Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bye Bye to Brutalist Bunker Church Between the Beltways

One of the world’s ugliest church structures was the Third Church of Christ, Scientist in Washington, DC, just blocks away from the White House.  This octagonal shaped building was designed by Araldo Cossetta, an associate of I.M. Pei, in a brutalist architectural style and was completed in 1971.

Academics often voiced approval of Modernist Architecture like brutalism.  Randall Ott, the dean of architectural design at Catholic University, waxed philosophically:  "Modernism was a fairly austere, fairly confrontational style, and the Third Church is an obvious example of that style."  But outside of academia, there usually are not warm feelings about austere and confrontational buildings.

La Verne Hill, a woman who worked nearby the brutalist behemoth, opined:  "It's awful. It looks like they just dumped a bunch of concrete down here and shaped it into a box." Church members had long long disliked the design of the building.  Longtime church member Darrow Kirkpatrick articulated: We think it says, 'Stay away.' Something goes on in here that they don't want to get outside, which is exactly wrong for all Christianity. We don't think the architecture conveys taking the Word to the people...  Brutalism is not our religious expression.”

Darrow Kirkpatrick 
Membership in the Third Church of Christ, Scientist dropped to 50 members.  But the congregation was stuck with an ugly architectural white elephant.  The brutalist building was not well suited for re-purposing.  It was a 60 foot tall concrete bunker that was hard to heat and harder to cool. There were structural defects in many spots.  And in order to change lightbulbs, a scaffolding needed to be erected in the sanctuary which would cost betweeen $5,000 to $8,000.  These were costs which  the congregation neither had the funds nor the inclination to pay.

Yet in 2007, the DC Historical Preservation Board unanimously voted the Third Church of Christ, Scientist as a Historical Landmark, thereby protecting it from demolition or alteration.  This had the fascinating dynamic of having the government tell a religious group where to worship and how to spend their funds.

Due to the shepherding of former Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty’s Planning Director Harriet Tregoning,  the zealotry of the Historical Planners was overturned.  Tregoning ruled that Cosetta design was an experiment which failed badly.  The city approved of razing the building in May, 2009 citing hardship of maintaining the building and the risk of the demise of the church if the Historical Landmark status continued.

 Yet it took until February, 2014 for the District to issue a permit to raze the building.  Little time was lost by Celtic Demolition to start to take down the structure.  And there was much rejoicing among ordinary District denizens.

William Newton, who writes the Blog of the Courier, put it poetically:

The more you are able to study and look at exactly why such hideous things as the Third Church of Christ Scientist came to be, the more you will realize why your gut reaction to their readily apparent ugliness is correct, because these buildings often reflect a wider, even uglier philosophy about human nature and man’s place in the universe.  Without knowing exactly why, you can cheer the demolition of this terrible building.

But it will take up to eight weeks to totally demolish the edifice, as the lower walls are six foot think walls of concrete.  The demolished scraps will be sent for recycling.

For any fans of brutalist architecture in the District of Calamity, they can still admire the F.B.I. Building, the H.U.D. Building, the Department of Energy’s Forrestal Building and the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art.

The property where the brutalist building once stood is slated to become another glass and metal shoebox office building, but it will have an economical space where the congregation can worship.

Aside from aesthetic issues, the battle over the brutalist bunker also brings to a forefront salient issues on religious liberty.  Perhaps the eventual triumph of the Third Church of Christ, Scientist over a government dictating how religious institutions must act might serve as a framework for future judicial decision regarding the H.H.S. Qualified Health Plan (Contraception Mandate) issue.

h/t: NPR
     Real Clear Religion
    Washington Post
    William Newton

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Final Call from Louis Farrakhan

During a recent video sermon, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan  preached a message of racial division.  In what Farrakhan called "The Final Call", he widely quoted from Elijah Mohammad (1897-1975) in stating a case for the abolition of white people.

Farrakhan's Final Call preached:

According to the history of the white race, they are guilty of making trouble, causing war among the people and themselves ever since they have been on our planet Earth. So, the God of the righteous has found them disagreeable to live with in peace and has decided to remove them from the face of the Earth.

