Monday, June 30, 2008

When Do-Gooders Travel

In the Sunday Times, I always look for "Why We Travel" in the Travel Section. Each week, a photograph and short description highlight a particular traveler's experience.

This issue featured a Georgia couple, Dannie and Vicki Smith, visiting the Orthodox Cathedral in Chisinau, Moldova. The Smiths were part of a Christian mission trip, sponsored by the Christian Medical and Dental Association. Mrs. Smith spoke of the poverty in Moldova and praying with the villagers and the comfort the team was able to bring to their lives. Before returning home, they visited the Cathedral in the capital. Mrs. Smith's commented, as follows:

I remember thinking that all the beautiful icons, paintings and other antique things in the church were beautiful and old, but also that it all seemed a waste of money. I thought of all the ‘stuff’ we were looking at and thought that really, God is simple and seen in creation, not in what our hands can make.

While sad, it is oh so typical: standing in a holy place, undoubtedly bathed in the blood of martyrs, American evangelicals see only a "waste of money." Certainly such things would be out of place in a nondenominational Faith Outreach Center or some such back home in Thomaston, Georgia. In a stripped-down, clinical, cramped, least-common-denominator, protestantized Christianity, beauty must indeed seem foolish (though I suspect a gymnasium attached to the church auditorium would not seem so.) I am hardly the one to make the case for why such a view is so wrong-headed. But Mrs. Smith would might do well to read Dostoevsky, who observed that God will save the world through beauty.

In no way do I intend to discredit good works of the well-intentioned, who offer their medical services to people in need. Mrs. Smith plans to return next year because "we love the people of Moldova and realize that we can offer them hope.” Well, maybe so. But between now and then, perhaps she use the time to learn a little something about the culture, history and yes, the faith of the country she is visiting. The full article, here.


Steve Hayes said...

Wasn't it Judas who thought the money could be better spent on the poor?

Anonymous said...

Welcome to my family, John. As we all know, the early church met in homes, where they sat on the floor around the coffee table and sang Blue Skies and Rainbows. We don't need all that STUFF, dontcha know.

Ranger said...

Yes, Protestant churches are stripped down in the beauty sense, but those things are replaced ad infinitum. Large pastoral staffs, worship leaders, childrens ministry director, Missionaries to Orthodox countries, Multi-media extravaganzas, lighting, sound system, Im sure some of the energy bills are astounding on some of these "stripped down, non-wasteful" mega church coliseums. Plus I wonder how much money goes to political campaigning these days?
If I had my choice I would choose beauty, truth, sanctity, reverence, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.