This is the church, where is the steeple?

Steeples and bell towers have gone out of fashion for church buildings, reports USA Today. What hurts is the reason:

Nationwide, church steeples are taking a beating and the bell tolls for bell towers, too, as these landmarks of faith on the landscape are hard hit by economic, social and religious change. . . .

Architects and church planners see today’s new congregations meet in retooled sports arenas or shopping malls or modern buildings designed to appeal to contemporary believers turned off by the look of old-time religion.

Steeples may have outlived their times as signposts. People hunting for a church don’t scan the horizon, they search the Internet. Google reports searches for “churches” soar before Easter each year. . . .

After three decades of repairing steeples, [steeplejack Michael] Hardin still considers it “a bit of joy to restore something so old and so beautiful and help it retain its integrity.”

The average age of the churches he works on is a half-century. The older steeples, “built with top-notch lumber and a lot of heart,” are holding up structurally, and more often need only cosmetic fixes.

In more recent decades, Hardin says, “church builders went a little haywire. People used shortcuts and cheaper lumber or they moved to the fiberglass steeples that claim to be maintenance-free. And if there’s a problem they stand back and try to get band-aid repairs or they just remove it and cap it off.” . . .

Providence Baptist Church in McLean, Va., a congregation of 450 in the Washington suburbs, managed to get a whole new aluminum steeple and $25,000 annually for its maintenance budget by hopping on the leased-tower trend last year.

Senior Pastor Tim Floyd says the original steeple, moved from the congregation’s first location, was “in good shape, but it was too small for the larger, newer church. And we needed to bring in more money for our maintenance budget. So what could we do? We saw that cellphone companies are using innovative methods, like artificial trees with antennas, to disguise their equipment and bring in cell coverage without unsightly towers.”

Church leaders located a company ready to deal, negotiated the design and “now we have a steeple, hiding two cell antennas, that gives us a really big profile on the horizon. It’s elegant and majestic and a win-win for us,” Floyd says.

It’s also a visual contrast to a massive, modern megachurch across the street that boasts no steeple.

No surprise, says architect Gary Landhauser, a partner with Novak Design Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who worked on nearly 30 churches in past 15 years.

“We have done a lot of church designs, but we haven’t done a steeple design in 15 years,” Landhauser says.

Today, he says, people want their church to look comfortable and inviting, “more like a mall.”

via Church steeples, aging out of fashion, meet their maker – USATODAY.com.

Architecture, like other art forms, expresses meaning.  Do you know why older churches built steeples?  Why they had bells?  What does it mean that today’s churches tend to use cheap materials?  Why are they being made to look “more like a mall”?  What does it mean when the sanctuary has a stage with studio lights, big speakers, and a drum set?  What do these design features  tell us about contemporary Christianity?

HT: Mollie Hemingway

Analyzing the Situation Room photo

We don’t get to see a photograph of Osama bin Laden’s body, but we did get to see a  photograph of the President and his team watching the mission go down.  It’s quite dramatic to see the expressions on everyone’s faces during this intense moment–the President’s intense stare, the Secretary of State’s hand covering her face (apparently in emotion, though she says now she might have just been coughing due to her allergies).

The Situation Room during the bin Laden operation

The Washington Post features various experts commenting on the picture.  I was especially taken by this one by art critic Philip Kennicott:

At least two basic metaphors of power are at play: being in the room and at the table. Both metaphors expressly exclude us, the viewers of the photo, who are not there, not in the loop. The photograph fascinates because it represents the most basic aspects of political power: knowledge, access, influence and proximity.

The photograph thus puts the viewer in a subordinate position. But the chain of meanings continues at least one more step. The anxiety on the faces shows the degree to which some of the most powerful people in the world can’t control events. They (and their administration) are subordinate to chance and fate, to unknown unknowns and known unknowns.

So the sequence is this: We have less power than they do, and they have less power than reality. The photographer creates a kind of “V” of sightlines to emphasize this drama: We look in from one angle as they look out at another, almost a perfect mirror image.

We enjoy narratives of great power because we have so little power in our own lives over things such as errant buses, disease, death and the vicissitudes of love. The photo reveals that sometimes even people who seem to have invested in them the talent and power to be masters of their fate are frightened, worried, tense and uncertain. And so by excluding us from the world of one kind of power, the photo reminds of a more fundamental powerlessness. It keeps us out of one room but puts us all in another, from which there is no exit.

via Breaking down the Situation Room – The Washington Post.

