Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Bird: You ain't listening to me. You don't want to be here. Where you think you're headin'?
Dancy: Like I said, a church.
Guardian angel or not, I still have it in my head a house of the Lord means sanctuary.
- Alabaster Wolves #2
by Caitlin R. Kiernan and Steve Lieber

Webster defines sanctuary as: "1: a consecrated place (as the part of a church in which the altar is placed) 2: a place of safe refuge." Now, it's extremely amateur to begin a paper or a speech with a definition from the dictionary. Really, it's just poor writing. And yes, I am criticizing my writing as I write it and, consequently, I apologize for starting this with a definition. Now, let's move on.

A sanctuary is both a sacred place and a location of refuge. Presumably the former necessitates the latter. The idea is that the location is so holy, so revered, that one not dare commit acts of violence, vengeance, or retaliation against another within the place. There might not be any official rules or enforcement of this idea, but the notion is accepted by the general populace.

Is that how we view sacred spaces today? Is the church even a sacred space, a sanctuary, anymore? How reverent are we of the house of the Lord as we sit in our cushioned chairs, sip our coffee, sing hit worship songs from the radio, and watch a PowerPoint presentation? I admit I am greatly conflicted about this as I am fascinated with postmodern theology and Christianity and admire and enjoy many aspects of emergent churches. But I also recognize the necessity for the church as a place of the other; a sacred space. Church should be comfortable for us, but not too comfortable. It should be a place of comfort and refuge, yet not a casual assembly no different than any other local hang out, coffee shop, or bar.

Say what you will about the excesses of the Medieval church (and I have much to say), but the majestic cathedrals it erected certainly inspire a reverence of place. Of course architecture makes no difference about how consecrated a location is. We can easily respect the sanctuary of a postmodern church set up in an old furniture store as much as the sanctuary of a grand basilica. A large part of it lies with how we approach the place.

Is the church we attend a holy place of refuge, or just a place we go to sing some songs, listen to a sermon, and shoot the breeze with some friends? In times of trouble, be it personal, spiritual, or physical, would we ever think to run to the church for sanctuary?

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