Here’s an even better one.A good friend of mine from the days of yore was a photographer. He published a picture in a contest. His was excellent, and he received an honorable mention. He objected strongly because the first place winner had taken a picture of the wreckage of a burned down church. ” Why is it,” he demanded, “that we are so fascinated by destruction? Why couldn’t they give a wholesome picture a second thought?”
Well, outside of the fact that he did get some recognition (along with 5 others– out of over 100) there is something powerfully moving about the ruins of a church. I don’t think it is merely the desire for the destruction of the entity it represents. I suspect that it was seen as commentary for the times, about, perhaps, historical persecution. The picture in question (that he was talking about) involved a white clapboard church– a typical structure for Baptist worship in the bad old days of the KKK.
The man was the best Christian I knew. And I had no answers for him. I wish I’d kept touch with him. But I let our connection grow silent, mostly out of shame. I could not face him and tell him I’d become a pagan. He was so good I could not bring myself to bear his disappointment.
I have long had a fascination for ruins. Ruins of all kinds– I wanted to be an archeologist for more than ten years. Before that I wanted to be an explorer. I figured, if I couldn’t find some-place entirely new, then I could rediscover what was there all along, but what we had forgotten. It is so close to new, even if it is very old. But I think I had been all along looking for hope in the ruins of mankind’s projects. That link to the ancient past, a sign that we are all human.
I suspect that the church portal, on top, was destroyed in the 30 Years War. The church in the middle was ruined during the English Civil war. It was possessed repeatedly by both sides, and was hit with over 60 canon shots. They have a website— and it says that people had been worshiping there continuously for over 600 years. So it was struck a blow for every 10 years of worship. We destroy that which we most love– or so it seems.
Doing the Wikimedia search, looking for the previously mentioned artist was a trying exercise. There are a LOT of beautiful church ruins in the UK. After a while, I was shell shocked by the rotting beauties. Especially considering all the ugly churches people seem content to worship in today. Look, I know it’s not about looking good, and it’s not about showing off. Church is supposed to be a taste of Heaven on Earth. Don’t tell me that God on his Angelic Thrones will look like some overgrown Industrial Warehouse for all eternity. The honor of God demands we give our best to Him in His Glory.
My point is, I tend to think of those ruined churches as Christ on the Cross. I know a lot of Christians are offended by the Crucifix. But what meaning has the Cross without Christ? At that rate, it is an empty tree of torture and death. Even in those old ruined churches, you can feel the hallowed ground underneath the fractured facade. The place screams of stories, of intrigue, of the ultimate frailty of the unaided human heart. We are but a shell without that which animates us. The empty crumbling building looks as hungry as we are for the ultimate solace of His Gift to us.