In the process of “re-working our reading of the sacred text and finding the alternate story that is there in the text but has been overlooked,” how do we ensure that we do not lose the story that is essential to Christian faith?

Diana Butler-Bass’ final session last Saturday morning at St. John the Divine Anglican Church focused a lot on texts and buildings:

The primary work of people in religion today is to re-work our reading of the sacred text and find the alternate story that is there in the text but has been overlooked. On the old side of the bridge Christian tradition took one thread from the Bible out of context and wove out of it a tradition of oppression, patriarchy and exclusivism.

Just because the Bible has been used to support oppression, patriarchy and exclusivism does not mean we have to abandon the Bible. Instead we can seize the challenge to read the Bible in a different direction finding the threads that have been overlooked and that hold new possibilities for the other side of the bridge.

Norman Wirzba at Duke University has taken this challenge of re-reading Scripture particularly in light of an agrarian lens, exploring the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies.

Move from classical theism towards panentheism – God is within us and within all things. All is in God and God is in all.

People are longing to find ways to open to the wisdom of the Bible not just get information about the Bible.

There is a deep relationship between the natural world and our human built environments.

Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs diminishes the separation from creation

Thorncrown Chaple

Our buildings are built to reflect the way we believe the universe is structured.

Much traditional church architecture speaks of an architecture of reality that divides the world into heaven above, hell beneath and earth in between.  The goal of life on this earth is to achieve the reward of heaven and avoid the punishment of hell. The earth is just the staging ground from which we aim to get where we want to end up. The big question of this theological vision has been “How do we get to heaven at the end of life on this earth?”

This speaks to a vertical vision of the universe with God above and us trapped here on earth trying to get to God who is up there and occasionally sends things down to earth.

For Roman Catholics God sends down the sacraments which are administered by the elevator operator who makes these sacraments available as the means to gain access to the elevator to ascend.

For Protestants God has sent the Bible. The elevator operator is the preacher who can rightly administer the word so that those who hear it will be reformed and therefore make it possible to gain access to the elevator to ascend to God.

For liberals the elevator no longer goes down to the basement – there is no hell. But there is still a vertical universe and the goal is still to ascend up to God.

How can we minimize attention on heaven? How do we get a more horizontal universe?

If God is with us here, it is going to change how we structure human community. In a vertical universe, the goal is getting to the top as reflected in secular architecture where the rich and powerful dwell at the pinnacle of tall towers. And getting to the top always is achieved at the expense of those below.

The universe is being restructured away from the vertical towards the circular. We are presently in the midst of a conflict between the vertical and the circular. In the history of church architecture there was another voice. There is a tradition of circular/nurturing architecture:

Bowmore Round Church

Bowmore Round Church

Østerlars Church, one of Bornholm's four round churches

Østerlars Church, one of Bornholm’s four round churches

The 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, commonly known as the Round Church - Cambridge

The 12th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, commonly known as the Round Church – Cambridge

Is there a circular/nurturing architecture for our own day? We need to re-create human society in the circular so the planet can survive.

To know who we are is a path of discovery.

To know who we are, we need to know our:

  • Roots – Me: The second most visited cluster of websites on the globe are ancestry websites (only surpassed by pornography)
  • Home – Us
  • Neighbourhood – Thee
  • Common We – Whom Do We Live For? We need to inhabit Martin Luther King’s vision of a “World House”

What kind of spiritual architecture can take us to a vision of the World House?

Hildegard of Bingen – “All Beings Celebrate Creation”

Hildegard of Bingen Celebrate CreationAt the centre of this vision there is emptiness, only God is there.

Sara Sweeney Archtect:

There is a lot in the Bible that links Earth and humans and structure. There are passages about building, about the growing season, and about the connection between these things. The spiritual link is because buildings are where we live, where we work – and you can see those as also spiritual expressions of ourselves. Then they sit on earth and are grounded in earth. They have foundations that are a part of Earth, and so they are very spiritually linked as well.

God cares about the life we live here.

The garden we occupy is a moral universe. Nature is both romantic, a place of celebration and it is also a moral universe. 90% of what we call “evil” is how we humans interact with the realities of creation. A lot of what we call “evil” is just really stupid human decisions.

We need to learn what it looks like to find our way across the bridge and to find new ways of being that will allow us to be together in ways that are sustainable.


My questions:

What is the “alternate story” that has been there from the beginning in our sacred texts but that we have missed?

In the process of “re-working our reading of the sacred text and finding the alternate story that is there in the text but has been overlooked,” how do we ensure that we do not lose the story entirely?

What architecture of the universe is reflected in our worship buildings? Are there any ways in which our church architecture may be contradicting the spiritual vision we hope to communicate? Are there ways we might tweak our church buildings to make them more congruent with the theology we hope to embody?

How might our church communities be restructured if we sought to seriously embody the reality that God is here with us?


An interesting exchange on Facebook triggered by Ross A. Lockhart:

Ross A. Lockhart Director of Ministry Leadership & Education of St. Andrew’s Hall and Presbyterian Director of Denominational Formation at VST

Wow – Diana Butler Bass has really shifted from when I heard her last at Queen’s. Apparently, we are to remake Christianity to be more agreeable with agnostic (consumeristic) North America (my takeaway). Refashioning God used to have that old biblical term – idolatry. I guess not anymore. When I asked her on break what pastoral leaders should do in Vancouver “where environmentalism is the civil religion and easy to proclaim but making definitive claims about Jesus was difficult’…she said that she doesn’t make definitive claims about Jesus.” Good to know my kids will grow up environmentalists but not Christian if I just leave them to the culture…

October 19 at 11:27am

Ryan Slifka Yeah, far cry from “The Practicing Congregation” or “Christianity for the Rest of Us.” Which is strange, because one of the things that marks all of the flourishing congregations she profiles is their sense of openness, yes, but also their convictions and deep rootedness in the gospel. Oct 19 2:32pm

Ross A. Lockhart Yeah, Ryan Slifka. I agree. I’ve appreciated a lot of her work in the past, that’s why I found it so surprising/disappointing today. As I mentioned above – the west coast culture will shape my kids (and yours) into environmentalists. That’s a good thing. So, as Christians, what practices and leadership might be required to form mature Christian communities, that in turn equip and shape people into the full measure of Christ? Oct 19 4:15pm

Christopher White Hi Ross, so here is my take on her book which i am reading right now. First off she reflects everything i learned on my recent sabbatical about how people actually view the church and she fits into the “Dones” category a la the book ‘Church Refugees’. Her journey from marginal to evangelical to Anglican and back to marginal reflects exactly what is happening in our culture and to the church. I too was surprised by her book, but we need to listen to her and take very seriuosly what she is saying. Doesnt mean i agree with her conclusions or we have to become something we are not. But her story is being lived out in every United Church in the country, including my own. its how we now deal with this reality that is key moving forward. A huge challenge. Oct 20 8:12am