Sunday, June 06, 2004

Malls, Cathedrals and Museums

more ideas I need to get out of the queue; maybe I'll develop some of this later!


Although I don't often mall-crawl, when I do, I particularly notice too many people in malls and other public places look too empty, and accordingly we Christians suppose and presuppose the empties doing whatever they can do fill those empty spaces and unfulfilled lives with all kinds of stuff. From Jackson Browne's song, "Running on Empty":
Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to, to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see they're running too ... running on empty, running behind ... you know, I don't even know what I'm hoping to find .... running into the sun but I'm running behind!
Like all of us sometimes do, that song's singer keeps running into a nameless and meaningless oblivion-like state. The music is wonderful, energetic and drives the listener (I guess that must me) into its state of mind.


Without delving into a lot of history and in this short space necessarily leaving out the multitude of vital functions the cathedral church assumed earlier on, especially in Europe, that whole sanctuary development has a lot to do with the rationalization and bureaucratization of Christianity...and, as Max Weber pointed out, when religion becomes rationalized (and maybe denominationalized!), with a dichotomy between professional and non-professional ("lay?") practitioners, that's when the division between sacred and secular begins really big-time, and often assumes horrendous proportions, as in the Jerusalem Temple. And "horrendous proportions" as in the late Medieval church, as well, though always there have been faithful and even re-forming individuals and movements. Also, the Jerusalem Temple was a prime example of what Luther called the "domesticated God," the God at humanity's beck and whim, the trivial God who could be manipulated and coerced rather than the sovereign, free and elusive God of the Bible.

And, since the physical evidence or the "incarnate enfleshment" of who we are – the goods, or, more accurately the bads - often are the people's gods, we want to be able to control them so we purchase them to have them nearby, controllable and even accountable to us..."domesticated gods!" We're supposed to be a different, a "peculiar" people, and that gets back to our wondering how we evangelize: with modalities that look like those in that other world, as in consumer goods and consumable bads, or with unique, biblically-informed ones?

Museums and Muses:

Churches on the way to becoming museums? Museum exhibit or mission example? Let's ask what a museum does at its best. But first, in his Powers trilogy, Walter Wink does a great job on the letters to the angels - to the spirits of the seven churches in Revelation, as he points out each organization, each institution and each organic expression of the church (local, regional, or whatever - you know!) has a particular spirit external to, greater than and different from the spirit or *angel* of any of the individuals that comprise a specific entity. It seems to me a museum at its best displays succinctly and locally a wide if not inclusive range of a particular painter, period, style or genre. So if some of our local churches or even denominations are becoming museumized (is that the same as "fossilized?"), why do we feel some of those characteristics are worth preserving? Just something to think about :)

And finally for this evening,

the church (your church, my church, anyone's church) as storefront to the consumer culture!!!

Double meaning there, as members as consumers of religious offerings, pastors and church staff as providers, purveyors of consumables. Storefront is an interesting image, especially when we consider the phenomenon of the inner-city storefront church, which frequently is an immigrant church or at the very least the gathering-place for people who haven't assimilated into the dominant culture; it's a meeting place for people who haven't yet acquired or even learned what it "means" to be a real American. The original and root meaning of ekklesia, usually translated church, was the called-out, called-together assembly. As in convention or conventional! Interesting thought?

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