As I return home from a short run, the vacant Christian Science building catches my eye. Though the church has been a familiar and intriguing sight, I’ve never examined it closer. It’s nothing to marvel at architecturally, so why photograph it? The empty building resides in the middle of town, surrounded by a decent neighborhood, and is actually something of an eyesore in its state of dilapidation. But standing on the curb today, I sense a form of decay that supersedes the visible ruin of this building—decay attributed to the human element that often tarnishes the euphoric properties many of us find in houses of organized religion.
The “FOR SALE” sign on the door suggests a deeper meaning, similar to a “Beach Closed” sign that leaves the reader in suspense as to why it is closed: shark attack, oil spill, approaching hurricane? So on this particular day (in light of all the bad press religion is getting as of late) I take the liberty to make a loose translation/interpretation of the sign as “Religion for Sale.”
The motivation behind the sale or abandonment of an item is often unclear or obscure to a spectator. A sale can be a simple profit-seeking activity; or perhaps interest in an item is lost if it has become run-down, used up, unfashionable, neglected or replaced by something more useful (or so it seems). I wonder if these explanations can apply to a church or even an entire religion?
I look closely at the deteriorating structure and consider the current physical state of the building; though it is only one church, I’m astounded to think that its physical appearance is representative of the modern Christian church and other organized religions. The foundation still has integrity, but everything else is in desperate need of repair. And though the architecture is sound, it has become plagued with an endless barrage of abuse from the elements over the years.
What might the peeling paint, broken signage and neglected landscaping represent in this comparison? Perhaps they are symbolic of the Jimmy Swaggerts, Jim Bakkers, Ernest Angleys and other self-proclaimed apostles-turned-money-grubbing swindlers who have decreased the value of religion. Or do they represent the tireless and bitter disputes that have led to petty wars among fellow believers around the world—caught up in the mechanics of worship rather than faith itself.
The building’s cold and empty appearance may also represent the numerous unanswered questions that have been carried around for years by believers and non-believers alike. For example, why have there been (and continue to be) so many cultures sacrificed or lost as a result of accepting Christianity? Can the various Native American cultures survive in their entirety while embracing a religion that originates from another part of the world? Can Christianity tolerate and accept a race of people whose culture is based on, and continues to believe in, a creation story that has few semblances to the Book of Genesis?
With some ambivalence, I will be attending a church service less than an hour from now and will likely continue questioning my religion, my beliefs and quite possibly even my Lord. I’m hopeful that my questioning isn’t mistaken for irreverence or disrespect.