Sunday, August 24, 2008

Urban fortification

I have been slowly plodding through Lewis Mumford’s classic work The City in History. I was reflecting on this tendency described by Mumford below:

“Thus both the physical form and the institutional life of the city, from the very beginning of the urban implosion, were shaped in no small measure by the irrational and magical purposes of war. From this source sprang the elaborate system of fortifications, with walls, ramparts, towers, canals, ditches, that continued to characterize the chief historic cities, apart from certain special cases—as during the Pax Romana—down to the eighteenth century. The physical structure of the city, in turn, perpetuated the animus, the isolation and self-assertion, that favoured the new institution.” (Mumford, The City in History, 58)

Since the trend began to change in the eighteenth/nineteenth century, I was pondering on the current trend. My undeveloped thought is that the cities are still fortified, but not physically or militarily, rather economically. Cities still operate with hierarchies and classes except that now lineage and coat of arms mean little. Networking and resumes signal pedigree.

“Throughout the greater part of history, enslavement, forced labour, and destruction have accompanied—and penalized—the growth of urban civilization.” (Mumford, The City in History, 56)

The industrial age transformed the traditional practices of slavery to economic slavery. It seems that economics has become the primary determinant of a society.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

We have our houses and He has His

I was reading an excerpt from an address of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to a congregation where I came across these words:

“We all know that Christ has, in effect, been eliminated from our lives. Of course, we build him a temple, but we live in our own houses. Christ has become a matter of the church or, rather, of the churchliness of a group, not a matter of life.” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer…, 43)

Every once in a while I find myself in a conversation about the value or need for sacred spaces (usually meaning church buildings). I’m not generally a big fan of church buildings and the building programs and financial indebtedness that it creates. But I think Bonhoeffer hits on one of the more subtle yet more tragic consequences of separate spaces for religious/spiritual activities. Our devotion to Jesus morphs into event-oriented, geographically-specific religious activities. It is no wonder that most Christians have very little daily connection to Christ and his call to take up the cross and follow him. We have compartmentalized Jesus by literally building physical structures for Him. Until our lives and homes become sacred spaces, we will continue to live duplicitously.