Tweaks to the blog

In the midst of your fulsome praise of this blog and its design–in response to some silly words from Redeemed Rambling–you DID include a few suggestions.   Thanks to Stewart Lundy of Bulldog Media (click the dog in the sidebar for all of your website needs), we have fulfilled your dreams.   There is now a “Preview” feature for the comments.  The black borders have been lightened to a dark grey, which also seems to make the white appear lest stark, being more friendly to the eyes.   Some of you have complained about the field of the blog becoming narrower, but that is apparently an optical illusion, since nothing about that has been changed.  Anyway, thanks for your suggestions.   Especially for the suggestions to keep things, for the most part, the way they are!

You will also notice a visual touch at the top:  Cranach’s seal.   The great artist/entrepreneur/printer/politician and exemplar of the doctrine of vocation would sign his paintings with a stylized squiggle of his family seal:   A winged dragon, crowned, bearing a ring.  That is the logo of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, which is the institutional home of this blog, and it is fitting that it be displayed here.

How would you interpret the dragon iconography?

Versions of Cranach’s Seal

As an update to the post on tweaks to this blog, let me show you some different versions of Cranach’s Seal, as we try to interpret what it means.  (I thought it is an image of redemption; Tom Hering suggested it was alchemical symbolism, so I’ve asked Dr. Montgomery; it could also be some kind of conventional heraldry symbolism–someone who knows something about heraldry, please chime in.)    Special thanks to Abby for alerting me to the final version here, which is the most expressive, detailed, and dragon-like.  Should we use that one for our logo, or is it too disturbing?

Happy National Day of Reason!

In their attempt to become, in effect, a socially-acceptable religion–getting military chaplains, vaunting how moral they are, and evangelizing the unenlightened–atheists are trying to start a holiday.  May 5 is the National Day of Reason!

I love holidays and I love reason, so I am willing to celebrate. . .uh, what is it we are celebrating?  I will try to set aside time to think.  But don’t we need something more to inspire our observance, to give it some meaning?  It turns out that May 5 was chosen simply to counter something else that is on that day, the National Day of Prayer.  The atheists are protesting that by trying to take over the day for themselves.

This demonstrates the weakness of atheism.  It is purely reactive.  Its doctrines are purely negative (there is no God; there is no life after death; there is no meaning in life).  And even when its teachings are put in a positive way–we believe in reason! we believe that material things are all that exist!–there is nothing, really, to celebrate, or even to be happy about.

Actual holidays, on the other hand, commemorate some meaningful event and we celebrate the meaning.  They usually involve some kind of story.  They are deeply, richly, human, evoking family and good memories and inspiration.  And Christian holidays–widely recognized even by devotees of other religions are the best of all–are full of wonder and joy.  The root of “festival” is “feast.”  “Holiday” means “holy day.”   You can’t have a holiday without some sense of holiness.

It’s hard to celebrate an abstraction, such as “reason.”  But, hey, let’s give it a try.  How could we do to make the Day of Reason work as a holiday?  What would be the equivalent of a Christmas tree or Easter basket for the Day of Reason?  What foods should be associated with this day of rationality?  If it ever rates a day off, what should individuals and families do?

National Day of Reason :: About Us.

The Museum of Broken Relationships

Art of our times, from the University of Houston:

For two weeks this May, Blaffer Art Museum presents an exhibition from the permanent collection of the Museum of Broken Relationships. In collaboration with the American Association of Museum’s 2011 Annual Meeting, which is being held in Houston May 22 – 25, 2011, the exhibition will feature detritus from failed relationships – be it a wedding dress, an “I Love You” teddy bear, or a set of fluffy handcuffs – donated to the museum by people from around the world. Objects from the permanent collection will be on view alongside ephemera offered by Houstonians looking to exhibit their own love legacy. Conceptualized in Zagreb, Croatia, by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, after the couple ended their own romantic relationship in 2006, the Museum of Broken Relationships was established by the two to create a space of protected remembrance where the material and nonmaterial heritage of broken relationships can be witnessed, and where these experiences can move beyond the individual into a universal understanding.

via Blaffer Art Museum :: Exhibitions :: Museum of Broken Relationships.

Then follows a description of how people can donate their souvenirs from failed relationships–fluffy handcuffs?–to the museum.  This reminds me of T. S. Eliot and his poems on love in the wasteland.


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