20 April 2009

"what is $190 million to the author of all life and existence?" and other pertinent questions inspired by christ the light cathedral

What does $190 million buy you these days? For a few folks in Oakland, California, $190 million buys you one brilliant church - Christ the Light Cathedral. Well, the physical building anyway.

(Link to details/slideshow...)

So the questions are these…

(Scratching at the telephone pole protruding directly from my retina…)

Am I a hypocrite if I lament this church but not all expensive buildings (that is to say that if this were a concert hall or soccer stadium, I would probably applaud)...?

Would a $2 million dollar structure have been any more or less pleasing to the Creator of the Universe?

What is $190 million to the author of all life and existence?

And does God really care about how much a building costs – as if money was a big concern for the Almighty?

Is God pleased that artists labored to show their love for Him or is their labor idolatry in itself?

Is this different than a starving artist painting a representation of God in her loft, exhausting all of her savings for the supplies?

As much as any recent post, I am anxious to see what turns up in the comments here...


  1. Some thoughts. There's quite a few, so bare with me:

    I suppose the knee jerk reaction is to say that this is idolatry outright. That's certainly what I'd like to say, but at the back of my mind, I cannot deny that the building is a thing of absolute beauty. I fully admit I'm torn here. I was talking to Jeff about this recently, and we both kind of agreed that were this an art building, we would love to go visit it. The fact that it's a church is what gives us caution.

    God doesn't care about money. He looks at the heart, right? This is the difficult part for us, though. We can't really look at the heart like He does. I can certainly hear arguments for this as emanating from a heart seeking to glorify God. I'm sure it would be very fulfilling for a Christian artist to design and build this church. There is also something to be said that some of the most immaculate architectural designs in the history of the world have been churches, many if not most Christian churches. In a way, doesn't it say something that a building not in resort Dubai or in financial New York or in fashionable London, but a church in Oakland (Oakland?) is commanding our attention. Is this a monument to what man can do? Or is it a monument to what God has done?

    I can't really answer these questions. (Forced silence is a point of frustration for me.) There are other questions as well. Has art changed? Has the canvas grown as society has globalized? Are we beyond the beauty of painting? Is this the future of art? Somebody talented designed this building, and if they are a Christian, it was likely done to please God. That, in itself, is not a sin. God gives us talents; we are to use them for his glory.

    Of course, the “artist“ in this case is most certainly not starving. But is starving a requirement for art? (Radiohead are loaded. Just saying.) I guess what I'm saying, if you followed the windy road I just laid out, is that disapproving of that building is a frivolous exercise. Would we have done what that church did, given the monetary resources? Not likely. But it was done. And what good would protesting do now? We may not ever know the purpose for spending so much money when it could have gone other places for more immediate concerns. But who knows? Decades from now people may look at this gorgeous structure not as a symbol of the foolishness of American ministries but as the first sign in the reemergence of religion in secular society.

    Maybe I'm being optimistic. I probably am. But the fact that I just spent so many words on this building has come to irk me more than the structure itself. Where was my heart that the last ten minutes?...

  2. so what you're saying is...?

  3. when God had artists spend days adding detail to the tabernacle that would be torn down after a few generations for a temple...which was laden with enough gold to feed all of the poor in the country...which would be destroyed and rebuilt again...was that God in a materialistic season and now He's outgrown it?

    is there a tie to pouring perfume on someone's feet that is worth a years wages ($47,000)?

  4. so is there glory in the construction only because of the destruction?

    or is this more a story about knowing that if God will allow something, He should be trusted to use it for His name's sake - somehow...

  5. In the valuing of frugality we often sacrifice or abandon beauty, excellence, and inspiration. We hang our hat on the Biblical mandates that make demands of our money far beyond fancy fixtures and facility facades.

    maybe in the NT with the transition of the physical temple to the human temple at large the shift in rightness also happened? I supposed we should then look at how well stewarded and majestic our human temples are?

