A cruel, mean-spirited thought entered my mind this morning. It was so heartbreaking I just had to share it with you.
What if, in some bizarro Rod Serling moment, you were marooned on an island. You had plenty of supplies to live out your life to a long old age, so food, water, and shelter were not problem. The problem was in this nightmarish world you could only choose five of the books in the Bible to have with you. It is a similar conundrum to the ubiquitous “” where you’re stranded and can only have five albums of music.
Told another way–perhaps you’re stuck in a bleak story, something like Fahrenheit 451, and you can only have five books of the Bible because that is all you can safely hide from the book police.
Which five would you take? It is heartbreaking because the whole Bible is precious, a “perfect treasure” that is linked to my very being. So which ones? If I had to make such a choice, here is what they would be.
- Psalms. Without a doubt, if I’m on a desert island, I’m gonna need Psalms–all 150 of them.
- Isaiah. It was close between Jeremiah and Isaiah, but in the end I decided the poetics of Isaiah would be helpful in my exile.
- Exodus. I can’t have both Genesis and Exodus, and while Genesis is a great book, I think I’d take Exodus because it contains the great deliverance story of Israel, the decalogue, and a lot of other spiritual data.
Luke. John. Luke. John. See, this one is tough. Of the synoptics, Luke is the easy choice, but choosing between Luke and John, now that is hard. I need a gospel on this island, and in the end I chose John simply because of the devotional, meditative quality of the material.
- Romans. Of course it is Romans. Romans contains such dense theological material and it is littered with many scripture quotations (which gives me insight into other books I couldn’t choose) all of which allows me plenty to chew on on this imaginary island.
I sure hope I never have to make this choice. I would be interested to know what choices you would make?
Sedona Arizona has one of the most interesting tourist stops I’ve seen in a while. Nestled against the high red rocks of central Arizona is the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It is a catholic church administered by the local Roman Catholic diocese—of Phoenix, I think. The signage out front indicated the hours it was available for tours and noted that a prayer service was held on Monday evenings at 5pm. That I could see, it said nothing about Sunday services.
chapel of the holy cross
The draw of the chapel is its unique architecture and geography. Let’s begin with the geography. Sedona looks like the very place where Wile E. Coyote is foiled by the Roadrunner. The beautiful mountains and hills show off the lovely red hue of the rocks like artwork in a display case. The day we were there a storm was blowing over the Arizona sky and it made the whole endeavor that much more mystical.
The church building itself is built against a cliff. As you enter the building there is a font; but the font is not in the middle of the entryway. It is off to the side. A gigantic rock cross forms the central chancel piece behind the altar table. The roof is high and vaulted. There are candles burning and that bring the temperature up significantly the closer you get to the altar area. There are wooden benches without padding, an open Bible on a stand. The church building is not very large. I dare say it is much taller than it is wide.
I paid my dollar to light a candle and sat on the pew bench to say prayers. It was hard, though, with all those tourists around. Two or three other pilgrims around me were trying to focus on Christ too; but it was difficult to center—too many non-centered people milling around. Being the kind of person I am, I read all the plaques and all the signs looking for words about Jesus. I found none. All the writings and plaques were about the architect and designer of the church building and how it came to be. The only homage to Christ was in the artwork—a lovely sculpture of Christ’s face on the altar and a few pictures. The only place I could find anything about the living Christ was downstairs, the gift shop. There were lots of Jesus items to buy down there. There just wasn’t much to focus worship upstairs.
Touring something like that, especially with my wonderful wife and daughters in the midst of a long travel day, made me think hard about it. Driving down the high way I had much time to ponder the Chapel of the Holy Cross—its purpose, function, and place. It doesn’t seem to serve as much of a house of worship. I perceive it was designed to be a place of worship; but that is not what it has become. It is not a place of discipleship. People do not learn how to follow Christ better there. It might function in some kind of tourist evangelism way, I suppose but I don’t think that would have much lasting effect.
In my final evaluation there really is only one purpose the building serves. It is devotional. Surrounded in the natural cathedral of Arizona’s red rock the Church of the Holy Cross serves as a place for people who are already seeking Christ or who follow him to have a liturgically oriented encounter with the Lord in nature. The odd thing is, for me; as a pilgrim and sojourner through life as well as on the highway this devotional moment came for me not in the chapel itself but outside the building looking at God’s handiwork. It was the church that made my mind pregnant with the thought of Christ, but it was the landscape which gave it birth into a moment of consecration.