19 December, 2007

(Un)Reasonable Man

I was in PBS nerd-dom again last night, watching An Unreasonable Man on Independent Lens. It’s a fascinating little documentary on the career of Ralph Nader from the consumer crusader days up to the recent elections and scapegoat episodes. I’ll admit to not paying much attention at all to Nader in the previous two election cycles, knowing him only as the goofy Green Party Candidate or the “Consumer Advocate” dude with absolutely no chance whatsoever. The documentary had me hooked from the beginning and did an impressive job of painting a picture of raw American Idealism.

You’ll have to forgive me for the use of “American Idealism” in that last sentence. You see, I’m not a big fan of what passes for American Idealism these days. I shudder at the moral depravity we have justified in the name of protectionism and national security. I have a simmering pot of angst that I should really do something about regarding the American Popular Religion that equates the mission of Christ with the mission of the Holy Republican Party. I had nearly forgotten that there was an actual dream of American freedom divorced from corporate politics and K Street hubris. In that sense I can thank An Unreasonable Man for polishing the silver of my own increasingly tarnished view of American Idealism.

It’s important to note that the film is no whitewash of the Nader legacy. They provide ample time for criticism, especially regarding his quixotic presidential runs and their effect on the status quo political landscape. These criticisms for me came across as so much whine and blame shifting that they were nearly comical – watching the rage bubble to the surface in pissed off Gore supporters as they rail against Nader the spoiler. I was reminded of an appropriate exchange from The West Wing where Josh is ticked that a fellow Democrat is running a doomed campaign against the president in order to raise what he feels are important issues:

AMY: That's sweet of you to look out for me, but I liked the job I had. And when I lost it, I didn't pitch anything. I didn't stage a nutty. I fought you, I lost, I had a drink, I took a shower. 'Cause that's how it is in the NBA. You know what I do when I win? Two drinks! I didn't start consulting with Stackhouse to piss you off. There are things here I believe in. I didn't come out here to piss you off, either. I wanted to tell you that if the Senator responds on needle exchange, the President shouldn't take the bait.

JOSH: No kidding.

AMY: All right, I'm going back in.

JOSH: He's taking the President's votes. It's as simple... He is taking the President's votes.

AMY: Listen, I'm not indifferent to the situation, but that right there, that's the crazy part of your argument.

JOSH: Why?

AMY: They're not his votes.

Which is exactly how I feel when the subject of Nader as Grand Gore Spoiler comes up. Nader didn’t steal Gore’s votes - he earned the votes of people who were tired of the same dual corporate party Catch 22. There was a surreal moment in the documentary when he was denied access to even watch the first presidential debate when he held a valid ticket to watch from an overflow viewing room via closed circuit TV. After being told by police that if he did not leave the property he would be arrested he proceeded to give a pretty good little speech on the abuse of authority perpetrated by the debate commission against the State of Massachusetts for putting the hapless officer in that very un-democratic position. Not surprising given that the two decision makers of the Presidential Debate Commission were both corporate lobbyists themselves. The man who took on GM had no chance in a debate system itself controlled by business interests.

I’m a bit ashamed that it wasn’t until last night that I found out more about the events surrounding Nader’s early career as well as the events surrounding the 2000 election. It says something about my lack of interest in meaningful politics as well as the power of corporate media to shape debate at will in this country. While I would probably disagree with Nader on numerous issues, I can at least credit his story for restoring a notion of American Idealism that I thought I had lost forever.

The documentary is highly recommended, catch it on re-run or at the video store if you can. Another bonus: If you find Michael Moore to be an annoying jerk there is a wonderful flip-flopping moment of schadenfreude for you.

06 December, 2007

Pullman's Golden Compass: What's Up?

You may or may not have spent much time absorbing the simmering controversy over the movie version of The Golden Compass. I never read the books, but I trust the opinion of Amy Welborn a good bit and she wrote a nice little summary on the major issues that should allow you all to avoid any handwringing over whether or not to bother shelling out the clams to see the flic. I might pick it up from Blockbuster in the spirit of cultural awareness, who knows. From the few interviews I've seen, this guy has some serious anger issues that he does a poor job of concealing.

Also, +1 on the idea that the USCCB needs a new movie reviewer. Talk about being played like a cheap banjo...

I know I've been doing a lot of linking lately. Fear not, genuine original content is on the way!

03 December, 2007

Tim's New(ish) Digs

A belated notice that astute commenter Tim Jones has started his own little corner of the blogosphere - Old World Swine. Please frequent his fine site and soak up the seriously good art he's producing. I'm a big fan of the landscapes myself and I believe he's looking into some more liturgical art in the future - music to my ears.

30 November, 2007

Benedict on Hope

Benedict XVI has released Spe Salvi, his encyclical on the subject of hope. I'll just provide the link for now - look for more next week after I've read it a few times.

29 November, 2007

Whapping Gems

Whapster Matthew has posted both a beautiful story about his father and a wonderful drawing and commentary on the state of modern iconography. I link to them here because both dovetail well with some of the discussions on this blog regarding art and iconography in the modern church. Please do check them out and visit The Shrine of the Holy Whapping regularly for more great stuff.

28 November, 2007

St. Christopher Wassail

I've been scouring the World Wide Web looking for good wassail recipes to try out this season. There are so many variations on this drink that finding the perfect recipe is a lot harder than I thought. I like to keep things simple so I combined aspects of a few different recipes into the one I'll use for our Christmas party in a few weeks. If it's a hit I'll let you know. I'm dubbing this one St. Christopher Wassail for the family namesake as well as the much deserved winter warmer after long traveling to reach family and friends.

St. Christopher Wassail


- 6 apples, cored and peeled
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 4 (12 fluid ounce) bottles brown ale
- 300 ml (½ pint) dry sherry
- 1 tablespoon mulling spices


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine 1 bottle of ale, brown sugar, butter and apples in oven-proof enamel pot and bake for 25-30 minutes or until apples are tender.
3. Transfer pot to stove and add remaining ale, sherry and mulling spices (tie spices in a cloth bag or use an infuser).
4. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, remove from heat and let steep for 5 minutes. Remove mulling spices and serve immediately.

27 November, 2007


The Intercollegiate Quidditch Association, coming soon to a college campus near you. Check out the article on collegiate Quidditch at USA Today. If I was still in school I'd be seriously building up my Geek Cred by playing a few matches on the weekends. Any college game involving capes, brooms, and some dude in a gold costume running around campus with a tennis ball hanging out of his shorts is a sure recipe for hilarity and general college awesomeness. Watch out NCAA, Muggle Quidditch is on the loose.

Mordor and Capitalism at Shea's

I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday! I ran across this post on Mark Shea's blog and thought it was worth a read. Click on the title of Mark's post to read the article he's commenting on. It's always sad to be reminded of what we allow to happen in our own back yard.

