Where once stood soaring towers topped by crosses and saints, now sit square boxes that appear no different than corporate buildings.
I’ve been pondering this as the holidays have lumbered along. Christmas and Christ have long diverged other than to those distressed by this. Christmas is now a months long celebration of decorations, food, gifts, and angst that shoehorns the birth of baby Jesus in there at the end. To those who care about such things, a certain lamentation figures in this time of year. Outside of conservative Christians and their mythical “war on Christmas”, this got me thinking about all the other denominations that are almost never mentioned in the news these days other than to make a comment about their generational declines over the last 50 years.
Some of that, I believe, is in our mania for individual and personal satisfaction and preference, which has slowly dissolved the bonds between institutions and individuals. Whether this is a diabolical plot by the deep state, which I find idiotic, or the more troubling arc of isolation through conspicuous consumption and personal empowerment, church, something many people attended in my youth, but not so much now, languishes like many community activities as a kind of second tiered one.
Or as a corporatized one.
One of the many facets of American spiritual life is that if you don’t like what’s out there, you can make up your own. That’s one of the benefits of the separation of church and state: there are no limitations on what kind of church, or house of worship, or spiritual center you want to start if you have no interest or desire to deal with the hierarchies of existing churches. And many do this. I assume to gain a greater say and more control over the proceeding.
And many migrate from church to church.
That makes me wonder what it is we’re looking for in the first place. The greater glory of God? Our own personal elucidation and spiritual growth? Or perhaps a primal urge for a human connection and whether this is the place.
And apparently what makes any difference, I suppose, is in the marketing, which leads inevitably to the non-descript megachurches that dot the urban landscape these days. Its precepts in the corporate world. Growing. Messaging. Selling.
And this is an old whine I’m making.
Cathedrals are long past their prime, a symbol of what was, which is a shame given their grandeur, but that requires a certain mystical belief in something greater than ourselves. As self-appointed centers of the universe, a clash was unavoidable.
And I suppose there is the supposition of who serves whom, of acts, of contrition, of belief, and all the other points of fealty that gird or undermine the whole purpose of worship. Maybe that’s it, what I sense is missing when I sit in churches built before the commodification of God, before the age of what’s in it for me.
A true sense of wonder.
©2020 David William Pearce