Sunday, June 27, 2010

more about buildings

On June 17 I posted a blog - Context Is Everything, with an interesting video from David Byrne where he talks about architecture and music... I raised some questions regarding architecture and theology. Today we had an interesting experience of architecture and theology not working well together. We visited First Christian Church in Phoenix. It is a large, lively congregation, very involved in mission in its community and around the world. I don't think I would attend there (that is another post), but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the church to someone for whom it would fit.
Their building is a stunning place, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is clearly one of his buildings - relatively low ceilings, heavy stone walls, beautiful stained glass used in a way that doesn't allow too much of the beastly hot Phoenix sun into the building. If you go to the website, you'll see that a pipe organ is integrated into the design of the worship space. It looks as if it was originally built for a wealthy mainline congregation (I believe they are Disciples of Christ although I couldn't find that information anywhere on their website). I think I saw a stone indicating the building was constructed in 1972.
The building is stunning and clearly represents the architect's idiosyncratic vision. There is an intellectual side to his buildings that pushes one outside of their comfort zones and calls you to think about space, its meaning, and its use. For those reasons, it felt to me like it wanted a formal, liturgical service. Or maybe a Taize style service. It screams that what happens in those walls is the center of the life of its congregation.
The service was a typical evangelical, big church style service - lots of use of media (notice in the photo on their website that two screens are shoe-horned in, probably in front of pipes of an organ that likely sits unused), a reasonably good band (although it wasn't as balanced or as loud as I would have liked), casual dress on those who led worship and a a friendly, informal style. There were lots of pointers to their community service and the central theme was to report back about a recent mission trip to Kenya. It felt as if the worship service was not at the center of their church life, that would be found in their mission and in small group life.
Finally, it was clear that First Christian Church is not allowing the building to impede its ministries... but it just didn't feel to me like the two fit together.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Firing Squad

Early last Friday morning, Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad in Utah. Evidently Utah was the last state to do away with firing squads as a means of execution, going back to a Mormon theological idea that sin requires "blood atonement" for forgiveness to take place.

This is a perfect example of theology influencing behavior and even public policy. And it goes back to the earlier discussion regarding atonement, specifically penal substitutionary atonement. It is much easier to argue for such barbaric practices when one believes that God requires them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

context is everything

Ted has some fascinating presentations and it is always a worthwhile way for me to spend some time and get my imagination piqued. Yesterday I had a few minutes and listened to this talk by David Byrne. I've been a big fan of Talking Heads since their early days and thought it would be a fun listen. It was.

It got me thinking... if architecture influences music as profoundly as David Byrne thinks, does it also influence theology? And as with music, which direction does causation flow? Or does it flow both ways? Some years back an architect told me that a church should either completely remodel or move every 40 years because their building no longer fits their theology or ministry. I think that is true... but how much does the building shape both theology and ministry? And is it more than just impeding you from doing what you want? Does it also contribute in a positive or at least neutral way? What do you think?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

spiritual but not religious

"spiritual but not religious" is a very popular descriptor people use these days when describing their spiritual lives. It even has been getting press from Lady Gaga describing herself as very religious while separating that from the church on Larry King to a CNN article on just that topic. My wife is a chaplain with a local hospice provider and seems to have many patients, perhaps even a majority, who would describe themselves that way.

So, no punches pulled... the descriptor doesn't impress me. I have to say that many people I know who use that descriptor are really just saying, "I know there is something more, something bigger than me, but I don't want to relate to that entity in any way that requires anything that requires commitment from me or calls me to a place where I'm not entirely comfortable."

I understand the bad feelings about organized religion. I know the failures of the institutional church as well as anyone and can recite the sins of organized religion's history. I have friends who have been deeply wounded by religious organizations and whose scars will never completely disappear. I've seen the pettiness, the lust for power, the self-righteousness, the easy answers to hard questions. I understand the reluctance to give anything to organized religion... BUT...

It seems to me that the organized part is absolutely and completely necessary for human beings to mature spiritually. Why? Because you can't do it alone. I'm a Baptist and I believe in soul liberty - the idea that each individual is responsible for his or her own faith before God (yes, that is a Baptist idea!) - but, the individual cannot spin it out of his or her own juices. You need a community of faith to give you a vocabulary to begin with. And then you need people to call you on the carpet when you've gone too far and to push you when you haven't gone far enough. To do this efficiently and consistently, you need organization. You need regular times to get together. You need some way to raise and wrestle with the important issues. You need structures. Virtually nothing of any importance happens without organization.

Here is my picture of "spiritual without religion..." - it is like when someone asks for a glass of water, you pour the water into their open hand without a glass. Yeah, they get a little water, but most of the water is spilled onto the ground. Now having a glass requires some effort. You have to wash it. You have to take care so you don't break it. But in the end... a container sure would have made things better.

So, given all of the failings of organized faith, what do we do? Dream dreams of what it should be and jump in. It won't be easy. Inertia is a powerful force, but change can come and the organizations can become more of what they're supposed to be.