If we could ever get the Republicans to get their paws out of the pocketbooks of Big Business maybe we could mount a dedicated and vigorously funded push for practical alternative energy solutions. If we could put as much of a national push on that as we did for the Cold War or the Space Race I think we could dramatically compress the timeline we're currently facing.

This is not to say that we're destroying the planet - we're not. What we are doing is destroying a rural population that has the misfortune of living in a coal-rich region that they are powerless to defend against the mining industry. Just thought it would be helpful to be reminded that these issues aren't limited to foreign and far away shores.

21 November, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Everyone enjoy the bird and give thanks to God for family feasting and the freedom to do so. Remember all of those for whom tomorrow is just another day and pray for their presence at the great heavenly feast that we're honored to have a glimpse of tomorrow.

20 November, 2007

A Tale of Two Interviews

As an addendum to my previous post on the Intelligent Design case I want to present two interviews from the NOVA site. The first is a defense of Intelligent Design from Phillip Johnson and the second is a defense of Evolution from Kenneth Miller. If this controversy is your sort of thing then read them both and tell me who you think makes more sense. I think Dr. Miller won this little bout and his response to the second question is pretty simple and elegant.

Santa Susanna

With any luck, the American Parish of Santa Susanna in Rome will be home for a few months as I study in the Eternal City for grad school. Not too shabby, turns out that quite possibly the most beautiful parish for American Catholics isn't on U.S. soil! You also have to love a parish website that devotes a whole section to the favorite restaurants around town. Let's face it, Christians love to eat. Some are just more open about it than others...

19 November, 2007

Oil and Water

Okay, so I’m watching NOVA last night and they ran a pretty interesting little piece on the recent Kitzmiller v. Dover creation/evolution court case. It was fairly well done and very informative, yet I found myself getting increasingly angry as the program went on as I saw more and more Christian interviewees make complete and bumbling fools out of themselves. Not only did they succeed in making Christianity come off as incredibly stupid, they managed to do so in such a confrontational, attacking, and over-the-top manner as to impugn the supposed Christian value of loving your neighbor in addition to the supremely rational basis for Christian thought. When we have representatives such as these, the real rational and orthodox position on Faith v. Reason drowns in the sea of fundamentalist paleo-speak.

Luckily, I found an essay by the always entertaining and informative Mark Shea that at least calms me down a bit and provides a small measure of hope for the future. We need more people saying these things and Christians involved in the sciences need to make this case as often as possible to let the world know we’re not complete dunderheads.

16 November, 2007

Funny for the Day

The Whapsters are quite good at Catholic comedy whenever they attempt it, as this post dealing with the Tedious Mysteries of the Rosary clearly shows. Good stuff.

14 November, 2007

A Treasure Trove

OK, there is so much good stuff floating around on the INTBAU site that I know I'll be referring to quite a bit as I sift through it. The few essays I've read so far have been great, check it out for your humanist architecture fix. I knew Prince Charles was good for something...

Metaphysics...Oh Joy!

I’ve decided to take a step back from the religious application of architecture to focus a little more energy on widely accepted architectural theory in general. I ran across a very well written, though fairly long, essay entitled The Ideology of Architecture by Peter Kellow. It’s worth a read if you’re at all interested in architectural theory or the role of ideology in modernist thought. It is an exposition of the ideological underpinnings of the modernist movement and their relationship to the metaphysics of both Hegel and Plato. Though it sounds incredibly tedious it is remarkably well done. I want to excerpt a paragraph from fairly late in the essay:

It is very rare that a Modernist architect will even use the word "beauty", for, when the criteria for assessment of quality are metaphysical, a word that evokes the human senses and individual appreciation is hardly appropriate. The vocabulary is rather that of "innovative", "cutting edge", "iconic" - words that distance us from our natural instinctive reaction to our environment. In relation to this, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the whole training of architects in our time is a training of how not to use our eyes, how not to be sensitive to beauty, in order to be able to focus absolutely on the importance of abstract concepts. And this must be the source of the split between non-architects and architects. The former use their eyes. The latter have been trained to be visually blind, as a glance at the buildings that are paraded as having merit in the architectural journals will confirm. The result of abandoning beauty in art and architecture is the same as the result of abandoning morality in politics and philosophy – inhumanity. And surely again the twentieth century achieved inhumanity in architecture and built environments that surpassed absolutely anything that had ever been seen before.

Quite a strong statement, but one I can certainly back up from my own experiences in architectural education. The arguments in juries are always metaphysical; there is the sole task of justifying your work through some sort of ideological construct that bends the architecture to a metaphysical will rather than a sensual will. That’s not to say that beauty was never discussed, but only that beauty had been in some sense reduced to a degree of the platonic ideal. The closer the architecture came to platonic absurdity while avoiding looking like platonic absurdity, the more “beautiful” it was. Beauty was no longer a sensual judgment, but a metaphysical one. It was as if they wanted to take humanist language and subordinate it to their ideology so as to appear to remain interested in a sensual appreciation of architecture.

What I have found baffling as I think about contemporary architectural theory is that the ideologies share the same DNA with those of Nietzsche and Marx, yet there has not been the sound rejection of those ideologies by similar principles. There has been the public backlash, but this has not been able to open the closed system of the architectural elite. There is a self-fulfilling cycle of life between competition juries and awards, architectural media, and architects that creates a closed loop of circular reinforcement that even public outcry can do very little against.

I’m still working on digesting much of this information. It’s as if over the past few months I have finally had my “Neo” moment of emergence from The Matrix and the difficulty now is to supplant ingrained ideology with reality. The re-education is a daunting task, but oh so immensely liberating. I no longer feel like I need to climb into my little populist closet and flagellate myself for wanting to see more Bernini (OK, I know it’s a stretch - I’ll take Bob Stern instead) and less Gehry.

09 November, 2007

Holy Hand Grenade

Something to file under Orthodox Patriarch humor - I think this dude is holding the Holy Hand Grenade. He looks like he knows how to use it too.

06 November, 2007

Papa on Art

I cannot recommend highly enough the wonderful book The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who we all know has a new name now. There is a great chapter dealing with images in the church and it has been excerpted here (part I) and here (part II). I think it is important reading for those who have been involved in discussing the role of Christian art. Hopefully it can provide some fruitful discussion on how Christianity should approach art in our current state. I’ll include a not-so-short excerpt here to at least get you interested, but please do read the links above and let me know what you think.

…What is more, art itself, which in impressionism and expressionism explored the extreme possibilities of the sense of sight, becomes literally object-less. Art turns into experimenting with self-created worlds, empty "creativity", which no longer perceives the Creator Spiritus, the Creator Spirit. It attempts to take his place, and yet, in so doing, it manages to produce only what is arbitrary and vacuous, bringing home to man the absurdity of his role as creator.

Again we must ask: Where do we go from here? Let us try to sum up what we have said so far and to identify the fundamental principles of an art ordered to divine worship.

