Sunday, November 29, 2009

Church Facades, In Pictures

The above photo appears to be a Werth's department store. But in fact, it is a church. (There is a small, white sign that indicates it is the First Baptist Church of Hammond - in Indiana.)

Photographer Camilo Jose Vergara captured church facades - like the one above - in a recently published essay ("How the Other Half Worships") and exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Many of the photos on display featured run-down churches in city settings. But I took my time through the exhibit to read the captions. If you read carefully enough, you'd find fun nuggets of humor, like this quote about a Kentucky - Fried - Chicken - turned - Hispanic - Pentecostal - church.

Church pastor Hector Rodriguez said, "When it was selling fried chicken, it went bankrupt. Now that we praise God, it is more popular."

Some observations about the collection of photos:
  • Many churches boarded up doors and windows when not occupied.
  • The names of churches took on phrases and sentences, such as the America Come Back to God Evangelistic Church. But Publishers Weekly praised photographer Vergara (literally) on his storytelling method, saying: "Rather than holding forth about [the churches'] unusual names, he lets the clergy explain the origins and import of these names."
  • Painted murals of Jesus are colorful and common
  • At Traveler's Rest Missionary Baptist (on Racine Ave. in Chicago) hangs a neon sign about the altar: "Jesus Never Fails." How about that for a blunt message?
The photographer is a Chilean-born photo essayist, writer and documentarian who lives in New York City.

The church I've been attending has its own unique story.

Ebenezer's Coffeehouse used to be a crack house just east of Union Station. It was renovated several years back and is now a full-service coffee shop (free Wi-Fi, too!). Church offices are upstairs, and weekend services are held in the basement, which has an edgy-urban warehouse look to it.

How's that for an interesting facade?

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Today's theme, in word: catacombs.
Not sure what "catacombs" are? (From
1.Usually, catacombs. an underground cemetery, esp. one consisting of tunnels and rooms with recesses dug out for coffins and tombs.
2.the Catacombs, the subterranean burial chambers of the early Christians in and near Rome, Italy. underground passageway, esp. one full of twists and turns.

The Holy Land of America

About midday I took a field trip to the Franciscan Monastery, in northeast Washington, D.C. It's called the Holy Land of America, because the grounds represent a smaller version of the Vatican in Rome.

The monastery took me by surprise. I've seen several different cathedrals - stateside and abroa
d - but this monastery had pretty extensive and well-kept grounds. A Rosary Portico surrounded the main church. There were gardens for St. Francis, Saint Anne. There was a tomb for Mary and a grotto of Gethsemane.

The coolest part of the tour was the walk through the underground catacombs, also a representation of Rome's (nearly 90) miles of tunnels. (Note: This monastery does not have 90 miles of catacombs. I'd have gotten lost!)

The Spiritual Catacombs
I revisited the idea of catacombs in a more abstract way this evening. National Community Church held a Catacombs Service - a reflective evening of worship followed by the baptism of 18 NCC members. My friend Jess was baptized - Pastor Mark submersed her in a pool right in the worship space at Ebenezer's Coffeehouse.

I'm not entirely sure why the evening was called 'Catacombs' but if we use the definition "a passageway full of twists and turns" then that's a pretty accurate depiction. Worship is an intimate experience - a time to reflect on where I've been and where I'm going to.
"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:4)

When Crisis Hits

What do citizen journalists do when crisis hits? Above is a video from This American Life, a radio show based out of Chicago. The video gives an example of what happens when covering a crisis surpasses the importance of assisting in the crisis.

Tech Crunch posted a great analysis of using media (and social media) in times of crisis. If you've been following the news, you know that this past week, thirteen lives were taken at Fort Hood in Texas.

What the article asks is: When does our "iReporting" interfere helping at the scene of a disaster? Those communication devices we carry around called "cell phones" should be used, first and foremost to get help. They can be useful during emergency responses (I'm thinking of the Mumbai bombings, 9/11 attacks, and the Iranian protests/elections).

It's a fine line for ethics - so how do we know how to use these tools in the best way, given the situation? I can't say I've ever been put to the test (I don't even have a smart phone to begin with) but it's something to think about.

The Tech Crunch article cited a tweet that read: "The poor guy that got shot in the balls" - and then included this photo of a Fort Hood soldier rolling into the hospital on a gurney.

I think citizen journalists are an important part of spreading news, but that privacy and respect are still considerations in the iReporting process.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Life Just Goes On

One of the first ways I came know Jesus more personally was through encouraging music.

I was in middle school, and a religious ed teacher from my Catholic church had given me a holiday gift - a CD from artist Steven Curtis Chapman. I'd never heard of him, but at 13, I was all about building my CD collection - back when CDs were actually cool.

I still listen to his songs pretty regularly - even though some date back to before I was even born. Here's one that really resonates - especially living in a big city (here's the best Youtube version; bonus points if you can read Spanish).

Today I watched in silence as people passed me by,
and I strained to see if there was something hidden in their eyes.
But they all looked at me as if to say,
"Life just goes on."
- "More To This Life"
Vacant eyes.
Sometimes I wonder if I will look like some of the very tired people I see on the metro every day - if my face will look just as vacant. I'm starting to understand what that Daily Grind looks - and feels - like. Time has worn their faces. Suits are wrinkled from the hustle and bustle. Mp3 players become a method of isolationism. When I see those people - and start think I'm the same way, I remember the hope I have in Christ.

Always have, always will.
If you know me, you might describe with positive adjectives, or attribute my youthful energy to naivete. But I know I'll never get bored of the idea that God saved me from myself. I just won't. That energy I have now? It will radiate to the day I die. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding" - after all, that's what faith is, isn't it? (Proverbs 3:5)

Grounded. Steadfast. Secure.
It's easy to align our faith with our feelings. But if I've learned anything, it's that feelings can't be trusted. When things aren't going right for me, I know that it's not because God can't see or hear what's going on - he knows it all. And God isn't a "fair weather" friend; he's the most dependable friend I have, because I know he won't ever abandon me.

And to those listless people on the metro - I'm praying that you'll find more to this life.