Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Beauty and Ugliness

I love art -- uhhhhh, let me rephrase that -- I love good art, art that is noble and beautiful.  Not all art is that.  Not even all religious art.  Some of it is crap.  It is ugly and its ugliness offends not only God but each of us as children of God.

We live in an age in which we spare no expense for creature comforts -- even in religious buildings -- but we do not spend money on that which is beautiful, that which inspires the soul and helps us aspire to things noble.  Nowhere is this more true than in the many ugly churches out there.  I am not talking cheap and ugly -- beauty is not always extravagant -- but just plan ugly.  This kind of ugly happens in churches large and small, with big budgets and with small ones.  I am amazed at how ugly many modern religious buildings are -- like glorified stadiums designed more to give everyone a good seat for the entertainment and, absent that, a good view toward the screen where the live action is replayed via technology.  We spend all sorts of money on this technology, on sound systems, and praise bands and then stick them in huge barn-like structures that are so darn ugly.

The miracle of all of this is that Christ deigns to come even to ugly places.  He does not reserve His presence for the beautiful or noble places where His people dwell.  He comes to us in our plain spaces and even in our ugly buildings.  It is a miracle of grace that He comes to places that are almost offensive to the beauty of His holiness and the majesty of His grace.  Yet this is not a reason why we should keep on building ugly buildings and filling them with ugly things and call it religion.

A Melkite Catholic once called the Roman Church “industrial-scale Christianity that turns the Mass into a Eucharist factory.” I picked up this quote from another blogger and loved it.  Industrial scale Christianity.  Hmmmmm.  Now that is a phrase you can get your hands around.  The new buildings of many churches are just that -- industrial scale."  And what takes place within those facilities are less the mysteries of which God has allowed His priests to steward and more the production line of grace where getting them in and getting them out in 59 minutes has become as tightly choreographed as the modern production line.  Now does this affect the validity?  No, Christ is where two or three are gathered in His name and His name is where His Word and Sacraments are.  So our ugliness does not prevent Christ from working as He has promised but neither does the ugliness we offer Him befit Him or honor Him.

We seemed poised for worship to offer ourselves the expensive oil that anoints us with AC in summer and heat in the winter, with chairs that sit well and have cup holders, with the latest and greatest technology for audio and visual... but are we ready to offer Him the expensive oil of our best, our noblest endeavors, our greatest works of art and music, and the beauty made by our hands inspired by His grace?  It is about time.  Long after the fragile industrial grade religious structures of today are torn down and forgotten, the great buildings of other eras will continue to stand, their glass shine with the images of the faith, and their artwork call our eyes to the faith...  Christ does not require our best or great beauty in order to fulfill the promise of His means of grace but He is surely worthy of no less from us...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Friend:

Blog Burn-Out is a common malady,
and the solution is for the blogger
of this site to post only on Monday,
Wednesday and Friday. When you need
to comment on ugly church buildings
you are burnt out.

Pastor Peters said...

Actually this was one of several I have in store and post when my day is too busy... but I will accept the concern you show as positive and not as a criticism... Luther's explanation to the 8th commandment and all... but seriously, was this about ugly buildings or about the way we spend the expensive oil on creature comforts and fail to offer God the beauty of our best? Huh, guess I will have to read it again!

Janis Williams said...

Sorry, anonymus, but I totally agree with Fr. Peters. This is not blog burn-out, but something important.

The cathedral in Christchurch, NZ is a great loss. Hopefully it will be rebuilt. I doubt the loss of the building pictured on the post would be missed. In fact, I suspect it was an auto repair business before it was a church building.

I suspect understanding of the place of art, and what God thinks of it escapes you. Unfortunately Pietism once made me think it was more holy to avoid expressions of beauty.

I majored in Art in college, and graduated Magna cum laude. Yet I walked away, thinking it was more "spiritual." Thankfully, I have learned better.

Take some time to read Scripture on the construction of the Tabernacle. The Temple in Jerusalem was a wonder of beauty dedicated to our God.

Artists and artisans created things of great beauty, all at God's command. He doesn't need anything from us. If He chooses to accept our offerings, they should be beautiful.