…The complete absence of images is incompatible with faith in the Incarnation of God. God has acted in history and entered into our sensible world, so that it may become transparent to Him. Images of beauty, in which the mystery of the invisible God becomes visible, are an essential part of Christian worship. There will always be ups and downs in the history of iconography, upsurge and decline, and therefore periods when images are somewhat sparse. But they can never be totally lacking. Iconoclasm is not a Christian option…

…The image of Christ and the images of the saints are not photographs. Their whole point is to lead us beyond what can be apprehended at the merely material level, to awaken new senses in us, and to teach us a new kind of seeing, which perceives the Invisible in the visible…

…There must, of course, be no rigid norms. Freshly received intuitions and the ever-new experiences of piety must find a place in the Church. But still there is a difference between sacred art (which is related to the liturgy and belongs to the ecclesial sphere) and religious art in general. There cannot be completely free expression in sacred art. Forms of art that deny the logos of things and imprison man within what appears to the senses are incompatible with the Church's understanding of the image. No sacred art can come from an isolated subjectivity…

…But what does all this mean practically? Art cannot be "produced", as one contracts out and produces technical equipment. It is always a gift. Inspiration is not something one can choose for oneself. It has to be received, otherwise it is not there. One cannot bring about a renewal of art in faith by money or through commissions. Before all things it requires the gift of a new kind of seeing. And so it would be worth our while to regain a faith that sees. Wherever that exists, art finds its proper expressions.

Defensive Dogma

I came across a very interesting essay the other day entitled In Defense of Disbelief by Ralph C. Wood, a Baylor University professor. I think it does a pretty good job of defending the necessity of Dogma in Christian thought as a provider of freedom rather than a bringer of discord. I’ll quote a short excerpt here, but I encourage you to read the rest of the article. It’s very blunt, which I think makes it ideal fodder for blogosphere discourse!

A healthy dose of Christian disbelief or "holy skepticism" would serve as a much-needed antidote to the soft-core spirituality that saps much of contemporary Christianity, especially in its evangelical expression. An anti-doctrinal sentimentality often rules the worship and the art of our churches, where self-serving emotions are exalted over true mystery. The church of our time needs a theology that repudiates all saccharine substitutes for the hard thinking that Christian faith requires.

As in so many other matters, Flannery O’Connor foresaw our reduction of transcendent faith to sentimental subjectivity. She likened it to the scientific process whereby the wings can be bred off chickens to produce more succulent white meat. O’Connor said that it is possible to breed the moral and theological sense out of people in a similar way. She described our current generation as a brood of wingless chickens. This is what Nietzsche meant, she explained, when he declared God dead. It also means that nihilism is the atmosphere of our age, the gas that we all breathe, whether inside or outside the Church. The Church has made Christianity nearly indistinguishable from the coziness of a warm blanket and the kindliness of a golden heart…

…O’Connor believed that Christian dogma is what forms the Christian imagination into something larger than our own intelligence or the intelligence of those around us. Knowing that the word "dogma" is a pejorative term for most Americans, O’Connor boldly capitalized it, confessing in the upper case that "My stories have been watered and fed by Dogma." She rejected the popular view that dogma divides while ethics unite and that, since the practical and the useful are what truly matter, we can dispense with dogma. So long as everyone loves Jesus, according to the prevailing sentimentalism, doctrinal claims can be shelved. O’Connor believed, on the contrary, that dogma must be central rather than peripheral. It is the distilled essence of God’s self-identification in Israel and Christ, and thus the true means for understanding both ourselves and the world. "Dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality," she declared. It "is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery."

For Flannery O’Connor, "mystery" is not synonymous with "puzzle" and "riddle" - for those conundrums that balk the mind and stifle all understanding. Nor is mystery another name for a spirituality so vague that it cannot distinguish between John of the Cross and Max Lucado. "To St. Paul and the early Christian thinkers," wrote Claude Tresmontant, one of O’Connor’s favorite biblical scholars, "[mystery] was on the contrary the particular object of intelligence, its fullest nourishment. The musterion [a Greek word that can also be translated sacrament] is something so rich in intelligible content, so inexhaustibly full of delectation for the mind that no contemplation [of it] can ever reach its end."

02 November, 2007

The Faithful Departed

It is All Souls Day and I hope you'll all join me in remembering the faithful departed in your prayers today.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

May angels lead you into Paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your coming and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May a choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.

31 October, 2007

Happy All Hallow's Eve!

The eldest daughter has decided to dress up as Miss Hermione Granger this year. Through the skillful modification of an existing Tigger costume the youngest will be masquerading as Hermione's cat, Crookshanks. I'll be spicing the cider as soon as I get home and we'll attempt to engage in some "well-mannered frivolity".

I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day as well. If you can't manage to find a good requiem mass near you for All Souls on Friday, at least listen to a good one! I can certainly recommend Faure and Durufle, as well as Brahms for a gorgeous German version.

30 October, 2007

The Catholic Brain

I know there are some readers out there who knew me very well before I joined the Catholic Church, and many of you probably haven't recieved a really good defense of that admittedly major shift. I still intend to chronicle the journey in depth over the next few months, but I found a great link that might be helpful. Check out this site for a nice, simple, and often humorous parallel to my own journey. It's not the same, but there is a very similar sort of path at work. The questions he asks were the ones I asked, though under different circumstances. Check it out and feel free to pepper me with questions should you have them.

26 October, 2007

Politically Incorrect Orthodox Cookbooks

I'm trying to reign in my desire to go ahead and order The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, and Song and wait until Christmas. I'm not sure I'm going to make it. After reading through the original Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living I fell in love with the witty, though decidedly orthodox, humor these authors bring to the table. Here is one of the user reviews from Amazon:

After describing the German Kaiser's reconquest of Alsace-Loraine from France in the Franco-Prussian War and his persecution of the region's Catholics, which occurred while the forces of the Kingdom of Italy kept the Pope a prisoner in the Vatican, and which was followed by the Paris Commune's murder of dozens of French clergy and religious, author John Zmirnak writes, "All in all, the 1870s may have been even worse for the Church than the 1970s ... hard as that might be to believe." (From the entry "Gewurztraminer: The Alsacians Need Better Neighbors.") If the idea of combining libations, cuisine, history, orthodoxy, humor, and political incorrectness appeals to you, then this is your book. Highly recommended.

Just thought I'd close out this week on a lighter note and encourage you all to grab a copy to get the giggles out for a while.

The New Iconoclasts

After thinking about the last post for a while I came upon my real critique of contemporary Christianity: it is iconoclastic. The pictorial representations of our faith - the prayers wrought in many different materials - have become wasteful fancies in the post-modern world. Even the most simple and venerable cross has gone missing lately, displaced by the video screen.

