Oak Ridge

News? Religious communities build new sanctuaries, and repair old ones, for lots of reasons

News? Religious communities build new sanctuaries, and repair old ones, for lots of reasons

There were a lot of different subjects swirling around during this week’s “Crossroads” podcast, so I don’t know exactly where to start. (Click here to tune that in or head over to iTunes.)

On one level, host Todd Wilken and I talked about church buildings and sacred architecture. You know, the whole idea that church architecture is theology expressed in (List A) stone, timber, brick, stucco, copper, iron and glass.

Ah, but is the theology different if the materials being used are (List B) sheetrock, galvanized steel, plastic, concrete, rubber and plywood?

What if you built a Byzantine, Orthodox sanctuary out of the materials in List B and accepted the American construction-industry norms that a building will last about 40-50 years? Contrast that with a church built with List A materials, using many techniques that have been around for centuries and are meant to produce churches that last 1,000 years or more.

These two churches would look very similar. The provocative issue raised by church designer and art historian Andrew Gould — of New World Byzantine Studios, in Charleston, S.C. — is whether one of these two churches displays a “sacred ethos” that will resonate with the teachings of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, while the other may be both modern and more temporary.

Here’s another question along those same lines: Why did farmers, merchants and peasants in places like Greece, Russia, Serbia and Romania for many centuries insist on building churches that would last for generation after generation of believers? Also, why are the faithful in many modern, prosperous American communities tempted to build churches that may start to fall apart after a few decades?

Here’s the end of my “On Religion” column about Gould and his work, based on a lecture he gave at my own Orthodox home parish in Oak Ridge, Tenn. — which is poised to build a much-needed new sanctuary.

“If you build something that looks like a Byzantine church, but it isn’t really built like a Byzantine church, then it isn’t going to look and sound and function like a Byzantine church — generation after generation,” said Gould.

“The goal in most architecture today is to create the appearance of something, not the reality. ... When you build one of these churches, you want the real thing. You want reality. You want a church that’s going to last.”

Now, is this a very newsworthy subject?

Maybe not. But some of these issues can be spotted looming over big headlines some big stories in places like New York City.

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Do many young Russians have souls? Politico DC feature is as deep as a Tinder swipe

Do many young Russians have souls? Politico DC feature is as deep as a Tinder swipe

The Politico recently set out to probe the complex private lives of young Russians who are living and working in Donald Trump-era Washington, D.C.

I have to admit, up front, that my take on this story has been influenced by the fact that (a) I am an Orthodox Christian, (b) I worked in D.C. for a decade-plus and (c) my current Oak Ridge, Tenn., parish includes its share of Russians and Romanians. Yes, Oak Ridge is way outside the Beltway, but it’s home for a very high security zone, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, so that has to count for something.

The massive double-decker Politico headline tells you all that you need to know about the content of this long feature:

Tinder Woes, Suspicious Landlords and Snarky Bosses: Young and Russian in D.C.

Washington’s young émigré crowd is beginning to feel like they’re living in a spy novel. And they’re the bad guys.

As always, let me stress that this whole Tinder angle is a valid and, of course, sexy angle on this story, which has certainly heated up in recent months. Hold that thought.

However, there’s nothing new about Russians living and working in major American cities, such as D.C. and New York. I would think that it’s easy to find many congregating in bars. However, you might also consider looking in a Russian-heritage church or two in Beltway land.

Here’s what GetReligion’s man in Moscow (a journalist who is a faithful reader, not a spy) had to say about this totally secular Politico story:

I am a little baffled that the discussion of the Russian community in a city like DC basically boiled down to a restaurant/club with expats from various Russian-speaking countries. This venue (and the report in general) only involved people of a very specific age range, let's say 25-35.

How could they not report about the Saint John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral? Is religion not one of the main factors uniting Russian speakers from countries like Russia, Ukraine and Moldova?

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Can New York City survive Chick-fil-A invasion? Let's look at Manhattan history!

Can New York City survive Chick-fil-A invasion? Let's look at Manhattan history!

On a personal note: I just finished one of my two-week sojourns teaching journalism at The King's College in New York. As I have mentioned before, if you add up my various duties here I live in lower Manhattan just over two months a year.

I'm not a New Yorker, but I hang out with them a lot -- even in local diners and fast-food joints.

Anyway, at the end of my final seminar session last night one of the students gave me a thank-you card and the perfect gift to sum up life in this neighborhood right now.

It was, of course, a Chick-fil-A gift card.

Don't worry, I will be able to use that card in Oak Ridge, Tenn., even though our town has only one Chick-fil-A sanctuary, compared to New York City's three (with more on the way as part of the much-discussed Bible Belt invasion of the Big Apple).

