years now I had never been over to the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, and it was quite nice. They were very gracious to allow me to shoot in the non-art areas of the museum and the architecture made for some great shots. I would have loved to have gone in with my tripod and been able to really setup and get some details in each room but maybe another time when they need some shots for the city or something. Anyway, if you are in Auburn it’s a nice quiet place with some very nice pieces and I finally got to use my fisheye lens on some clean walls.