Unsafe Building

Maybe it’s the Surveyor in me, but I find myself thinking about buildings a lot of the time.

If you asked people outside of churches what the word “church” means, then I expect that a lot of them would talk about a building.  Ask the same question to those inside churches and I would hope they would talk about the people, community and practical outreach.

Does the type of building that our churches meet in matter?  To an extent, yes, in that the physical space enables or restricts how we accommodate the various activities we want to pursue.  By nature I am one of those people who gets excited about embracing culture, dreaming things up again and creatively communicating ideas.  I resent being bound by traditions and icons.  That said, I have often found it helpful when on holiday to spend time visiting cathedrals.  The architecture simply provokes a sense of hush and awe.  When I visit such places I have often found that my eyes are drawn upwards and away from my everyday circumstances.  Do we naturally behave differently in those sorts of buildings out of respect?  But, surely, it is the fear (or awe) of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111 vs 10) not “respect for the Lord”?

As someone who sometimes leads times of music in our church gathering, I strive to simply create a time or place in our often hectic lives for each of us to try and intentionally meet with God.  David Crowder once said, “I want to build cathedrals.  I want to use words and notes rather than stone and mortar.”  If music of whatever style can be used to try and do exactly that, then that excites me creatively.  But why do we restrict that to music alone?  What about art, film, photography, writing, blogging even?  Is there a way we can incorporate more creativity without that detracting from why we meet collectively as church?

Whilst I love the idea of church as sanctuary, I wonder how comfortable and cushioned our church culture has become at times?

I have been systematically reading my way through the Old Testament in recent months.  I’ve often found it confusing as the way that God acts seems so at odds at times with how I usually perceive a God of love or the elements of His character that I tend to think about.  In Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, God instructs some fairly stringent church traditions and rituals.  He meets his people in specific tents, meeting places with associated altars, and ornately decorated furniture – many of the things I have a tendency to see as getting in the way and boxing God into out dated, man-made, pharaseic tradition.

The sermons delivered by our Pastor these past two Sundays have kept me engaged throughout and left me having to address some fairly uncomfortable questions.  What will God ask me as I give an account of how I spent all of those years at work?  Did I use my natural abilities, spiritual giftings and general passions?  Were they some extra-curricular activity squeezed into the fag end of my days outside of the office or did I let them permeate everything I did?  That was some of what I personally took from last week’s sermon.

What does the wrath of God really look like?  Is He actually really angry with us and the lies we have bought into at times in the name of seemingly “being church” or “following Jesus”?  Have we settled for a pale imitation and convinced ourselves that it is the real thing?  That’s some of the stuff I’ve got to figure out as a result of today.

There are people whom I know and care for deeply who I would love to let listen to these sermons and to grapple with the content in the way I am trying to do.  But, the challenge is how I apply the questions and challenges to my life rather than projecting it into my interpretation of someone else’s situation.  That said, if you’re reading this post I would strongly recommend that you check the sermons out.  They can be found (or should be in coming days) on iTunes under podcasts and under Morningside Baptist Church Sermon recordings (10th August and 17th August 2008) or downloaded direct from our website here.  Alternatively, Duncan has posted his notes from last Sunday here.

Maybe our church buildings and gatherings should be unsafe buildings.  Places where God can break in and bring us face down in reverence and awe before Him.  Places where He can place His demands on our lives.  Places where He graciously gives, jealously loves and demandingly takes.  It strikes me that unsafe buildings are often condemned and then painstakingly appraised for their potential, lovingly redesigned and restored into something with a specific purpose that draws people to them…

“Declare yourself an unsafe building
Suffer the indignation of your world,
To climb the ladders you’ve gotta suss out the snakes
Remember your height remember to never look down”.

From “Unsafe Building” by The Alarm

Read. Think. Pray. Live.

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4 Responses to “Unsafe Building”


  1. 1 duncanmcf August 18, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    TSTIAI, thanks for the link. My favourite cathedral in the material sense is http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:St_Patrick's_cathedral_NY.jpg – I know exactly what you mean about that sense of awe.

    Interesting that we still hear reference to “sanctuary” as the place where the gathering hooks up, and yet you’re right, it is an unsafe place. We’re called to have a good fear of God, and it would be healthy to creatilvely re-explore that for a bit. It’s hard to read the OT and not recognise the absolute holiness of God and the passion He has for His name.

    Maybe it’s easier to create unsafe places if you start without a building?

  2. 3 thestatethatiamin August 18, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Thanks D.

    My favourite cathedral is Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. We visited it whilst on honeymoon. The architecture was amazing and yet it was full of people just enjoying being there and taking time out, sketching or trying to connect in some manner.

    There is a huge tapestry of a labyrinth where you are encouraged to walk in and slowly find your way to the centre, then to spend some time with God and then walk back out into your everyday life ready to face it with God having left your baggage behind. I love that idea. It meant a lot as someone who was only a few days married to walk in there, leave my single life behind and walk out into a new chapter and journey.

    Mark Driscol had a chapter in a book I scanned recently entitled “What would Jesus tattoo?”. For me, it’d be the labyrinth and the phrase Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly With Your God.


  1. 1 Work - creative, meaningful and worthy « What’s your point caller? Trackback on August 18, 2008 at 7:20 am

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