I’m just back from a phenomenal trip to the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. For three weeks my family absorbed as much as we could of eight cultures (in Spain, Monaco, Italy, Vatican City, Sicily, Greece, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany). We visited sites that were meaningful – not only to the local population, but to Mankind in general; sites such as Monserrat, the Casino in Monte Carlo, the Duomo of Florence, the leaning bell tower in Pisa, the Vatican, ancient Corinth and Olympia, the walls of Dobrovnik, the canals of Venice, the museums of Vienna, Prague’s palaces and parks, and Germany’s rural beauty.
And, in every city – from Barcelona to Rome to Messina to Navpalon to Venice to Vienna to Prague to Wiesbaden – we toured Cathedrals. Cathedrals are ginormous Christian houses of worship where a bishop has his “seat” of authority, and where he exercises the duties of his office.
While in Austria my eldest asked me, “So, what do you think about when you enter one of these huge Cathedrals?”
Whenever a person enters one of these Christian monuments the sheer size is the first thing one notices. Then, you might begin to pick up on the opulence – there’s gold, silver and precious works of art everywhere. You’ll see depictions of Christ being crucified. You’ll see a lot more of Mary – she seems to be the beloved hostess of the place. Finally you can’t help but notice the statuary – there are many, many, many statues … I dare to say all of them priceless examples of medieval sculptors’ skill.
Back to the question my son asked me. What I think about most is complicated, made more complex by the environment created in these European churches. So, that’s what I told him. “I think religion makes simple things too complicated. The word that comes to my mind when I enter one of these beautiful buildings is ‘complicated.'”
COMPLICATED. If you didn’t have a clue what “Church” was all about, and you walked into one of these massive buildings, it would be very hard to figure out who was “the star.” You’d have a hard time, if you knew that the building was erected for worship, just who was being worshipped (or celebrated, or recognized). Is it the woman holding the baby? (Again, Mary’s everywhere – and there are more candles flickering in front of her altars than any other.) It must be her, right? Or maybe it is one of the many men or women cut out of or into stone? I bet a Christianity-ignorant person would never pick the man with the crown of thorns, the nail-pierced hands and feet, and the sour look of one resigned to an undeserved death.
I don’t think “Church” becomes less complicated in American store-front churches or suburban church campuses. The star is the one in the spotlight, right? The man or woman who is singing and leading the band – they seem to be the object of adoration, right? Or the man (usually this is the case) whose picture is on the church sign and who stands behind the podium – he’s the focus, right?
Religious people of the Christian persuasion have – since the original eleven disciples of Jesus died – made finding God really hard. Jesus has been marginalized. Mortals who sit on thrones in the Vatican have been elevated. Charismatic preachers and teachers, be they male or female, have been lionized.
Is Christianity meant to be so complicated? Is understanding “the Gospel” intended to be complicated? Are the truths of the Bible meant to be discovered only after an eight year undergrad/seminary/M-Div or D-Min education?
If Jesus, the cornerstone of The Church, said a child could get what IT is all about, was He talking about the church I attend or did He have something else in mind – something much simpler?
So no one reading this gets the wrong idea, I love Cathedrals because I can wade through the mess Man has created and find Him. Jesus comes to Cathedrals.
The building is not the problem! WE are. Religious Man. We love complicated. We love secret handshakes and secret codes and complex doctrine.
I wonder … is my life like one of those Cathedrals? When someone comes into my oikos – my sphere of influence – can they figure out that I worship God, and why? Do they see Him anywhere in me? And what about His Son, Jesus? Is He so present in my life that it is crystal clear to whoever that He is the One I worship?
I’m pretty concerned about me. What about you? Are you simple or too complicated when it comes to God?
Think about it.