The bottom line: If was the perfect end to the week. And you will not be surprised that we also talked about the now infamous New Yorker sermon about Chick-fil-A -- "Chick-fil-A’s Creepy Infiltration of New York City" -- during this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

In my GetReligion post about this whole kerfuffle ("The New Yorker stirs up a storm with analysis of Chick-fil-A evangelism in the Big Apple"), I tried to avoid -- for the most part -- some of the most common themes in the Twitter madness about this piece. Here are three of the more low-key, constructive tweets from that amazing storm:

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Video chat between tmatt and a serious Catholic conservative with news-media concerns

Video chat between tmatt and a serious Catholic conservative with news-media concerns

Trust me, it's not the headline that I would have chosen for a conversation on this topic.

I am referring to that headline on the YouTube atop this here video feature that proclaims: "Religion Reporting Tends to Suck."

But, hey, in the streaming-video world of conservative Catholic commentary the hosts can get a little bit edgy sometimes.

I mean, after all, I talked the show's host out of, "Why Religion Reporting Sucks." Period. So there.

The talk-show host, in this case, is Patrick Coffin. I was on his show a few weeks ago and the URL is now up for anyone who wants to go there.

Who is Coffin? Lots of Catholics will know the answer to that one already. He is a media pro and public speaker who, in the past, was best known as the host of the "Catholic Answers Live" radio show, which was syndicated to nearly 400 stations and carried on Sirius Satellite Radio. Here's his farewell show in that project.

Coffin takes on quite a few topics in this programs, with some politics -- but just as much material about issues of religion and culture. Click here for his homepage.

So, during this particular video-blog we ranged all over the place, starting with my home office in the secret city of Oak Ridge, Tenn., (my political cartoon collection is visible in the background) and then a political hot-button topic -- Melania Trump's choice of footwear.

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Weekend think piece: Guess what? Church and state in Russia have their differences

Weekend think piece: Guess what? Church and state in Russia have their differences

The priest at our parish in East Tennessee returned the other day from a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, the Greek peninsula that for centuries has been the beating heart of Eastern Orthodox spirituality. 

As far as I know, Father J. Stephen Freeman did not have any secret meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin while he was trekking from monastery to monastery on the holy mountain. However, you never know. After all, Father Stephen has many online readers in Russia and, well, he is the priest of Oak Ridge (and you know what that means).

Journalists in the West have said some rather wild things, as of late, about Orthodox Christianity and its role in Russia. This then connects with the whole "The Russians Did It, the Russians Did It" atmosphere in American politics.

But are we ready to politicize the holy mountain? Check out this passage from The Spectator, drawn from a feature with this headline: "What is behind Vladimir Putin’s curious interest in Mount Athos?" Orthodox readers may want to sit down to read this.

A secretive body of Elders governs here and all citizens are bound to total obedience. They wear identical floor-length black gowns and are not permitted to shave -- the style of dress favoured by zealots everywhere. And guess what? This state is in western Europe.
Few people have heard of Mount Athos and fewer still have visited it, and that is the way they like it. A notable exception is Vladimir Putin. He has been at least twice, once in 2006 and again in May of this year. ...
Putin has formed an unholy alliance with the Orthodox church in order to ensure he receives its blessing. This fits with his self-image as a modern Tsar embodying church and state. For believers, the Holy Mountain is the centre of their faith, their Rome, the place where the flame of their faith connects to heaven.

I wasn't expecting the Z-word.

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Some GetReligion Christmas this and a little bit of non-Christmas that (including a think piece for Hanukkah next year)

Some GetReligion Christmas this and a little bit of non-Christmas that (including a think piece for Hanukkah next year)

Yes, this is a Christmas post and it will serve several functions, including at least one note for journalists to stash away in their calendars for next year's holiday-news season.

Item I: Christmas is one of those cultural steamrollers that demands treatment on A1 even in the most secular of news publications. Most of the time, one wakes up and finds a piece of stand-alone art that screams "Christmas," but with no valid news story attached to it. Christmas is, in other words, colorful and omnipresent but not all that real. So did anyone wake up this morning and find a particularly excellent (or terrible) in the local paper? Please share the URL in the comments pages.

Item II: Your GetReligionistas will, like most folks, be all over the place in the next week or two.

I, for example, will be headed to the mountains of East Tennessee -- Oak Ridge to be specific (Cumberland mountains photo above) -- to spend a few days with family in the house that will become our home this coming summer. That's when I will join The King's College in New York City as Senior Fellow for Media and Religion (teaching in block classes several times a year), while spending a lot more time working on GetReligion.

Other members of the team will be traveling as well.

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