Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Sacred Space

Paul Louis Metzger writing at Out of Ur contends tat the coffee bar has replaced the communion table in most churches.
Consider that in many churches the coffee bar has displaced the Lord's Table as the place where real community happens. Due in part to the neutralizing of sacred space that has been popular since the 1980s, churches began removing or deemphasizing the Lord's Table and introducing coffee bars. Without doubt the desire has been to build community by offering people a culturally familiar setting to engage one another. But we must ask: What formative message does a coffee bar convey?
He then contrasts the kind of community built and message sent by the two gathering places:
A coffee bar mostly carries the values of our culture. We've come to expect coffee bars to offer a number of choices to meet our desires (decaf, tea, hot chocolate), and the setting is one of leisure and comfort. We usually gather in affinity groups. We sip the beverages not because we're thirsty but because we're conditioned to want them.

By contrast, what does the Lord's Table convey? It is a symbol of sacrificial love that breaks down cultural divisions and barriers of affinity. It reminds us that life is about being chosen by the Lord for interpersonal communion rather than choosing to consume stuff, and it reminds us we are called to take up our cross rather than seek personal comfort.
His analysis does come with an important reminder:
At the same time, there is no guarantee that a church that prominently displays the Lord's Table and forgoes coffee will automatically model unity, pastoral care, or break down cultural and generational cliques. It's particularly hard when we engage the Lord's Table privately or solely with our friends and loved ones.
But let's return to the primary contrast he established. There was a time when the art and symbols in our lives served to take us places we could not go. Not necessarily physically, but intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. The architecture of the great churches served to give us a glimpse of the beauty that is our God. Art, both visual and musical, served to evoke in us a sense of the sacred. Heck, in the more mundane, when I was a kid comic books served to remind us of the heroic ideal.

Not so much anymore - art and architecture now tend to be increasingly familiar. The serve to reinforce our problems rather that call us out of them. In my beloved comics, the heroism serves anymore as mere background for the emotional angst of a love triangle in the Justice League or a drug addiction in the Avengers.

We need sacred space - if it is not the church, maybe it is natural (mountains, beaches, etc.) We need places that are beautiful, that call us forward.

Find yours.

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