A couple of disparate pieces have got me thinking, especially in light of the role Grace has played on Capitol Square in the last month.
The first is a review by Bob Duggan of Denis McNamara’s How to Read Churches: A Crash Course in Ecclesiastical Architecture. He concludes:
Even if you are not a believer, McNamara’s How to Read Churches will make you wonder what we shall turn these monuments of the past into for us today—meaningless ruins or emblems of a passion and hope that we can, and should, recognize and incorporate into our lives.
I think her conclusion is both valid and quite challenging:
It’s a start. But until churches and other religious groups, their leaders, and members feel comfortable interacting with one another around real questions of meaning and value—questions having little to do with doctrine and much to do with practices of compassion and justice—their social media participation will do no more to revitalize declining religious institutions than holding weekly Jazzercise classes in the parish hall.
Mobile computing and associated social media have not replaced the main draw of the traditional church: spiritual connection in social context. But they have made it more difficult to mask the modern, broadcast-era practice of social and spiritual disconnectedness that plays out as much in generic coffee hour chitchat about football scores and the latest lame Seth Rogan chucklefest as it does in Facebook pages that enable participants (really, the old Facebook “fan” terminology is more accurate) to see a church’s message and comment on it, but which don’t invite genuine, person-to-person or people-to-world interactivity.
I was struck, in the midst of that surreal Ash Wednesday service last week, that our congregation consisted overwhelmingly of young people, many of whom I had never seen before. They came for something; ashes, certainly, but also to be reminded of who they are and who God is, and they chose to come to a specific place, that was designed to connect with the sacred. We address profound questions in a liturgy like Ash Wednesday, that need not have any social dimension on the surface, but the very performance of them had enormous meaning, both within and outside our walls that night