In a rare occurrence, I’ll allow Mr. Luther himself to speak to the basic issue here:

“I am not of the opinion” said Luther, “that through the Gospel all the arts should be banished and driven away, as some zealots want to make us believe; but I wish to see them all, especially music, in the service of Him Who gave and created them.” Again he says: “I have myself heard those who oppose pictures, read from my German Bible. … But this contains many pictures of God, of the angels, of men, and of animals, especially in the Revelation of St. John, in the books of Moses, and in the book of Joshua. We therefore kindly beg these fanatics to permit us also to paint these pictures on the wall that they may be remembered and better understood, inasmuch as they can harm as little on the walls as in books. Would to God that I could persuade those who can afford it to paint the whole Bible on their houses, inside and outside, so that all might see; this would indeed be a Christian work. For I am convinced that it is God’s will that we should hear and learn what He has done, especially what Christ suffered. But when I hear these things and meditate upon them, I find it impossible not to picture them in my heart. Whether I want to or not, when I hear, of Christ, a human form hanging upon a cross rises up in my heart: just as I see my natural face reflected when I look into water. Now if it is not sinful for me to have Christ’s picture in my heart, why should it be sinful to have it before my eyes?”

Financial considerations aside, I agree wholeheartedly with Luther that the visual expression of the gospel is vital to the spread of the faith as well as the spiritual nourishment of the faithful. To put faith to image is to paint windows into heaven, just as sacred music accomplishes. Why then would we condemn the building to background when it can just as easily shout praise to God along with the choirs and instruments within? Why has music become the only widely acceptable artistic sacrifice, while sacred art and architecture languish in the realm of the unnecessary?

Even a simple shelter can offer praise to God. Money buys the materials and labor, it is the worshipful designer that arranges them to point to God. The house of the Church should always be a gospel in whatever material it consists of, regardless of the relative cost. This gospel is not ritualistic at heart, but symbolic. It is not a gospel for the rich and it’s not a gospel for the powerful. If I’m building one church for a million dollars or ten churches for a million dollars, I’m going to make sure that they all intrinsically point to God no matter what.

22 October, 2007

Just a quick note to let you know I'll be back to posting soon - work has had me swamped for a while now. Look for updates this week...

Or jump in on the post below this one and help flesh out the merits (or lack thereof) of church architecture.

10 October, 2007

Heavenly Worship

The note of a church should be, not that of novelty, but of eternity. Like the Liturgy celebrated within, the measure of its greatness will be the measure in which it succeeds in eliminating time and producing the atmosphere of heavenly worship.

- Sir Ninian Comper (1864-1960)

If I could sum up my thoughts on ecclesiastical Architecture as well as Sir Comper I would be busy writing a book now. I think this one sentence should be watermarked in the tracing paper of every single designer tasked with putting form to the sacred. We are currently mired in an age where sacred space is solely an armature for the experience of worship or liturgy. While we continually trumpet the ability of music to help us enter the heavenly realm, we have reduced the building to mere scenery, a bland backdrop upon which to paint the worship experience. The trouble with this is that never in the history of mankind has there existed a bland backdrop of a building. The useful mental construct of neutral architecture is a farce, impossible and unwarranted.

Take as an example the recent glut of ascetic, pristine white rectangular rooms constructed for the housing of fine art. Popular architectural opinion would hold that these rooms constitute a blank slate upon which to view the objet d’art. This is nothing less than patently absurd coming from the same design professionals who claim the same pristine boxes epitomize the triumph of Information Age, IBM clean-room-esque, media-centered architecture in the brave new world of post-modernism. Architecture has never been, and never will be, neutral. Why would we wish it so? While we used to demand artful neutrality from our journalists, we never required it of our artists. The very act of putting form to space necessitates a viewpoint, an objective feeling we wish to create in the inhabitants. We set a psychological scene before the first object is ever encountered in a given space. While a Rothko painting might happily inhabit and dialog with a clean white box, it would set up a tangible dissonance in any room of the Vatican Museum’s Pinacoteca.

The obvious subsequent observation when confronted with the glut of supposedly neutral worship venues is to condemn them all as a thinly-veiled appeal to the theatrical, performance-minded culture of our age. While the churches claim to provide (and may in fact succeed in providing) an experience of heavenly worship apart from the visual, they do so against the clamorous backdrop of an architecture firmly rooted in our present societal avarice and pleasure. Whether it is the converted strip mall or the unmodified theatrical arena, we are deliberately housing God in a timely box. There are situations when this practical necessity is laudable as a stop-gap measure to get the church to the people – fast and efficient. We have, however, elevated this convenient practicality to the realm of the desirable and fashionable, condemning the urge to properly house our worship as worldly, sinful excess. We have abrogated our interest in eliminating time from the House of God and have shackled our worship firmly to the aesthetic spirit of our age. St. Barbara, help us!

09 October, 2007

Slow Blogging

I apologize for the slow blogging lately, work is pretty busy at the moment and the family has been busy too. I'm hoping to work on a few things for this week soon...keep checking in every once in a while.

05 October, 2007

First We Kill the Architects

The New York Times publishes a counter-cultural method of city-building - in the interest of self-preservation I would substitute Developers for Architects in step one.

Friday Daydreaming

In any case we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen's guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.

Thus wrote Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum. I hope to post a few thoughts on this encyclical in the coming weeks, but I certainly encourage everyone out there to give it a read and introduce themselves to the wealth of wisdom that is Catholic social doctrine. If there is one great awakening that I’ve experienced on the last few months, it is that Capitalism is intrinsically wrong-headed. I’ve always known that aspects and symptoms of our capitalist culture were amoral and even evil, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to recognize the flaws in the foundations of capitalist thought. Economists have endeavored to isolate economics from morality as a true independent science, with laws and constructs existing completely outside the sphere of moral influence. If there is to be any improvement in our capitalist culture, we must again assert the primacy of morality and bind the system to morality rather than bending our morality to the system.

As an act of pure fanciful thought and daydreaming, I ask you all on this fine Friday afternoon (or whenever you read this) to imagine a world A.) without advertising and B.) where quality was rampant. Just think about such a world. Can you really see a world without advertising? Is it less desirable to you than our own?

More on this and related topics in the coming weeks. Have a wonderful weekend and everyone read Lepanto this Sunday!

03 October, 2007

Who Says Catholics are Superstitious?

Just a quick note, if you read this earlier post on the Lepanto Novena you would know that the Blessed Mother has shown herself to be a true Auburn football fan. I don't know what that says about poor Notre Dame, but it certainly casts doubts on the relative merit of a certain school in Florida. That being said, I have picked Notre Dame out of principle in every game in the office pool and have still won twice - they must not be entirely cursed...

Liturgical Warfare

I’ve been following the liturgy wars with some interest since swimming the Tiber and I’m finding it difficult to formulate a position on the whole mess.

