Friday, September 26, 2008

Allow for more time

Time has come and passed since April of 2008, but the pictures from that day still remain. On that cold Monday morning, Matthew and I loaded up our bikes in the RV for a trip to remember. It was our plan to drive the house on wheels to our mechanic some 3 hours away from our house on a foundation, and ride our bicycles approximately 40 miles north to the point where mom would pick us up.

It seemed easy at the time. “40 miles on a straight flat dirt road? YA!! No problem!!”

I like to carry a camera everywhere I go, but unfortunately the only image capturing device I had on me that day was on my phone, so I apologize for the lack of quality in the pictures. Here is how we transported the bikes on the way down…

After being delayed a couple of times on the way down (and a quick stop at Taco Bell) we made it to the mechanic, dropped the RV off, and started north. To our misfortune, the wind was heading south. It took twice as long and four times the energy to make it to an area against the hills where the wind switched directions. Matthew taking a break after we finally made it to the dirt road along the canal…

A self portrait… I’ve become the hollow man…

Doesn’t look too bad does it?...

Levitating over the middle of the water…

Long story short, we didn’t make it as far as we had hoped in the allotted time, and we had a pressing engagement that evening, so I called mom on my ever-trusty camera and had her meet us about 8 miles from our final destination. My dark skinned brother was fine, but half of my body looked like I slept on a bed made of Red #40. Resting in the shade of an almond tree…

There comes a point when you say “enough’s enough” and you just have to take drastic measures. This was one of those times…

No one wanted to buy two hard workers and a pair of bikes. Bummer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Oh symbol, what art thou?...

Sgurr Uaran!

Does that statement mean anything to you? Does it invoke a sense of pride, and of fervor, and inspire you to put yourself in a situation where you may be injured, maimed, or even hacked to pieces?

No? Me either.

However, it once had a very deep meaning, for a very specific group of people. This is the rallying cry for the Scottish clan MacRae, one of the clans with a reputation for their great courage and bravery in battle.

The term “Sgurr Uaran” refers to one of the five mountains that ring the valley where the MacRae clan lived. There is a legend about these five mountains, and if you leave me a comment asking me to tell it, I will be happy to do so. Here is a view of the mountain:

When the men heard that cry, going into battle, it made them think about the grand mountain overshadowing their valley. Suddenly, they were no longer fighting for their own survival; they were fighting for their homes. The enemy across the field was threatening not only their physical wellbeing, but their way of life, their families, their wives and children. A man will fight well for his own survival, but for his family, he will fight with a fervor that is unmatched by a simple soldier.

Why is this so important? The fact is, that a combination of letters, which has no meaning to me, or to you, or to the enemy across the field, can stir something in a man, which is so powerful, that it will make him willing to suffer, or even die!

This is an example of symbolism, and is the foundation for ritual.

Symbolism: n. 1. The practice of representing things by means of symbols or of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships.

The other day I had some time to spend in idleness while around the capitol of California, which is Sacramento. Because this is the legislative seat of our state, there are quite a few interesting buildings right around the capitol mall, where I used to work, and so I like to wander around and look at the architecture of the various structures. There is a church just to the North, The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacraments. It is very pretty:

On the inside, it is even more beautiful. (You really have to see this!)

There are gorgeous frescos on the walls, and lovely pictures, and iconography, and statues. The effect was very nice, but it made me think, why? What is the purpose? Why are all these extra bits of paraphernalia needed for worshiping our Lord and Creator?

Thinking about things is one of my favorite ways to spend extra time, so I filed this away for future consideration.

As this consideration can be greatly assisted by placing it before an audience, I would like to venture an opinion.

The lack of decoration and even a sense of iconoclasm in modern churches is not necessarily the correct and best method. Though it may not be wrong, I do not believe it is the most profitable, and therefore am leaning towards a belief that iconography may be not only acceptable, but valuable.

Now that I have my audience either ready to burn me as a heretic, or disown me as even an acquaintance, I would like to submit my reasoning.

As I stated above, that which has no innate meaning, can be taught to someone, so that they have understanding, or even an emotional attachment, to its symbolic meaning. Reading about the history of this cathedral I stumbled upon one of these symbolic meanings.

If you look at the link showing the interior of the cathedral, you will see four pillars that hold up the dome. At the top of the pillars is its name, and each is named for one of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are named such to remind us that the church is held up by what is contained in these Gospels. Without the strength and truth of the events which such mighty pens recorded, the entire glittering dome of Christianity crumbles; and these pillars are to remind us of that fact.

Now, every time I walk into not only that cathedral, but any other with a dome and four pillars, I am reminded of this fact, and I actually think about it! This is the power of symbology in the church! Unfortunately it is also its greatest weakness.

I may know what the pillars mean, but not everyone does. When I get married and have children, by taking them into the cathedral, they will not automatically know what the pillars mean. They may not even ask about them.

Now, let us suppose that every time I walk into the cathedral, I walk from one pillar to the next, and look up, all the while pondering and glorying in the amazing works laid out by the gospels. If I do not teach my children what and why I am doing such an act, they will still likely copy my actions, but not understand the underlying meaning or significance. This is the danger of symbology, if it is not passed on it simply becomes an empty ritual. Done without understanding, done without heart, it is “striving after wind”. In a couple short generations, it could become so distorted that my great grandchildren believe walking to the pillars is part of what assures their salvation! Is it not a sobering thought that our lack of teaching could produce twisted belief?

In realization of this, I have been researching many of the “empty rituals” of the Roman Catholic church, and it is amazing to learn the stories behind them! They have become distorted, twisted, and, with some, even sinful, but that does not mean they were always so. In Second Kings 18 we see King Hezekiah destroying the “Nehushtan” because it was an idol to the people, and they were placing offerings before it! This “idol” that he destroyed was none other than the bronze serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness, by which God saved the people from destruction.

I am willing to guess that for the generation who saw the day it was lifted up could not look at the snake without remembering what God had done. Perhaps some may have even been moved to tears; but, somewhere, someone forgot to teach its true meaning, and why it had been kept, and so this symbol of God’s amazing grace to his people became a stumbling block. It was not the bronze snake that was evil, it was the hearts that had twisted its meaning.

So, in answer to my ultimate question “Why are all these extra bits of paraphernalia needed for worshiping our Lord and Creator? “, I would have to answer, they are not explicitly needed, as they are not what saves us. However, they are what remind us of past events of the glories, mercies, and power displayed by the Lord and Creator of the universe. I think that my house could be filled with such reminders, to the point of being impossible to walk through, and still it would not be full enough!

Therefore, I would admonish us all to not neglect this lesson that has been so often forgotten by our religious forefathers. If you know the meanings of a ritual, teach it, if you find yourself performing an action that seems meaningless, ask about it!

As we go out to do battle with ignorance, for the glory of our God, I have only one more thing to say: