I don’t buy Welch’s grape juice, unless I am making a grape blueberry sangaria.1 Welch’s grape juice tastes like redemption… redemption and I aren’t on speaking terms. Actually, Welch’s grape juice is too bitter and sweet for me, plus it is best taken in a small half ounce plastic shot cup, of which I don’t own. These tiny plastic cups is how Jesus’ “blood” is served during the Lord’s Supper at a Church of Christ. I was raised in the Church of Christ.
This is the no dancing, no alcohol, no musical instruments Church of Christ.2 If it isn’t in the New Testament, you don’t do it. This is a religion of full immersion baptism; weekly Lord’s Supper celebrations; Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening services; no Christmas celebration as the birth of Jesus3; and in the churches of my youth… it was highly frowned-upon if women wore pants to church.
I can remember being a child and attending church services in people’s homes. This was the result of my Dad4 being in the Army and being stationed at places that did not have a local Church of Christ church building. This primarily happened when we lived in Germany during the 1970s and the early 1980s. The Church of Christ of my teenage years was a small country church5 in Lincoln County, Tennessee. It was a simple white wooden building with no decorations and plain wooden pews.6
Gothic European cathedrals are not simple. European Gothic cathedrals mesmerize me because they are not simple. When I lived in Europe, and later visited as a tourist, I never failed to enter one that loomed above me as I traveled. Gothic cathedrals loom and soar. They stand silently mute7 as sentinels in cities, towns, and some villages as if the stone and marble understand their role in securing the souls of the past and present parishioners. Gothic cathedrals are not only visually impressive, but their architecture also has an equally impressive vocabulary. “Syncopated arches,” “sedilia-like niches,” “ogee arches,” “vegetal patterns,” and “spandrels” are words that are used to define how a Gothic cathedral is built and described.8
When silently padding along cathedral floors, I am made small. This is exactly the intent of the cathedral’s religious rulers, architects, and builders. Massive cathedrals are meant to inspire and remind the living of their relationship with God and the omnipotence of the “Heavenly Father.” I don’t think of God in a Gothic cathedral; I think of the sheer determination and perseverance of men… this is when my inner Immanuel Kant bubbles forth.9
The massive undertaking that building, with man and animal power, a cathedral entails renders me speechless. The honest and heartfelt labor that is needed to build a Gothic cathedral causes me to search for ways to comprehend some men’s love for God.10 It also causes me to wonder how much it costs to build such fantastic religious structures. The Gothic Cologne cathedral cost approximately $1 billion (in today’s dollars) to build. This money was raised in the 9th-11th Centuries, fortunately for the Catholic Church there was no separation of church and state then.
Men’s relationships with their gods and their religions have always fascinated me. Religious principles are an important guide in many people’s lives. I find it utterly fascinating how religious beliefs play out in the political realm. It appears that some politicians’ religious beliefs, especially strict religious ones, can either be a help or hinderance in their quest for political office. President Obama’s lousy choice of a church in Chicago was extensively debated during his bid for office in 2008. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are now having their beliefs questioned and scrutinized. Mitt Romney is a Mormon and Rick Santorum is a devout Catholic.
In today’s Washington Post, E.J. Dionne JR. discusses this issue of religion and the GOP.11 Essentially he argues that Santorum has a theological philosophy that supports his political views. Simplistically, Dionne states that Santorum campaigns12 (and believes in) on pro-guns and anti-gay issues. Santorum is described as a “certain kind” of Catholic and being one is important to him. A “social renewal” Catholic is how Santorum is described, and Dionne states that this means Santorum sees opposition to abortion as a foundational matter and opposition to gay marriage as essential in protecting the “family.” Additionally, Dionne states that social renewal Catholics see the federal government as a threat to the nation’s moral character.
In contrast, Dionne talks about another kind of Catholic, the “Social-justice” ones. Social-justice Catholics supposedly represent an older American religious tradition of seeing the family as an essential social building block, however, capitalism is in need of regulation and correction if it “is to serve the common good and protect the family itself.” Dionne argues that many Social-justice Catholics, in opposition to the Catholic Church’s official position, “see gay marriage not as undermining fidelity and commitment but as encouraging them.”