My own liturgical tastes certainly gravitate towards a more traditional Mass. While I would much rather hear the organ, Palestrina and chant than banal praise choruses, I find it hard to denounce the latter on any sort of firm theological footing. I can criticize them for being campy, overly emotional and saccharine, but I certainly don’t think they rise to the realm of heretical. The venom with which I’ve seen both sides inject this issue of liturgical purity is disturbing and seemingly genocidal. It would seem that both sides wish to win this war by means of magisterial fiat, wiping away the opposition with one firm papal proclamation. While certainly effective, this tactic would seemingly do little to heal the fractures experienced in the wake of Vatican II.

I have, however, been pleasantly surprised at the tact and pastoral care applied to this issue by Benedict XVI. With Summorum Pontificum the Pope succeeded in bringing the Tridentine Mass back from the Gulag, placing it firmly in the Novus Ordo universe as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I hope that Novus Ordo devotees will realize the reverence and dignity of the Tridentine Mass and that Tridentine devotees will realize that a mass need not be in Latin to be reverent, beautiful, and spiritually fulfilling (not to mention valid!). What I hope both sides discover concurrently is that there is not a liturgical war to be won, decisively, with the utter defeat of their brothers and sisters on the other side of the liturgical chasm.

In the current state of affairs, the world can ill afford to be burdened by a Church increasingly burdened largely by its own internal struggles, divisions, and fractures. I pray for the formation and training of our young priests, that the leadership they display in this generation would restore the mass as a reverent and beautiful sign of our solidarity. Mass is our window into heaven, not the window into the boisterously divided Catholic kitchen table.

02 October, 2007

Beer Cheese Soup

Cool weather is coming and it's hearty soup time in the Christopher household. In college I fell in love with a local alehouse that made a wicked beer cheese soup. This is as close as I can get at the moment, just a simple internet recipe that I've modified a little to my taste. It's quite easy and very tasty if you're a beer and cheese nut like me. It does wonders paired with a good steak in the autumn months.

Beer Cheese Soup


- 6 strips of bacon, chopped
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 (12 fluid ounce) bottles of beer (Amber Ale recommended)
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
- Sliced green onion for garnish


1. Pour 1 bottle of beer into a separate container and sit it on the counter to flatten and come to room temperature. Open up the second bottle and consume it while following the remaining steps.
2. Cook bacon in a heavy soup pot until browned and crispy, remove and set aside for garnish.
3. Add the butter, onion, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce to the bacon fat and sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent.
4. Add the beer and raise the heat to high and boil for 3 minutes to evaporate the alcohol.
5. Add the chicken broth and bring the soup back to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer while preparing the corn starch mixture.
6. Combine the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water and stir until smooth. Set aside.
7. Add the half-and-half and shredded cheese to the soup. Stir constantly until the cheese melts. Then stir in the cornstarch mixture. Stir constantly until the soup is thick, about 2 minutes.
8. Serve garnished with bacon and sliced green onion.

28 September, 2007

Autumn, History, and Gridiron Rosary Intentions

College football is swinging into high gear (Auburn?…Where art thou Auburn?), Halloween is right around the corner and all is right with the world. We’re heading straight into my wheelhouse, the oh-so-happy trifecta that is October, November and December. I love the fall, though down here in lovely subtropical Florida we get none of the pretty colors and I’m just as likely to sweat on Halloween (a sin in my book) as not.

In these three months so full of Christian history, it will be quite a treat to experience them for the first time as a Catholic. Thanks to fellow like-minded bloggers I’ll be kicking off my favorite months with a novena in honor of the battle of Lepanto, beginning this Saturday on the feast of the Archangels and ending Sunday, October 7th, on the feast of the Holy Rosary. It is this immersion into the wisdom and experience of past saints, momentous occasions and even failures that continues to make me fall in love with the Church. So much of American Christianity is about a new road into a glorious new future, free from the shackles (and thus, the wisdom) of the past. In a time when conformity with the spirit of the age is to be desired I am consistently comforted by the Church that maintains a radically new outlook while anchored firmly in her past trials and treasures.

I’ll also include in my intentions for the first Holy Rosary of my Lepanto Novena a swift, sure, and thoroughly humiliating defeat of the Florida Gators at the hands of the Holy Auburn Tigers. Amen and Amen…

A happy Autumn to you all and may your homes be blessed and warmed (…or cooled) in the happy months to come.

25 September, 2007

Sean over at The Blue Boar has stuck a firm pin in the Planned Parenthood family tree. Be sure to check it out, along with all of the other goodies to be found at that fine Chestertonian establishment.

King Alfred's Dark Night

"The gates of heaven are lightly locked,
We do not guard our gold,
Men may uproot where worlds begin,
Or read the name of the nameless sin;
But if he fail or if he win
To no good man is told.

"The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.

"The men of the East may search the scrolls
For sure fates and fame,
But the men that drink the blood of God
Go singing to their shame.

"The wise men know what wicked things
Are written on the sky,
They trim sad lamps, they touch sad strings,
Hearing the heavy purple wings,
Where the forgotten seraph kings
Still plot how God shall die.

"The wise men know all evil things
Under the twisted trees,
Where the perverse in pleasure pine
And men are weary of green wine
And sick of crimson seas.

"But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save.

"I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

"Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?"

So says the Blessed Mother to King Alfred in Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse. I can’t help but think that much of modern Christianity shudders at that last stanza – afraid of the dark night of the soul. One has only to look at the latest fascination with Mother Theresa to see the fear with which we view a so-called “empty” faith. The Blessed Mother neglects to inform good King Alfred as to the outcome of his trials, choosing simply to ask where his heart lies in the darkest night and highest seas. The faith of Left Behind is afraid of walking blithely into life. It is afraid of the unknowable future and must at all costs pin timeline and table to the unraveling life of Man. To know doubt is to taste death, and the bitter taste of death is only overcome by the signs of sky and scroll. But the One True Faith knows the taste of death is bittersweet, for the bitter blood of Christ is what sends us sweetly singing, uncertain and unafraid, into that dark night of the soul.

24 September, 2007

Papal Forecasting

If this bit of Papal forecasting is true, it could make for a very interesting spring. I for one am pleased that Papa is taking the Barque of Peter into these polluted waters – the Church needs to reaffirm the ability of faith and morals to inform the stewardship of the Earth.

21 September, 2007

Luddite Blogging

Just a quick update to my three apparent readers...

We're still living in the semi-luddite state of not having cable or internet in the house, so I tend to either blog on breaks at work or at coffee shops, etc. If you don't see much activity over the weekends, that would be why. Not that I expect a deluge of comments from you three over the weekend.

Isn't it Ironic...

Politics, Sweet! Our much esteemed and lauded Presidential Wannabes are knee deep in the political two-step nowadays, hitting all of the hot spots and dropping sound bytes like so many tons of lead…which leads me to the recent GOP hit and run on the NRA. (I know, too many puns, I just can’t help it.)

Consider the following gem:

The audience of about 500 people gave a warmer reception to Thompson, the former Tennessee senator who announced his campaign this month. Some stood and cheered as Thompson said: "Our basic rights come from God, not from government.”