    Is the permissible niceness of a worship center a global dollar amount, a % of income of the congregants, a ratio to surrounding real estate, proportionate to # of people participating in worship at that location?

    Is a space used exclusively for worshiping God extravagantly inferior to a soup kitchen?

    or maybe this is some spiritual narcissists with a fetish for their own devotion?

  6. Despite considerable support, the Cathedral Campaign gained critics concerned with the chosen modern design and its price-tag for construction, estimated at USD 191 million in donations. There was debate as to whether or not traditional church architecture was more appropriate than Hartman's modern architecture.

    Each year Catholics and Catholic organizations contribute over USD 386 million in social services and education to people of all faiths in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties; the cost to build Christ the Light would be equivalent to 7% of that contribution over the seven years of the cathedral design and construction. Suggestions were made to use the donations for other projects instead, like those administered by the diocese to help the poor.

  7. It is normal in our Christ centeredness to be aware of over indulgence in the course of today's overspent society. But would it permit us to ignore the millions who travel abroad to chapels and monuments of old? The Sistene Chapel or Notre Dame? Those behemoths were made with the blood, sweat and labors of thousands, who had nothing more than the parcel of earth they found to sleep on at night? Just putting it out there.

  8. I guess what I'm saying is that it's not up to us to judge by money alone. I'm also saying there are too many questions to make a protracted critique a worthwhile exercise.

    If the pastor had it in his heart to glorify God with this building, who are we to judge? What happens when the building attracts more people, and these people bring more resources, and these resources are contributed to other, non-building related causes like hunger or famine? Would this not meet the goal of our original criticisms? Is this not outreach, albeit in a roundabout way?

  9. that is the point of the exercise. that is what makes it worthwhile.

    suppose you had to judge. perhaps you are an elder at a church that wants to honor god with a 130 foot cross or a $25 million auditorium.

    then what? are good intentions enough? is roundabout outreach what was asked of us?

  10. I believe that it is just shows a ignorance of need around the world, and sadly a lack of responsibility from the church to do something about it. The soccer players are not called to be God's hope and light in the world's darkness.....we are.

  11. interesting sentiment, taylor.

    does the cathedral represent His light through its form?

  12. Your use of the phrase "good intentions" implies you've already made up your mind. What is wasteful to us in our circumstance is not necessarily what is wasteful to that church in Oakland. If Christ the Light of Oakland came together and voted to create that building with their resources, it is a decision they faced in their environment.

    At Gracepoint, to answer your question, choosing to build a monument would be silly. That's not difficult to say. But is it really our duty to "judge," as you say? I disagree with such excess, but I hesitate to call it idolatry outright. I do not know the hearts of the congregation that decided to build the Landmark for Jesus or the people who chose to create this cathedral.

    All I'm saying to those seething with rage at the sight of this creation is take a deep breath. Pause. Your "telephone poles" may be obstructing your vision. Decisions like these are not often the dichotomous endeavors you assume they are.

    On a different note, I'm puzzled by this question, Kyle. "Is God pleased that artists labored to show their love for Him or is their labor idolatry in itself?" Oh, and Taylor, you seem to be separating a person's career from their character when you mention the soccer players. Does God make such a distinction? Thoughts?

  13. my question: "Is God pleased that artists labored to show their love for Him or is their labor idolatry in itself?"

    This is asked in the same sense as if I said that I am honoring God by raising my child with a Biblical worldview but at the same time elevating my child to Ultimate, a god. While my actions may appear honorable (and the words of my mouth concur), they can in reality be idolatrous (as my actions will make evident).

    Art can honor. But when it becomes Ultimate, it can be a beautiful, alluring whore.

    Anything that is morally neutral (art, in this case) can be made idolatrous when we elevate it to a place reserved for God.

    We cannot know the hearts, but the question is not intended to allow us to know their hearts - rather it is intended to spur us to ask the same question of our own "godly" pursuits.