CHRIST IN THE RED ROCKS

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.

GOD’S FIRE ON MY WINDSHIELD

Yesterday before the Bible lecture on Exodus I was cooking yummy chicken/noodle/vegetable soup.  The problem was that I didn’t have enough vegetables to pull it off.   So now I have to go to the store; but that is no problem.  I head up to Save-A-Lot and buy frozen veggies and I also got some soda for Phoebe’s party at school today and I picked up a bunch of bananas because, well, bananas are awesome.  I was in the store no more than 8 minutes, tops.  I was in a hurry because my soup was still simmering.

When I got outside I quickly jumped in the Toyota and drove home.  Somewhere in the middle of the round-about I noticed something on my windshield.  It looked like some sort of parking ticket.  That made me mad.  How could I get a parking ticket in 8 minutes, plus, I know I was legally parked.  My soup was simmering but I was stewing all the way home. 

Alas, I arrived at home and snatched the paper from the windshield.  Whew, relief poured over me as it was not a ticket.  It was instead perhaps the most poorly written gospel tract I have ever seen.  You should know I’ve seen many poorly written gospel tracts. 

The front cover had a gi-normous Federal Seal outline with the United States Capitol Dome inside it—all black and white.  It had a large title and a long quote from Ezekiel:

THE WORD OF GOD’S HOLY FIRE

“And I will send a fire . . . and among them that dwell carelessly . . . so will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more:  and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.”  Ezekiel 39:6,7.

 

Now, the size of the tract is about 2 inches by 3 inches and with all these words on the front cover and the gi-normous picture of the Dome it had the effect of being rather overbearing.  I stood there by my car and thought, “Some Baptist put this on here, I know it.”  I opened up the pamphlet.  The inside contained 9 underlined all capped headings: 

AS A FIRE, MINISTERS A FLAMING, GOD AS LAMPS OF FIRE, BURNING LAMPS, COALS OF FIRE, A REFINER’S FIRE, LIKE FIRE, EVERLASTING BURNINGS, EVERLASTING FIRE. 

 

Underneath each heading was a verse, many of them obscure from texts like Nahum, Malachi, or Job.  Only one was a New Testament quote.  The back of the pamphlet had one heading BURNETH WITH FIRE and a quote from Revelation 21:8.  Here is the kicker.  The pamphlet has three and a half pages of “fire” as God’s punishment, presumably upon the United States, but then the last part of the tract, the lower half on the back page is an invitation to pray and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, including a place to “right” (sic) “Yes” or “No” and the time and date. 

Then, sure enough, stamped on the bottom—“Solid Rock Baptist Church, Silverdale, Washington.”  I was right, it was a Baptist but thankfully it wasn’t my flavor of Baptist. 

It is impossible to get mad at people who do this, because their heart is in the right place although it might be a little Pharisee heart.  I have three problems the whole gospel tract strategy. 

  • One, the poor quality is a real drag.  This particular tract really was not pleasing to the eye and made me want to throw it away, not read it.
  • Two, the theology of it was a terrible drag.  Each Bible verse quoted was taken out of context and was being twisted to say something it was never intended to say.  In reading the Bible, context is everything and context is impossible to establish in a tract.
  • Three, tracts take something personal and makes it impersonal.  I am totally convinced that the best way to share the love of God is by actually talking to people.  Drive by evangelism is cold and impersonal.  I have far more respect for the street preacher I saw last Saturday in downtown Seattle yelling at me (please note, respect is not the same as affinity).

 

There is one more problem I have with this particular kind of tract.  It smacks of arrogance and haughty attitudes.  There is a dramatic difference between this unholy use of God’s word and say, a Billy Graham tract or the Four Spiritual Laws tract which is biblical, logical, and to the point of salvation.  I do not use tracts because I would rather talk but there is nothing wrong with using a good one, although it is not my preferred method.  However, tracts like the one left on my windshield do not help the cause at all.