What this has to do with anything was certainly lost on most in attendance who stood and cheered, tears in their eyes, as they thought of God’s big smile down upon the righteous gun aficionados. This would be slightly humorous if not for the oddly twisted fact that I’m sure many in the audience would be less than enthused to hear that same remark in reference to some of the more “nuanced” applications of universal rights so beloved by the Republicans nowadays. Lest I offend any ultra-conservative readers, I’ll avoid using the word tortu…oops.

All that being said I support the right to own guns. (Just trying to avoid the knee-jerk commie response…)

The Wrath of the Whatever...

Alright, those who know me know I have a minor fascination with The West Wing. It's the best television I've ever seen (along with Frasier of course). I was just remembering some of my favorite scenes and I'll post one every once in a while. You owe it to yourself to check it out if you haven't already.

C.J.: The speech is done.
TOBY: Two speeches are done.
C.J.: What's the second?
TOBY: I've got a speech if he wins, I've got a speech if he doesn't.
SAM: You wrote a concession?
TOBY: Of course I wrote a concession. You want to tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing?
SAM: No.
TOBY: Then go outside, turn around three times and spit. What the hell's the matter with you?
SAM: It's like 25 degrees outside.
JOSH: Hello.
C.J.: [in foreign accent] Oh, Mr. Lyman. I see your picture in the magazine. Tell me, if I swallow my ballot, does it still...?
JOSH: A little election day humor-- that's great.
SAM: He wrote a concession speech.
JOSH: Of course he wrote a concession speech. Why wouldn't he? What possible reason would he have for not writing a concession speech?
SAM: The wrath from high atop the thing.
TOBY: He upped and said we were gonna...
JOSH: No, you got to go outside, turn around three times and curse.
TOBY: Spit.
JOSH: Spit and curse.
TOBY: Do everything. Go!
Sam gets up and leaves the room.
JOSH: These things have a half-life. You just can't...

18 September, 2007

The Usonian Piazza

After posting my last little blurb on James Howard Kunstler I did a little more research and found some interesting interviews he’s given in the last few years. He was asked about his opinion on Starbucks and he gave one of the best, and simplest, answers I’ve ever heard on the subject:

Starbucks does what it does pretty well. But it's not hard to run a coffee shop and make it attractive. In the small town where I live, we have a Starbucks, but also a locally owned shop that's probably more popular. This local guy is competing on a quality basis with a chain and he's doing just as well.

Starbucks provides something very simple, in short supply: agreeable public space. They provide a nice place for you to hang out, and you pay an excessive to ridiculously high price for their coffee product, for occupying space in their business. You pay $3.50 for their stupid coffee concoction, but you stay at their table for an hour and a half. There are so few places that Americans can go, especially real public space, not a mall, so little real public space, that if you put in this artificial substitute, it's wildly successful. Starbucks is selling a public gathering place. Coffee is the enabling mechanism.

It’s an interesting thought to ponder - is Starbucks a successful coffee shop or a successful public forum? I would imagine that it started as a place to get decent coffee but has since morphed into the nouveau Usonian pub we know today. Actually, I think I’ll start calling Starbucks the “Usonian Piazza” – our new proxy for meaningful public interaction.

Having lived in Italy I can attest to the social function of the traditional piazza as well as the coffee shop. The piazza is a social gathering space, the coffee shop is a caffeine delivery mechanism. In the absence of the former we have co-opted the latter as the most suitable substitute. In Italy you walk into a coffee shop, order an espresso, dump in a spoonful of sugar, knock it back in about 10 seconds and head out the door. If you want a more leisurely form of caffeine delivery, you make your way to a café located in (you guessed it) the piazza.

I guess it is the peculiar nature of American capitalism to transform the enjoyment of “public” space into numbers, profit and greed - for there should be no enjoyment left un-merchandised.

World Made by Hand

There is a new novel coming out early next year that should be extremely thought provoking - World Made by Hand. Here is a blurb from the publisher:

In the best-seller The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler explored how the terminal decline of oil production had the potential to put industrial civilization out of business. With World Made By Hand Kunstler makes an imaginative leap into the future, a few decades hence, and shows us what life may be like after these coming catastrophes—the end of oil, climate change, global pandemics, and resource wars—converge. For the townspeople of Union Grove, New York, the future is not what they thought it would be. Transportation is slow and dangerous, so food is grown locally at great expense of time and energy. And the outside world is largely unknown. There may be a president and he may be in Minneapolis now, but people aren’t sure. As the heat of summer intensifies, the residents struggle with the new way of life in a world of abandoned highways and empty houses, horses working the fields and rivers replenished with fish. A captivating, utterly realistic novel, World Made by Hand takes speculative fiction beyond the apocalypse and shows what happens when life gets extremely local.

Sounds pretty interesting to me. While I'm not a fanatic on the climate change front, my recent foray into the world of Distributism has me very interested in this novel. I love Distributist thought, but I think I'm with Kunstler that it will take a series of global catastrophes to bring that thought to the forefront of public life. It could be a total flop of a book but I think I'll give it a shot.

H/T: Veritas et Venustas

17 September, 2007

R.I.P. Regionalism

As you approach universality, you also approach non-specificity. The emergence of a global culture is causing the increasing abandonment of local culture in favor of a more universally palatable homogeneity.

Though readily apparent in many areas, I will of course use architecture as a prime example. In times past architecture was a reflection of the responses of a local population to its environment, climate, and cultural heritage. As communication has increased, architecture has dealt with a perpetually increasing (though increasingly non-specific) scope of influence on its design. Where you could once identify the region a particular American home was built in, you now encounter a huge number of “custom” homes with no regional character. More accurately, you find homes employing the watered down usage of just about every regional character – a Chimera of non-specific American regionalism. There is little regard for cultural memory as a depository for solutions to common regional problems. In Global Culture, Frank Gehry works everywhere, from L.A. to the Czech Republic. The only difference is the amount of the heating/cooling bills.

Even when you can find reference to local culture, it is not as a solution to some regional problem but as a surface nod to the past. This is not to say that all architectural precedent is purely functional, but that such precedent embodies a cultural reality of climate, geography, spirituality, or organization. Architects are good at making the obligatory head fake towards the preservation of local character and then lobbing the Hail Mary in hopes of getting their latest “critical” interpretation of post-modern humanity in the pages of Architectural Record.

The final question boils down to this: Is globalization killing culture? Does the virtue of “tolerance” coupled with a desire to create the global village inadvertently smother any condition under which local culture can endure or progress? More importantly, does the new interconnected, universally acceptable culture provide as much enrichment or value as local, backwards, ethno-centric, existing culture?

Obviously that’s way too many questions without answers. Maybe some of you out there can help me out on that. Extra credit if you can help me figure out how Christianity plays into the same issue.