Calligraphic of Isa in Arabic 

This showdown intimates that Farrakhan's knowledge of the real Jesus will prevail.  Islam holds that Isa (Jesus) was born of Mary through a virginal conception.  Isa was sent to guide the Children of Israel with a new scripture (the Gospel) and perform Miracles aided by Allah to pursuit this work.  Islam deviates from Christian notions of Trinitarianism.  Isa was just a human being, not being Jesus, the Son of God.   Moreover, Islam rejects that Jesus was ever crucified, resurrected or atoned mankind for its sins.  But Farrakhan's taunts to traditional Christians not to engage in a showdown and be slaughtered like the worshipers of Baal in I Kings 18.  

This Final Call message differs from statements last year in which Farrakhan advocated that "the final solution" was a separation of black and whites. One wonders if Farrakhan's enthusiastic integration of Dionetics into the Nation of Islam has shaped their overall message or if further use of spiritual technology would help.

This is far from the first time that Farrakhan has preached invective apologetics or fanned the flames of racial division.  In 2012, Farrakhan proclaimed that Jesus was a black man and further  speculated: 'If Elijah was at the door and he was black, you would call 911 and say there’s a n****r at the door, claiming he’s Elijah! Send the police!”  With this history, it is easy to perceive that Farrakhan is taking his talk to the next level

It will be interesting to learn where Farrakhan takes this track when he speaks at the Savior Days Convention at Joe Louis Arena Detroit, Michigan February 20-23. Detroit has special significance to the Nation of Islam as its Founder  (who Elijah Mohammad preached was the Mahdi) Wallace Fard Mohammad hailed from Detroit.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Rector's Reverence for Washington National Cathedral?

Last month, the Washington National Cathedral removed all of its pews for several days for what was billed as a special and unique event--"Seeing Deeper".  The event was promoted by as:

Seeing Deeper builds upon and visibly brings to life many facets of the Cathedral’s core mission. By juxtaposing the spiritual and the artistic, practice and hearing, silence and song, the Cathedral opens the doors of this landmark and national treasure to be experienced in new ways while fulfilling our calling to be a spiritual home for the nation. As a place known for its art and iconography and its setting for musical performance, this week of introspection, reflection, and transcendence transforms the Cathedral’s living stones for thousands of worshipers, concert-goers, pilgrims, and visitors.

Washington National Cathedral's long-time  Music Director Michael McCarthy explained emptying the nave to allow visitors to experience the worship space in solitude and silence as well as offering a couple of free classical concerts by the Cathedral Choir.

All of this religious rhetoric sounds very noble project for the world's sixth largest Cathedral, which also doubles as the Episcopal Church's Washington Cathedral.  But the execution of Seeing Deeper along with some comments that it engendered may shock some sensibilities of religiously centered Christians. 

To aid in Seeing Deeper, the Washington National Cathedral promised to have "prayer mats, yoga mats, zafu meditation cushions and mandalas to draw and color available as reflection tools.  So a nominally Christian Cathedral opens itself to zafu meditation for Hindus worshiping thousands of gods or Buddhist mandala meditation to no god.  While religious liberty should be prized in America as well as religious tolerance, it is questionable to open the Cathedral doors and facilitate worship of other deities in the Lord's house.

What was more shocking was the quip by the new Rector of Washington National Cathedral, Reverend Gary Hall.   Hall quipped: "I want to skateboard down it — or have a paper airplane contest," as he watched about 100 people practice tai chi in open nave."

Hall believes that not enough was being done with Washington National Cathedral, so Seeing Deeper would get the place back to its roots.  However, Rector Hall conscientiously would not proselytize.   "If I get people together and say, ‘Let's talk about God,' we'll get an argument. But if I say, ‘Let's all pray together and experience the divine together in our own way,' people can enter that in a much more creative and less-judgmental way."  That is pretty weak tea for proclaiming the Gospel .  However joking about playing with paper airplanes or skateboarding down the nave truly impeaches Hall's reverence and piety towards a sacred space of which he is rector.

