No, I’m not talking about weight. I’m talking about existing within the vast middle of society. The Golden Mean. The Middle Road. You know, the one that most everyone lives in but which the extremes of left and right think doesn’t exist. Political and religious right and left-wingers believe that existing in the middle is somehow “copping out” of making any kind of decision. I say it’s enjoying the fruits of and avoiding the worst of both worlds. Let me explain. I’m of the middle in practically every area, but the two that occupy most of my thoughts and time are religion and politics. Everyone has an opinion about these two topics. The most vociferous are those who live on the extreme edges of both. Both of the extremes miss out on the more reasonable, chewy nougat center. Let’s take say…..church architecture.
Church architecture has really, really gone downhill. Instead of wonderfully airy cathedrals, we now have stadiums resembling (and sometimes actually being) sports arenas. What does this say about the religion that dwells within it? LOADS! As I’ve said before I work in a large, urban Protestant church. The denomination can be, but is not necessarily, wedded to liturgy. In other words, there is a set pattern to worship every Sunday. It’s not the denomination that I go to so I have nothing invested in its polity. I just work there. Anyway, due to the stress I’ve been under, I decided to go to the sanctuary and meditate twice last week. It’s done wonders! The sanctuary seats about 500. It has wooden pews with cushions on the seat. It has a high, Gothic ceiling, an organ and choir balcony in the BACK, a raised chancel with seating stalls for elders and an alter of sorts for Communion elements (done by intinction but only once a month and at a specific service). The pulpit must be stepped up to and is higher than everyone else. There is a lectern for reading scripture. You get the idea. There is a baptismal font and a small room for the Handbell choir. There is also stained glass all around. And I mean STAINED GLASS; beautiful depictions of Christ, the apostles, the various Marys of the bible and other people. The church itself was designed by none other than Ralph Adams Cram and his firm Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson. The windows, especially behind the pulpit, are all blues, reds, yellows, oranges, etc. Beautiful when back lit by the sun in the afternoon. So walking into this cavernous place on a weekday instantly implies, darkness, silence, mystery, and peace. I’d sit behind a column and just soak up the sights and the lack of sound. It did more for my stress than pills and sleep ever did.
Now think on some Protestant churches like the one I had been attending in my small, rural town. It is small, seating perhaps 100 squeezed tightly, with blue carpeting and pine walls all around. The pews are padded and the backs of the pews have little ledges with holes in which to put your once monthly communion cups. The room is bright and airy and the stained glass has depictions of Jesus only in the classic “knock and door shall be opened” pose or some shepherding scene. Behind the pulpit is a large, adult sized baptism “tub,” big enough for immersion. The scene behind it is a painting of the river Jordan. The pulpit is directly in front of a few chairs for the choir on a “stage.” The communion table is on the floor in front of the stage. Off to the side is a hallway leading back to the fellowship hall. If one came into that sanctuary during the day, one would hear many things. Light would be everywhere. The church office is right behind the sanctuary. The door to the street is not sectioned off, as it is in my workplace church which boasts a separate narthex. No, in the church where I worship you enter and boom, you are in the church. There is no room to separate talking, laughing, and visiting from the worship experience itself.
The point I’m making is that modern church architecture, for me, implies a paucity of mystical worship. The focus is not God but on the preacher. Rather than draw your eye upward to the heavens, as “high church” settings do, or at least to stained glass of Jesus emerging from the Divine Womb, you are immediately directed in “low church” settings to see the pastor. The teacher is everything. On the “low church” side, you can’t beat the teachings and the sermons. Part of my job is to type sermons the pastor writes out longhand. (YAWN). In order to never rock the boat of this well to do congregation, the pastor manages to say very little in a sermon. There is no mention of “blood” “salvation” “the Holy Spirit” or how to become a Christian. It’s very generic. So what one does very well, the other lacks completely. The “low church” paucity is in worship. The “high church” paucity is in theology. I guess you can’t have it both ways, can you?
This same “high brow/low brow” classism is behind every social phenomenon you could care to name. You see it in academia, politics, religion, and social welfare programs. Applying this to religion leads to freedom of worship on one side and legalism on the other. In academia it’s the difference between literature and popular fiction. In politics is the extremes of Republican and Democrat. The problem I see in either extreme is that in “high church” churches the building is almost worshiped as much as God is. Rich people tend to flock to the church where I work. In “low church” churches working class folks place no emphasis on the building, but there is a lot of infighting personally. Where I work, infighting is virtually non-existent. Trust me, I would know. We Administrative Assistants almost become the confidants of everyone, from the pastor to the parishioner! So why is there no infighting and personal backstabbing going on? Because, worship is not about them or the pastor or the sunday school teacher. It’s very curious.
The effect of dividing our lives into either/or extremes leaves the rest of us scratching our heads. We can see the wisdom in both, but choose not to throw all our eggs into one basket. Why does it have to be that way? Why is compromise such a dirty word? Why can’t both worlds agree to disagree or meet in the middle? The refusal to compromise or learn from each other is why I will always be Catholic/Baptist or politically Democrat/Republican (Libertarian is not an option. It is not moderate in its complete divorcement of government control over some social programs). I will be both. I am a moderate. I will always be a moderate. There are good and bad ideas and doctrines on both sides of the political and religious fences, but I am going to mix it up and choose neither exclusively. I’ve got my religious and political fence stile built and will continue to use it.