13 September, 2007

Groundhog Day

Ah, subjectivity, the bane of architecture students everywhere. I have been intrigued by the notion that modernism only allows the truly talented and inventive to reach the level of “good”. I have felt for a while now that contemporary architecture has defined success out of its routine reach. The push for relentless innovation and formal invention has been directly responsible for many “good” architects failing to achieve what modernism has defined as “great” (and therefore taking on the unfortunate and unwarranted mantle of a failed visionary).

I don’t think that the architects of the past were any better than the architects of today. I do however feel that our predecessors were given what we largely lack today: a mastery of the architectural solutions that we already know to be successful and a public that valued stable, time-tested architectural solutions. Given these two things, architects were prepared to provide the public with a nearly endless stream of “good” architecture. Every once in a while a visionary would appear and successfully introduce something incredibly novel or inventive that would then provide a new tool for the community of architects. Today is a different story altogether. We have defined “good” architecture as being innovative and new, creating a huge building catalogue of failed social interventions and innovations undertaken by “good”, but less than visionary, architects.

You can see this same process at work in the great Renaissance schools of painting. Artists were taught the techniques of visionaries in the hopes of producing many people who could create beautiful art. Unfortunately our modern cult of the lone artistic visionary has produced an army of talented people trying in vain to be the latest and greatest thing at the expense of true beauty and cultural precedent. We have also so successfully instilled the principle that imitation is the greatest taboo of our art that students are scared to cite so much as a precedent for any project whatsoever. Once again, if we could just get over ourselves maybe we could get back to creating “good” art and architecture.

Thinking about this has helped me immensely to reconcile some things in my head. I realize now why I have such an admiration for some truly great works of modernism while at the same time harboring a newfound respect for the classical tradition and those attempting to re-introduce it into our architectural heritage. The crux is this: there are great artists and architects out there that produce great work that is then viewed with an awe that prevents it from being replicated and absorbed into the greater whole. We are so scared of copying greatness, of being unoriginal, that we will continue to produce crap in the unending quest for the greatness we have already been shown numerous times…welcome to Groundhog Day!

12 September, 2007

Swimming the Tiber

Some things in life are easy to pin down. At the Easter Vigil this year I fulfilled a call on my soul that first took hold as I walked into the Basilica of San Pietro for the very first time. I experienced this warm, peaceful call of home twice – first as a Methodist and secondly as a non-denominational Evangelical. Both occasions inspired a complete and comfortable feeling of tranquility in the loud and tourist-filled center of the Roman Catholic world. For that reason my entry into full communion with the Catholic Church this Easter was more homecoming than radical change. Though it probably came as a shock to many, it was as natural as a trip down the hill to the local Trattoria for this one-time adopted son of Italy.

I am a lover of Beauty. Beauty is one of the last great truths to stand against the tide of mediocrity and relativism. Beauty IS Truth. I worry about false sincerity, false ideology and false advertising – but not false Beauty. There is much Beauty in the Catholic Church. It may be obscured under a couple layers of dust and forgotten by a large number of the faithful in well-worn pews, but it is there - a reminder that beautiful things can be created in honor of the Truth of our Lord and his amazing sacrifice. Though the Church may clothe herself in the Beauty of the past as one might wear an old, threadbare sweater - with little notice but with a profound sense of history - She will eventually learn to knit again.

Though I could write of the myriad reasons for making this journey (and I most likely will at some point) – it is sufficient for me now to say that I found the spiritual home I’ve been looking for ever since setting foot in the seductive streets of the Eternal City. Deo Gratias.

Pope on Fides et Ratio

There is a great post over on Amy Welborn's new blog about the Pope's recent trip to a Cistercian Abbey. He had some fine remarks, I'll quote a little piece here:

The father of the Cistercian Order, Saint Bernard, in his own day fought against the detachment of an objectivizing rationality from the main current of ecclesial spirituality. Our situation today, while different, nonetheless has notable similarities. In its desire to be recognized as a rigorously scientific discipline in the modern sense, theology can lose the life-breath given by faith. But just as a liturgy which no longer looks to God is already in its death throes, so too a theology which no longer draws its life-breath from faith ceases to be theology; it ends up as a array of more or less loosely connected disciplines. But where theology is practised “on bent knee”, as Hans Urs von Balthasar urged, it will prove fruitful for the Church in Austria and beyond.

This fruitfulness is shown through fostering and forming those who have vocations to the priesthood or the religious life. Today, if such a vocation is to be sustained faithfully over a lifetime, there is a need for a formation capable of integrating faith and reason, heart and mind, life and thought. A life devoted to following Christ calls for an integration of one’s entire personality. Neglect of the intellectual dimension can give rise all too easily to a kind of superficial piety nourished mostly by emotions and sentiments, which cannot be sustained over a lifetime. Neglect of the spiritual dimension, in turn, can create a rarified rationalism which, in its coldness and detachment, can never bring about an enthusiastic self-surrender to God. A life devoted to following Christ cannot be built on such one-sided foundations; half-measures leave a person unhappy and, consequently, also spiritually barren. Each vocation to the religious life or to the priesthood is a treasure so precious that those responsible for it should do everything possible to ensure a formation which promotes both fides et ratio – faith and reason, heart and mind.

The neglect of the intellectual dimension is one of the major problems I've had with many contemporary Christian denominations. A culture of self-help Christianity is only affective as long as the help is helping or as long as the person desires to be helped. When assent to faith is based on an emotional response or therapeutic benefits, there is always the danger that those emotions and benefits will be found through other outlets outside of the faith. When faith can offer nothing above self-help, we will find the same help elsewhere with fewer strings attached.

The New Radicals

I’ve been stewing thoughts from my previous post for a while now and I might be ready to put some of them into a coherent form. I was thinking about what makes buildings successful or not successful in our culture and realized that we have radically lowered the bar of success, as we have in just about every other area of our culture.

I found some notes from an old article in Metropolis by Andres Duany in which he gives a critique of the (then) new IIT Student Center by Rem Koolhaas. It was probably the best and most honest critique I’ve seen of Koolhaas, and it draws a line in the sand for Architecture as a whole that I think we all need to recognize. I’ll give you a couple of the highlights (it’s a bit lengthy, but worth it):

…By chance the building opens at the moment that I arrived. I am watching students as they use it for the first time. It is a big complex. They are wandering about, looking around and then simply getting down to inhabiting the espresso counter, computer terminals, billiard tables, cafeteria, sitting on the steps. They get comfortable quickly.

The scene is inhabited by kids who look, dress, move, sit, have haircuts and talk just like the building looks. They are as integral as those elegant little figures in the Schinkel plates.

The building is exactly designed for them. This is the generation that uses "random" as an ambiguous term of praise and opprobrium. They are content to be there, and the building is easy on them, and absorbs whatever they are doing.

It is a perfect embodiment of the fundamental "whatever" sensibility. The plan is random, except where it is very rational. The details have a certain integrity except where they are junky. It is laid back, except for certain edgy moves. It is artless except in those places where it is stunningly clever. It is impossible to dislike because it is not trying to be liked. It's, like, OK, cool. . . whatever.