Opening the doors of Washington National Cathedral to celebrate faith may be well intentioned but misguided for a Christian sanctuary, but when a rector's lack of reverence is revealed by wanting to play in the sanctuary of his own Cathedral Church underlines why Dr. Scott Hahn is so committed to the New Evangelization as society has become notably de-Christianized

Friday, February 14, 2014

Timothy Dolan on Hearts

God, our Father, I offer You my day. I offer You my prayers, thoughts, words, actions, joys, and sufferings in union with the Heart of Jesus, who continues to offer Himself in the Eucharist for the salvation of the world.  May the Holy Spirit, Who guided Jesus, be my guide and my strength today so that I may witness to your love.  With Mary, the mother of our Lord and the Church, I pray for all Apostles of Prayer and for the prayer intentions proposed by the Holy Father this month.  Amen.

Friday, February 7, 2014

On Twitter, Tribulations and Talkers

Editor's Note:  This open letter is in response to a segment on the Jay Severin program, in which he railed about a BBC World Service Report about more sexual exploitation of children.  The Blaze Radio host then took responses from the audience, starting with Twitter replies. 

While  it is preferable  to praise in public and chastise in private, this is impossible in this instance. But this open letter is more than a comeuppance to a cheeky commentator.    What should be of interest to religious readers is insisting on context and combating slander.  Media mavens might meditate on whether the medium is the message and how to appreciate Web 2.0 social media colloquies.

Jay Severin in Sede Vacante Contretemp, the Sweet Sistine Edition

To Jay Severin:

I have been a loyal listener for a year. I appreciate that you are open to diffuse means to engage in talk radio dialogue, including Twitter.  However, my experience shows that your Twitter treatment could use some tweaking.  In addition, your knowledge of things Catholic could use some catechesis.

You started the 2/6 show  in a lugubrious monologue keying off of a BBC World News report about rampant sex abuse in the Catholic Church.  Your laborious lead up to the break lamented yet the “umpteen” report about systematic child abuse among Catholics.
I immediately responded on Twitter wondering: 

 You chose to read my Tweet on the air, characterizing my opinion as irrational and then went on to also excoriate my grammar.

I read the report which the BBC piece was based.  It came from a UN Conference on Children.  The UN report also recommended that the Catholic Church change its views on homosexuality, contraception and abortion.  Those subjects were not in the UN Conference’s purview and expose its bias as an ideological cudgel for progressive politics, which I succinctly characterized as a “kangaroo court”. 

Your radio retort mocked my grammar.  It is worth nothing that Twitter only allows 140 characters to respond.  In that short span, I included your handle, three hashtags (letting others interested in subjects know of the exchange) and a shortened hyperlink which gave the source to my views.   The tweet in question was rewritten several times to include all elements under those limitations and was posted within minutes. Apologies for the kangaroo typo in the tweet.

 It would be  would be wise for you to  revise your analyses of Twitter communications.  Remember, it’s only 140 characters.  Sometimes terms are used in hashtags to draw wider attention.  The writer may use phraseology intended to be brief for that form of communication.  Had I not had a length restriction, I probably would have written:

 “Why are you leading with a story based upon a UN Child Conference which went beyond its scope in order  to tell the Holy See to change to the Catholic Church’s beliefs on contraception, abortion and homosexuality? This report failed to consider  changes in Catholic child safety practices or to critically analyze the  UN’s own woeful record with Congolese troops rapes of children.”  

Granted the message is a little long, but it succinctly packs in the argument.

As a graduate of Vassar, one of the Seven Sister colleges of the Ivy League, you seem to preen on proper communication skills.  But I suggest that it is a mistake to hold the same standards on different communication media.  For example, how would you diagram some of your laborious on the air utterances? Your parenthetical rhetorical style and lexicon shows an educated individual, but a literary editor would have a field day correcting those strung along sentences.  So cut some slack for real time  internet contributions.

I dispute your accusation that my viewpoint was irrational. My tweet noted the originator of the report (the UN), gave a link for a detailed point by point refutation by Catholic Voices and allowed for the possibility that the  radio raconteur may put  a different spin on the news item  (hence the “where are you going w/”).  That would seem to be both charitable and rationally argued.

