Wednesday, January 24

The Crystal Cathedral

I have lived, literally, ten minutes from the Crystal Cathedral for the past two and a half years. I have never attended a service however, largely because the Vegas style message board at the entrance signified what kind of a church the Crystal Cathedral is; large, flamboyant, and focused on profit and prestige. My art class took a field trip there today as our final class trip.

We had planned on eating lunch there, but after enjoying Indian, Cambodian, and Japanese cuisine on our other field trips the class decided that the food was too bland and much too expensive. We opted for Mediterranean food down the street from our school and set out on a journey into one of the strangest, and wealthiest, churches I've ever been in.

Past the Vegas style bulletin board and the lines of cypress trees, we parked in a lot that had music piped into it. In the shadow of the bell tower is the cemetery, mostly dominated with wall plots, but it also featured several family "garden plots" where for a mere $250,000 your family can have a tiny garden spot. Beneath the statue of Job or the "I Found Him" sculpture you can be buried for $500,000.
The land is peppered with palm trees, that reflect around the building like an extension of the California landscape.
Religious sculptures are everywhere, but these have been done by the heir to the Johnson&Johnson fortune, and yes, Jesus is chrome in this one. The effect of which is nothing short of creepy beyond belief.

The original building from the late 1960s is actually pretty amazing in it's construction, though it looks a lot like a sky scraper. This building is now an office building because the Crystal Cathedral has basically become a self contained buisiness.
This is the bathroom; marble everywhere, chrome fixtures, and mahogany paneling. There was, of course, music being piped in from the ceilings and lots of Thomas Kinkade paintings on the walls. My feelings about Thomas Kinkade are numerous and related to the same issues I have with the Crystal Cathedral; profit first, but in the name of God.

Another melodramatic sculpture, which is amazingly well crafted, and appraised at more than my dream car. Next to Moses (not shown) is an actual burning bush.
This is the interior of the main building, the Cathedral itself; that organ is absolutely spectacular, as is the sound and lighting set up. There are over 10,000 windows that make up the building; maintaining those windows is a full time job, and due to Santa Ana winds they often break, according to our tour guide. Everything about this place screams "We're glorious! Look at us!" Well, I'm pretty sure that the point is not to look as "us", it's to look to one much greater than us. The gift shop is larger than some Christian Book stores I've been in and is full of more self promotion than Disneyland.

There was a brief moment, however, that I found myself lost in the glory of God and it wasn't in any of the crap about the gaudy cathedral, it was in a book called "House of Worship: Sacred Spaces in America." This book features small worship spaces that people with a passion for God worked hard to create; nothing grand, just spaces for people to go and worship in humility. The antithesis to the Crystal Cathedral, these sacred spaces spoke to me because it was obvious who they were for and what they were about; no threatening glass spires required.


lisa d said...

great post, kelly! i am often weirded out by showey churches (and showey church-goers). so many get caught up in the look or size of facilities, when you don't really even need walls. the pictures are beautiful, but it saddens me to think what outreaches are ignored in favor of marble and mohagany.

it'd probably make a better museum than church.

Rocket Surgeon, Phd said...