Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Restore the Ruins? Why the Question Mark?

I am just finishing up a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching through the A.C.T.S. program in Chicago and Bexley Seabury (which is why this blog has been so quiet for a while).  It has been a great experience for me, including the Oral Review last Thursday with my adviser Ted Curtis and Seabury faculty member John Dally.  As we came toward the end of the review, John asked me about the title of my thesis, "Restore the Ruins: Cathedral Preaching on the Other Side of Christendom."  Did the title reflect the tone of irony in the text?  The title came from signs I had seen around the ruins of Coventry Cathedral in England while I was there last summer.  A capital campaign was underway to "restore the ruins" and the Coventry web site page about this concludes with the wonderfully evocative phrase, "Without your help these ruins may not be around for future generations to enjoy."  Well, I decided to add a question mark in my thesis title to make it "Restore the Ruins?"

This is not a satirical or cynical question, but an ironic one.  I believe that cathedrals are indeed ruins of Christendom, in metaphorical sense.  They are remnants of a culture which saw itself as Christian through and through, a culture now gone, though pieces of it remain.  And remain in many cases, with continuing or renewed vitality.  Our post-everything time includes, for many, a longing to learn from the past (which is not the same as longing to go back there).  Cathedrals, as ruins, draw a wide range of people for a wide range of reasons.  There remains a public perception, hopefully somewhat accurate, that cathedrals (like ruins) have porous boundaries which enable access for both coming and going.  What does it mean, not just physically in Coventry, but generally to "restore the ruins?"  It is a provocative question, and not only for cathedrals.

The Church is dead; long live the Church.  Or, better, "Much of the Church as we knew it is dead or dying; long live the Church as it will be."  Cathedrals and other "ruins" will not lead us back to Christendom, but, for the time being, it looks like they will be part of carrying us forward to what God is stirring up.