Abandoned church buildings

It always saddens me to see old church buildings that have been turned into restaurants, bars, concert halls, museums, or condos. See The Cultural Conversion Of Cast-Off Churches.

On “Kitchen Nightmares,” Gordon Ramsey, that chef I have been hyping who slaps failing restaurants and cooks into shape, took on an eatery that had once been a church. He, at least, for all his bleeped-out language, was strangely respectful of the once-sacred space. He used the confessionals to make the errant cooks confess their sins against their vocations (Q: “What was the worst thing you’ve ever done in the kitchen?” A: “I dropped a piece of meat on the floor and just put it back on the plate.”) After he forced the owner to clean the filthy kitchen and buy some decent equipment, he brought in local clergymen to pray and to bless the kitchen.

To be sure, new church buildings are often designed to look like shopping malls, corporate offices, or convention centers. I see no problem with using them for the purposes that their appearance suggests anyway. (But is there a problem even there?) The old buildings getting abandoned tend to have the sacred built into them: they typically follow a cruciform floor plan (expressing that worshippers gather in the Cross), are adorned with built-in Christian symbols that cannot be removed (shapes evoking the Trinity, Crosses everywhere, lines sweeping upward to evoke a sense of transcendence), the tripartite structure of the Hebrew Temple (a gathering place for all; a holy place for worship; the holy-of-holies area that is the altar). So turning all of that–or ignoring all of that–to turn the building into a night club just seems, literally, a profanation.

Wouldn’t it better to just tear these buildings down than to turn what was once “sacred space” towards “profane” uses? Or is this a wrong distinction? Do these new uses for a church building instead bring the sacred into the secular, turn everything sacred, and demonstrate God’s reign over all of life?

TV and the counter-revolution

Remember J. R. Ewing? Southfork? Miss Ellie? We are at the 30th anniversary of “Dallas.” According to this article, How ‘Dallas’ Won the Cold War, the show with its evil oil tycoons and cutthroat capitalism, helped win the hearts and minds of the proletariat in communist countries. It happened along the lines of this priceless anecdote:

Joseph Stalin is said to have screened the 1940 movie “The Grapes of Wrath” in the Soviet Union to showcase the depredations of life under capitalism. Russian audiences watched the final scenes of the Okies’ westward trek aboard overladen, broken-down jalopies — and marveled that in the United States, even poor people had cars. “Dallas” functioned similarly.

Communist officials reasoned that the depradations of J. R. would teach their people the evils of capitalism. But, instead, Iron Curtain viewers saw the swimming pools, Cadillacs, and blockbuster business deals and lusted after them and the economic system that, for better and worse, made them possible.

America got it wrong

America. . .what is the matter with you? On “American Idol,” the two best performances of the previous night, Syesha’s and Carly’s, landed up when the votes were tallied as the bottom two! And Carly, the tatooed Irish lass who certainly belonged in the top three of the whole bunch, got voted off.

(In saying these two performances were the best, I’m not applying my own personal arcane tastes in classical music or alt country. The two did rock numbers–as much as Andrew Lloyd Weber can compose rock numbers–but they did them very, very well.)

Whereas the two worst performances, an awful performance of an awful song, “Memories,” by the dreadlocked Jason and an effort by Brooke in which she actually forgot the lyrics and had to start all over, made their perpetrators “safe.”

This is a terrible injustice. So was voting off the Australian, Michael Johns, but this conjunction of awarding the two worst and punishing the two best is just wrong.

This comes from letting little children have cell phones. The contest is in danger of being taken over by young girls enthralled by “cute” boys. (True, two of these–the two Davids–are worthy of winning. David Cook, I think, is the best, rocker though he is. David Archeleta, though, I predict, will win.)

The government needs to intervene. Congress should investigate. American Idol should be regulated. Those who vote more responsibly should get tax cuts. President Bush should send in the troops.

America, what are you going to do when making a more important decision, like picking a president?

Debating ABC’s debate

I’ve been critical of Barack Obama the last few days, but this time I can understand his exasperation with the debate run by ABC the other night. See this TV critic’s evisceration of the way ABC handled it:In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser Is ABC.

Many conservatives, though, are crowing at how badly Obama did and how liberals are being so indignant about ABC.

But on one issue, surely all can agree that ABC blew it: The main questioner was George Stephanopoulos , a former Clinton staffer!

How is it possible that a major network with an actual newsroom would be so blind to such an obvious conflict of interest? The lowliest intern should have been able to catch that howler.

Hugo Chavez vs. The Simpsons

Venezuela has banned “The Simpsons” as being too corrupting and replaced it with “Baywatch.” Isn’t “Baywatch” more corrupting than “The Simpsons”?

I wonder what Hugo Chavez has against “The Simpsons”? I would argue that satirical humor is intrinsically dangerous to an authoritarian state. Whereas hedonism functions as something like an opiate to the masses.

Vocational bootcamp

What a good show was the premiere of the new season of “Hell’s Kitchen”! Gordon Ramsey this time takes a whole crew of incompetents. How can he pick any of them to run one of his restaurants at a salary of a quarter of a million dollars? The contestants had to prepare their “signature dishes,” one of which was a scallop and venison tartare (a.k.a. raw shellfish chopped up with raw deer) mixed up with white chocolate! An awful-sounding concoction that actually made Chef Ramsey throw up! And when they had to do the restaurant, no one took leadership, everybody kept botching the recipes, and the service was so slow that the customers all left before any of the entrees were served!

And yet the contestants were SO full of themselves, so prideful and diva-like. They were full of self-esteem. This show has the virtues of the early episodes of “American Idol,” to show the world that there ARE standards of excellence and that a narcissistic ego is no substitute for a work ethic. The wretched singers and cooks are all full of themselves, rather than concerned to love and serve their neighbors outside of themselves.

Now we’ll see if Gordon Ramsey–who throws rubber-cooked chicken against the wall and squeezes the grease out of the noodles with his hands and rubs the noses of his charges into their own incompetence–can make something out of these characters.

Notice that this is not just about cooking or singing or these TV shows. It has to do with the consequences of relativism, weakness of character as encouraged by our culture of self-affirmation, and the loss of the doctrine of vocation.