The building is as appropriate to our nerd/tech jocks as Mies' campus once was for the neat, white-shirted engineers of the second industrial age.

Mies’ buildings are now trashed, of course. But not as a matter of maintenance--it is that these students by their very presence trash them. So long as Western culture continues its dismal run, Rem's building is immune. It will absorb decline with the dignity of Rome ruined by Visigoths. This building will never be trashed because its technos is already trashy. The aluminum floor is MADE to be scuffed. It is a scuff magnet. Its fatalism is stunning. Rem describes it as junk space. Scuff is the new patina; delamination is the new rustication. It is one of the most resilient buildings that I have ever seen.

At the opening there was a display describing the design intentions. The building fulfills them perfectly. Rem is one of the very, very few architects who builds what he says. The bullshit quotient is zero. The execution is absolutely honest. It may salvage modernism yet--even if that is achieved by lowering the bar so.

…Modernism--which is a history of failure--must evolve at a tremendous rate in order to evade the taint--the stink--of failed expectations. That was then. . . look at this now! It will work this time. Trust us... Society continues to grant modernist architects one more chance again and again. Well, Rem's epicenters approach success. They may yet save the reputation of modernism, perhaps they will even justify three-quarters of a century of cities destroyed and landscapes consumed. But, then again, they may also exhaust modernism, because what is being proposed is so conventional.

…He is the most useful of our researchers. He is correct. It is just that some of us do not agree to tolerate the situation described. Of the engaged intellectuals, Rem is one of those who is critical by revealing the reality. But then there are also those who are critical by attempting to change that reality. The IIT building reflects reality--the buildings of say, Yale, reform it.

Yes, the students at Yale dress down and slouch like those at IIT, but their buildings engage them differently. While the IIT building makes them comfortable in all their slovenly goofiness, the buildings at Yale make them look out of place--somewhat ridiculous--as if amiable but clueless barbarians were inhabiting the constructions of a great vanished civilization. At Yale the students and the architecture are at odds. But there is the chance that the architecture will prevail; that some of the students, over time, will sit straighter, dress more fittingly, converse and socialize in a more sophisticated manner. These buildings engage in a civilizing mission, and the young learn to respect the mastery of their predecessors.

In this war for western culture, there are those who consider the Yale campus a famous victory, won against astounding odds. For them Rem's IIT building must be a great defeat. We should salute Rem for a brilliantly conceived and executed 30-year campaign. We will not soon recover from the impact of this building.

There are buildings that reflect society, buildings that comment on society, and buildings that endeavor to change society. The fact that so many of today’s star architects are more interested in reflection or commentary than in true change is itself reflective on a modernism that has lost its edge and decayed into a simple status quo. This is what we do--turn out more commentaries on materiality, fluidity, and the power of 3D modeling software to interpret how an analysis of particle physics can create my next building skin. While we sit in our studios and attempt to shove our next brilliantly innovative analysis of modern man down our client’s throat the public cries out for a few simple things: firmness, commodity, delight.

I find myself thinking of G.K. Chesterton and his defense of Orthodoxy as the true radicalism. Why do many of the buildings of our past continue to delight, comfort, and inspire while the majority of our current inventions offer so little of substance? We seem to be clamoring for real change in many other facets of our society (government, most notably), yet we continue to accept esoteric social commentary from our “star” architects (yes Eisenman, I’m talking to you, the one who admittedly wouldn’t occupy his own work). There are people that are just beginning to realize that we have made a conscious break with our architectural tradition and it just might be time to examine the schism again. This is not Classical Revival; it is another Renaissance for everything beautiful. All hail the New Radicals.

11 September, 2007

The Wow

As I look at the state of contemporary architecture through the lens of orthodox rather than evangelical thought, I am finding that my ideas of a rigorous modern approach to architecture are beginning to change as well. You have to understand that this has been a bit of a tough pill to swallow; my architectural education was rooted in classic Bauhaus modernism, though in the later years the computer was beginning to introduce a definite post-modern, relativistic bent with all of its blobs and Gehry-isms. Classicism, however, was out of bounds – it just didn’t exist in any meaningful way. It was there to be admired, but never emulated. It was as if architectural precedent began with Corbusier, anything before that was neatly contained in the history classroom and wasn’t to be unleashed in studio. With that background, I began to take a hard look at contemporary church architecture and made a realization…modernism forgot to bring The Wow.

The Wow is admittedly a vague architectural concept, but it’s one I would certainly be fluent in were I involved in designing sacred spaces. Loosely defined, The Wow is the act of unconsciously stopping conversation upon entering a sacred space – often accompanied by a tingling in the spine and goosebumps. While I’m sure there are callous souls out there that will never know the joys of The Wow, I’m sure most people can relate to being in a space that made you just stand silent and realize that life can in fact be transcendent. Interestingly enough, The Wow can also often be experienced at places of supreme natural beauty – Niagara Falls, The Grand Canyon, seeing the Milky Way on a clear night. The bottom line is this: beauty is not always subjective. If you tap into The Truth you unleash The Beauty, because as it was once known: Veritas et Venustas. Truth is Beauty.

Modernism lost The Wow along with its organic link to the past. You can look through architectural history and see the gradual development and evolution of forms, spaces, and ideas – always standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before. But something different happened with Modernism. Faced with a Brave New World and the promise of clear sailing in the machine age, modernism abandoned the ballast of historical precedent and sailed on as if the storms of the barbaric past were left behind. Modernism is utopian; it proposes an untenable ideal that rejects the idea of classic beauty (Truth) precisely because it rejects the idea of classic evil. Then of course post-modernism piled on by proposing many beauties but no truth. Thus the strip mall is beautiful to those who admire the wealth gained by spending as little as possible on as much as possible.

Where does that leave me as I look at contemporary architecture? I am forced to rethink my modernist aesthetics. Notice I didn’t say “reject” my modernist aesthetics, just rethink them. Modernism embraced the Machine Age by abandoning precedent and forging a new path. I need to embrace the Digital Age while restoring precedent and an organic link to human history.
In short: What would Bauhaus be if it brought The Wow?

Welcome to Pillar and Foundation

We’ve finally taken the plunge...Starting today we will be subjecting our poor readers to an inconsistent and possibly incoherent collection of thoughts, musings, ramblings, critiques, and treatises on the state of the Church and its relationship to culture.

Well, at least that’s the plan. We’ll probably also delve into who’s playing the best football right now (hopefully not Alabama or Florida) and why we love that episode of The West Wing we watched last night for the fourteenth time. Because in the end we can’t always wax eloquent on the virtues of sacred polyphony or the effects of modernism on contemporary church architecture.

We will do our best to provoke some discussion and entertain at the same time. Don’t be afraid to leave your comments and let us know how we’re doing. Help us understand the Church in its proper relationship to Truth...Pillar and Foundation.