Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Beauty and Ugliness
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...