Sunday, July 31, 2005

Not in church

This is the cuppola of the duomo (cathedral) in Florence. The following is taken from the bell tower:

Yes, those are people up there! You can climb the 434 steps to the top of the cuppola. We did not. We climbed the 414 steps to the top of the bell tower (torre del campanella) where I did not die of cardiac arrest... amazingly.

One of the strange effects of going to Italy is how little spirituality I experienced in any of the houses of worship. It was as if we were in these medieval barns (to use Forster's term when describing Santa Croce) where people filed in and out, old artwork from some other age wheezed in our directions, but did not "call to our spirits." It was like walking among the dead.

The ceilings were high in these mammoth buildings, designed to make people feel tiny and the world of clergy and religion, big.

Some might argue that the goal was to make God big and awesome. In the old world, that may have been a worthy goal. Today, proximity speaks of power (witness the amazing nearness we feel to the globe through television, satellites, the Internet, telephones, radio...). We no longer want to be connected to someone invisible, big and far away. We are used to communication right here, right now.

The cathedral just doesn't fit our world any more. And apparently the Italians agree. My aunt says that she is the only one of her friends who goes to church regularly.

Last night, Jon and I watched a segment on CNN about a Protestant church of 30,000 in Houston. Let me repeat that number 30,000. They meet in what used to be an arena for the Houston Rockets!

Americans show our fettish for size by how many humans we can stuff into a building. We love being a part of the big event - the concert, basketball game, the political rally... why not church? And what do we do inside those buildings? We don't create glorious artwork to show us God. We hang big screen TVs all over the stadium so that the speaker is up close and personal with all 30,000 seats. Topics? Self-help using Christian tools. More personal connection on the grand scale. So American. :)

I'm not in church today. I haven't been for awhile. I don't really get the point any more.

I suppose I'm waiting for a sign... or an email would be fine too.


SusansPlace said...

Julie, I am chuckling. I do see the parallel thoughts in your post and mine at The Balcony. I wonder how many people are thinking similar thoughts today?

I am hankering for a small fellowship in which to worship, to be known and know, to grapple through the hard stuff, to rejoice in what is. It's really hard to define.


australisa said...

Ahhh, you saw the home of Joel Osteen, the new face of the Prosperity Gospel! =:-O

When I was in Houston I went to a smaller church that only sat 6400 at a service. :-P The important thing, according to my ex, was that the pastor had a PhD. It had the most garish sanctuary. Here is a fuzzy pic. The dome was called The Authority of God Window.

Ok, that was a total tangent.

Let me know if you see a sign.

Dave said...

Ah, Joel Osteen. He's that fresh faced fellow who likes to have the cameras swoop and swirl around him while he's preaching. An effective televisual technique, for sure. The person watching at home has a better view than those back in the upper reaches of the auditorium, save for the humungous monitors that are all over the place.

I can't imagine myself ever connecting with that kind of ministry, or even living comfortably with myself if I found myself caught up in such a scene.