But understanding the Talk Radio business, it was better radio to mock me and pigeon- hole the rapid response as irrational.  My follow up Twitter responses probably did not catch your eye due to volume and a presumed sense that you were done with me.

This  not the first time which you quibbled with a Twitter contributor’s message form. However, other radio hosts do better at incorporating Twitter into their shtick. Salem’s Hugh Hewitt may tease his “Tribbles”, but they are often paying customers for his “Hughniverse”, plus he incorporates educational material from listeners.  The Blaze Radio’s Chris Salcedo (who is also an excellent substitute host in the afternoon), also engages and respects his Twitter contributors.  The Blaze Radio’s morning show “Waking Up with Doc Thompson” ends its radio show with the “#WhatILearnedToday" from Twitter contributors .   So Twitter treatments  may be a question of temperament and intellectual onanism for some.

Since you admit that you are not religious in nature, you are naturally ignorant about most Church matters.  You quibbled about Catholic and the Vatican being the same.  Well, there are 23  churches which comprise the Catholic Church.  You rightly identified Roman rite as being one of them (and by far the largest).  Vatican is often a synonym of Catholic but it refers to the Bishop of Rome.  There are over 2,000 bishops in the world, each rules his diocese.  Juridically, the Holy See can not simply issue an edict and immediately overrule the local bishop—there is Canon Law which regulates the Church.

Fr. Tom Reese, S.J.
Last year, when Pope Benedict XVI abdicated, you rounded up Fr. Tom Reese, S.J. to opine about the then  upcoming Conclave.  While I enjoyed Fr. Reese’s pieces,  you ought to know that you interviewed a more liberal priest who was removed from his position at America (US Jesuit Magazine) after pressure from Rome for wavering fidelity to the Magisterium (Church teachings).  Fr. Reese did give a balanced assessment which reflected his scholarship stemming from his book Inside the Vatican (1998).  Yet you relied on him as a Catholic expert without seeming to know about this.  Your faithful Catholic listeners would not have uncritically accepted Reese’s perspectives.

Last December, Severin lambasted Pope Francis' supposed critique of trickle down capitalism.  Presumably, he did not read all 263 pages of the Apostolic Exhortation.  Yet the radio host did not discern that there was something lost in translation.  Had Severin delved a little deeper, he would have learned of a controversy in the English translation of Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).  The passage (paragraph 54) that Severin was so concerned about with trickle down economics did not translate the "por lo mismo" from the orginal Spanish correctly.  Fr. John Zulhsdorf put the phrase into better context.

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories ["trickle down economics"] which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will by itself succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.
As Fr. Zulhsdorf notes: "There is a big difference between 'inevitably' and 'by itself'!".  Of course, such a correction requires some knowledge, a thirst for the truth, persistence and humility. I do not recall Severin following up on his "trickle down" condemnation or seeking to put it in context.

Regarding the sexual molestation of minors—only 4% of Catholic clergy have been accused of sexual impropriety with minors (with 1.7% being proven guilty).  This rate is lower than the general US population. Research from Richard Blackman at the Fuller Theological Seminary (an evangelical  Protestant seminary in Pasadena, California) indicates that 10% of Protestant clergy suffer the stain of pedophilia.  While the figure from Blackman’s dissertation may be inflated, it certainly indicates that it is not just a Catholic thing.

 Yet the charges of Catholic pedophila  draw an incredible amount of ire because of the Roman Catholic discipline of celibacy for the clergy, an influx of “lavender ordinations” (misson minded persons who took vows as a vocational beard for their sexual orientation), and hazy pop psychological practices in the ‘70s.  Following liberal psychology practices of the times, those who slipped up were given second chances by being quietly transferred to another parish without serious discipline or other precautions.

