I have had friends and colleagues go on overseas tours of Europe. Most of them tend to do the ready made bus tours, which I guess take all the tension and risk out of touring. Many, however, seem to come back and express a common theme about their european experience. They will say, “It was a bit A B C.” When I ask what on earth they mean by that, they say “Another Bloody Cathedral”. In their tour they have been carted around Cathedrals until they are sick of them.
I chose on this trip not to do a set tour, though I know already that it will place extra hassles on us. It is hard to shop for food, to go to a restaurant or find your way when everyone speaks a different language. But one of the reasons I didn’t go for a set tour was that, if anything, I wanted to stay away from cathedrals and churches.
The difficulty is that, being a church minister, people expect me to be interested in religious things. Poland is full of old elaborate churches. You go into church after church and you see elaborately painted pictures, gold fancy bits, high elaborate pulpits and really expensive-to-look-after buildings. As an ex-tradesman who does building, and as a bit of a wanna-be artist, I appreciate the fine craftsmanship and artistic talent that has gone on in these buildings. They are fine works of art and certainly, from that perspective, good to see.
But as a follower of Jesus I find myself repulsed by these buildings!
Their very architectural layout, the assumed hierarchy and the guilt producing pictures seem to me to be a denial of what Jesus was all about.
The expense that was involved in their building and their continuing expense in their upkeep seem to me to not be something that Jesus would condone. Are they really, in their very essence glorifying the one who came as a servant?..... The one who said to one man, “Go sell all you have and give to the poor”?
As one who is concerned for a true representation of Jesus, I ask the question, “What sort of picture of Jesus do tourists go away with?” How do these buildings pass on the “Spirit” of Jesus?
In Brunei I saw Moslem Mosques built by successive kings that cost thousands of millions of dollars. Yet our tour guide and his family, on two incomes, lived in an apartment about as big as my lounge! (And I do not have a very big lounge!) The excess seemed a wrong expression of the God (Allah) who is meant to be about compassion.
If that inconsistency is true of Moslem places of worship it seems even more true of excesses spent on Christian places of worship. Are we glorifying God or just a cultural religion through these buildings? Are they truly portraying "the spirit of Jesus"?
I am totally conflicted about this. I appreciate the workmanship etc. but as a follower of Jesus, when I enter I also find myself repulsed. The people with me expect the opposite. They expect me to find these places special, sacred and inspiring of worship. Out of appreciation for their kindness and trying not to offend their religious sensibilities, I do not let on to them my inner sense of angst.
Then again I could be all wrong. A woman came, according to the Gospel story, with expensive ointment and anointed Jesus feet. When Judas suggested that the ointment could be sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus rebuked him. What on earth does that mean?
I am a minister of a down town church. Sometimes people, who have no interest in the Christian faith come in to see the stain class windows. I am even more convinced that our one and a third million dollar down town religious site will not be an empty-most-of-the-time museum to a religion of the past. I am sure Jesus would want it to be a place where people meet each other, a place used to enhance life and a place that is full of noise and life.
Anyway, I can let off steam with you, my mystery readers. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?