Saturday, October 9, 2010

Noble Edifices

Through visible beauties and grandeur, they believed, the Papacy would be dignified and the Church exert its hold upon the people. Nicholas V, who has been called the first Renaissance Pope, made the belief explicit on his deathbed in 1455. Urging the Cardinals to continue the renovation of Rome, he said, "To create solid and stable conviction there must be something that appeals to the eye. A faith sustained only by doctrine will never be anything but feeble and vacillating....If the authority of the Holy See were visibly displayed in majestic buildings...all the world would accept and revere it. Noble edifices combining taste and beauty with imposing proportions would immensely exalt the chair of St. Peter." The Church had come a long way from Peter the fisherman.
Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, (New York: Random House, 1984), 61.
Visible beauty & grandeur v. doctrine. For Renaissance Popes, the argument between those two was easy. Build the buildings large & beautiful - and people will come. The awe of majestic art will be more convicting & build a more solid faith than the words of Scripture. Never mind the prophecy of Isaiah 53 (He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him) - the eye had to be appealed to if conversions were going to happen. In reality, the eye had to be appealed to in order to continue the control, status, and power of the Catholic Church. Simplicity & obedience to Solus Christus were not the imperative. Big & beautiful structures were the imperative.

While it is easy to castigate the Catholic Church for that offense, I wonder if the same mindset is not plaguing the current American church. Today, some of the most sophisticated, technology driven, and opulent buildings in America are churches. Building campaigns and pressure to give are being pushed all around the country. While discipleship is verbally being pushed, a core component of it often revolves around a believer's willingness to tithe & give correctly. Churches want to believe that they are winning people by doctrine & beliefs - but the reality is the primary way churches are reaching out is through appealing to the eye. Churchgoers now need to be impressed with a service, in awe of the architecture, and blown away by the amenities. Its a lose-lose cycle as churches spend far too much time & money on being attractive to the eye and churchgoers cling worthlessly to a feeble faith that is based more upon being comfortable than true discipleship.

The foolishness of the Renaissance Popes led to a mighty fall for the Catholic church. What will be the cost of the steps the American church has now taken? Has the church's quest to be attractive come at the cost of its ability to do true discipleship? When does the cost of a building campaign outweigh its benefit? If being attractive & majestic in appearance is so critical - why didn't Christ, Himself, use the same method?

Friday, October 8, 2010


He was so excited by the endless possibilities of rejuvenation that his mind raced on. 'Of course, when the ducks return, the geese may leave. Then we'll change again and they'll come back. The entire bay can be revived, every one of its eight thousand coves...' He hesitated. His face grew somber. 'Unless, of course, we have so contaminated the oceans that they can no longer send fresh tides and fish into the bay.' He shrugged his shoulders. 'Mankind was destined to live on the edge of perpetual disaster. We are mankind because we survive. We do it in a half-assed way, but we do it. I suppose before the year ends we'll even see some blue heron wading back. Their struggle has lasted for eleven thousand years. Ours is just beginning.'
James A. Michener, Chesapeake, (New York: Random House, 1978), 851.
I just finished Michener's book on the historical fictional account of the families that made the Chesapeake Bay. It was very well written and had tremendous research on each and every page. I was very happy with it. It really made me think about the impact families and generations can have on the shaping of an area and/or community. It is so easy to lament how ugly, twisted, and deplorable America has become. Everywhere a person looks there is evidence that we as a people have gone to hell. The future of our once great nation has become so cloudy that many are without hope moving forward. And its not just the gruesome acts of murder, rape, and the crushing blow delivered to the masses by the corporate capitalists. It is the slow yet steady decline of any resemblance of accountability, responsibility, and true & honest hard work and effort.

Yet the reading of the book reminded me of the fact that hope remains in people choosing to make and leave and imprint upon a culture and society. Every single day of work, I get to face 120+ seventh graders with impressionable minds and attitudes. I teach them geography, history, and factoids about the social fabric of America. But even more than that, I get the opportunity to care for them, teach them values, and instruct them on the methods of hard work and responsibility. With some it feels like a daily battle. With others I see such bright hope for the future of our nation. With all, I feel like I get the opportunity to truly make a difference in life. A or F - I get them with me for 52 minutes a day, five days a week. And like the characters of Michener's novel, I will undoubtedly leave some type of mark. My hope is that my time is well spent, and that the change I get the opporunity to enact goes in on some level.

There is and always will be hope. As Michener pointed out, often times our half-assed ways seem to knock hope out the window. But we are survivors, and if we choose wisely - we can leave a history of the positive change we made in America.