Rick Santorum has personal religious beliefs, and I respect that but I don’t want his version of the Word to be his only way of governing… America is a diverse nation of races and religions. However, I am actually slightly envious of him on a personal level because, even though I don’t lack a moral compass, I don’t have a strict religious belief system that makes the complex world simply black and white. The Christianity of my youth definitely did not have large moral discussions on societal issues. My religious upbringing taught me that if it isn’t in the New Testament it wasn’t worth worrying about. “Faith” is what I was told any time I had a question as a child that couldn’t be easily answered. Church of Christ preachers don’t usually have any formal religious or theological education… if one could read the King James version of the Bible, one could spread the Word. I have always thought that the simple answer of “faith” is an easy escape for the ignorant ever since.
I no longer attend any church of any type.13 I do not consider myself a Christian, but I can hold my own in a discussion about the Bible, especially the New Testament… all those years in Bible school have paid off. Begrudging others of their religious views isn’t something I normally practice. I do, however, dislike a person who is incapable of viewing this country as the beautifully complex and diverse place it is. Santorum has every right to view the world, and the country, as a place where heterosexual families are the most important thing, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a good candidate for the presidency. I want my president capable of seeing the world through different lenses and beliefs, and understand that life is so complex that a rigid belief system isn’t always the best compass. Since he is Catholic, I bet he would be astounded that Church of Christ members drink Welch’s grape juice “in Jesus’ name amen” instead of real wine.14 That is a good example of a complex world… grape juice versus wine.
1. One pitcher (full of ice), one plastic carton of blueberries, one full bottle of champagne or sparkling wine, and a big bottle of grape juice. Mix it all together and you have a great sangria.
2. Church of Christ is one of the American Restoration Movement churches. This movement began in the American “frontier” in the early 18th Century. The American Restoration Movement sought to restore the church and unify all Christians into a single body patterned after the church of the New Testament. Church of Christ members used to be called Campbellites, named after two early Restoration Movement leaders Thomas and Alexander Campbell (father and son).
3. Nowhere in the New Testament does it state Dec. 25th is Jesus’ birthday, thus no celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday. I was always told, as a child, we celebrated Christmas in our house as a secular tradition.
4. My Dad did not, nor does he now, attend church. My mother was the spiritual leader of my family, which included her, my older sister, and me. I believe my Dad was raised in the rural Alabama version of the Methodist Church. He has rarely spoken of his religious upbringing, probably because he spent most of his youth working as a sharecropper’s son instead of attending Bible school.
5. Swan Creek Road Church of Christ in the unincorporated community of Hot Rock.
6. Church of Christ congregations ain’t big on decorations and snazzy stained glass. The simpler the better, and I assume this was to represent the simple and plain relationship man has with God.
7. Except when their tower bells ring. I never understood the timing of the bells though. You cannot set your watch by a cathedral’s bells because they not only ring on the hour and half hour, but then at different intervals throughout the day they exclaim their bronze voice.
8. “Flying buttress” is one of the most famous Gothic cathedral terms.
9. Immanuel Kant was an 18th Century German philosopher who believed that thought (reason) was supreme over religion and nature. He also believed that reason was natural, and that parts of Christianity were based on reason and morality.
10. I do not doubt these men’s love of their God, but I am aware that in this historical day and age it was incomprehensible to imagine life without the Church or God. This was a period when rulers’ power was mandated from Heaven and giving money to pay for the building of a cathedral was a person’s moral and Christian responsibility.
11. Sorry, but at the present time there is no link available for this editorial… so you are going to have to take my word on what he says.
12. Dionne actually uses the words “panders shamelessly.”
13. The last time I actually attend a church service was in 2003 and it was a Church of Christ in Fairfax, Virginia. I still remember the sermon because it was about how the recent (at the time) invasion of Iraq by America was immoral and wrong.
14. No, not grape blueberry sangria.