The lax treatment of these child molesters in priestly garb was wrong.  Some diocese in the US have paid a heavy legal price for their wanton discipline on the matter  .  Steps have been taken to correct them.  Consider that Pope emeritus Benedict XVI laicized (canned for the church challenged)  400 priests during his reign (2006-2013) on the Petrine Throne.  The USCCB (The U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops enacted the Dallas Charter in June 2002 which has a zero tolerance policy and a stringent background check for any church members having contact with children.   

It might have been interesting for a conservatively oriented show hosted by a news junkie to do critical analysis.  Although the BBC can do fine and seminal reporting, it is a state owned news enterprise.  It is also true that Britain nominally has a state religion (the Anglican Church) and has a history of Catholic bigotry (does the Bloody Mary and  Remember the 5th of November ring any bells?).  The BBC has reputation for a pan-Arabist sensibility and follows a progressive internationist intellectual path.  Ironically, the BBC had reported Benedict XVI's defrocking 400 priests weeks before, but made no mention of them in context of the UN Conference on Children's damning report. Instead the reportage just pointed to what seemed like vacuous Vatican rhetoric soft pedaling the charges.  Might there have been some agenda journalism slandering the faith and bolstering a progressively lead public perception?

Did the  BBC World News report or the underlying UN Child Conference report consider these abatements by the Catholic Church and the Holy See?  The short answer is no.  Did you? I have no personal knowledge after being rhetorically round-housed and hearing the first couple of callers just Catholic  bashing since I need not listen to no nothings on the issue.  Thus, my pithy Twitter characterization of “besmirching" seems accurate.

While I’m sure with an audience growing 134% per annum, it seems dubious that you will lose sleep over worrying if you lost one listener as you listen to the BBC World Service during your nights of insomnia.   So when you stray beyond your wheelhouse of political punditry, I know that there are other amenable and engaging alternative programs from which to choose. Nevertheless, for a person who prides himself on building a show with his audience,  you ought to revise your communication strategy concerning social media exchanges with listeners and seek the truth rather than pontificate without adequate context. 

h/t: Sede Vacante Contretemps, the Sweet Sistine Edition

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Spiritual Technology Promoted During the Super Bowl

The Church of Scientology, founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1952, ran a bold branding television ad during Super Bowl XLVIII in several major regional markets, such as New York, Washington, DC and Los Angeles.  This glitzy and costly mass media message promotes a religion which the United States recognized in 1993, but which the American Religious Identification Survey in 2008 indicated that Scientology only has 25,000 adherents in the US, albeit with prominent members such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Greta Van Susteren.

The "Spiritual Technology" ad is a follow up to last year's Super Bowl ad "Knowledge".  But this year's Super Bowl ad more prominently featured Scientologist symbols, the  FLAG Super Power Building in  Clearwater Florida (which Scientologists bill as a 21st Century Cathedral) and the electropsychometer (a.k.a. the e-meter) which Scientologists use  in Dianetics inspired auditing.

The commercial seems like a calculated attempt to tap into a societal veneration of technology.  The text of the spot has a narrator intoning: Imagine science and religion connecting.  Imagine technology and spirituality combining. And now imagine that everything that you've imagined is possible. Scientology--there are higher states of existence."

On social media sites, some have been creeped out by the slickly packaged commercial.  But the commercial can also be an intriguing exercise in hermaneutics and eschatology.

The Scientology Cross is described as: "The horizontal bar represents the material universe, and the vertical bar represents the spirit. Thus, the spirit is seen to be rising triumphantly, ultimately transcending the turmoil of the physical universe to achieve salvation." Combine that with the inwardly focused can do through technology approach, it gives a techno-futuristic sense of eschatology.

 In contrast, the Cross of Christ marks man's salvation history.  Sin  impaired man from having an  eternal relationships with the Lord.  So He sent His only begotten Son to be born as man and be the perfect sacrifice to free man from the eternal bonds of slavery of sin and death.  But this salvific victory is represented via violent symbol of punishment of a just man which brings about our redemption. The Christian cross reinforces the scriptural wisdom that God's ways are not man's ways.

For those who would wish to learn more about Spiritual Technology, surely they can pay to take some courses about Scientology  to learn more. If one is otherwise disposed, one can pray Joshua 24:15.