Cameras and Cathedrals

I admit it, I am an engineer. I inherited my fascination with electrical and mechanical things, my love of technology, from my father. When I was 8 years old, he brought to the factory where he worked an IBM computer, the first computer in our little village. When I was in high school, the microprocessor was invented and I was captivated by the possibilities of computerizing everything from toasters to trains with these magical little chips. I suffered impatiently through college until I could get to work as part of this great technological crusade. Everything in the world must be redesigned to be smarter, faster, and more efficient.

Almost 30 years later, I’m not so sure the crusade was so grand. We engineers have redesigned the world, and the gadgets we’ve created are in everyone’s pockets. But they don’t stay there very long. The gadgets grow old very quickly and must be replaced by the latest and greatest, faster, better, cheaper model.

I design digital cameras. We spend a year or so developing a new model, and most are discontinued after a year or so of sales. We collect the old ones in metal cabinets and from time to time we pull them out and reminisce. But we’re the only ones who remember their glories. The state of the art hurries on, threatening to leave us standing by our cabinet as obsolete as those old cameras, if we don’t get busy on the next generation. Some of us wonder if it is worth all the trouble after all.

Sometimes I think about the people who built those enormous and spectacular cathedrals that punctuate the countryside of Europe. Advances in the state of that art took centuries; many of the individual models took centuries to build. A man’s entire career as an artisan or engineer could be consumed in the building of one church, and most of those men would never see the finished product. Today, those churches are obsolete in some ways. Worship today depends more on sound boards and projectors than soaring vaults and stained glass. And we are right to decry the exploitation of the impoverished parishoners who sacrificed to build those monuments to a bishop’s ego.

But the great cathedrals teach us something vital about the Kingdom of God. Built not of stone and glass, God’s Kingdom is made of the lives and hearts of people, constructed of love and peace and joy, and deeds of kindness and compassion. A man may devote much of his life to the tender care of his invalid mother and wonder if his time was wasted. No! In that loving work, he was shaping a lovely stone, to be fitted into its place in some invisible flying buttress that supports the lofty spires of God’s glorious temple. For God dwells in this place. He enjoys this place. He builds this wonderful place through the love that flows by his Spirit through the lives of his people and into the world.

One day, when the invisible Jesus reappears to restore the world, he will unveil this magnificent cathedral. Every tiny love-wrought jewel will shine forth with his glorious light. Whatever was done, or said, or even thought from love for him and his little ones, however insignificant or ineffective it may have seemed, will be revealed as a critical component in the new creation.

I think that he is calling us to imagine the new heavens and the new earth with him. To take a peek at the blueprints and to learn the tricks of his trade that are so contrary to the ways of progress and success that we prize. His project is a mystery, but a mystery he delights to disclose to those who love him and are happy to join his crew and work alongside him.

4 thoughts on “Cameras and Cathedrals”

  1. Strangely enough I enjoy painting. It seems to renew to world, at least in the little world of a small room. It is not eternal, and yet is pleasurable for me.

    Remember Mark Twain’s story of the fence and how the kids were tricked into paying for the priviledge to paint the fence. We laugh at their foolishness. But we are the fools. In there innocence they saw the truth. the adventure of painting the fence is valuable. It is worth paying to get a chance to paint. In some sense it is a prophetic (double edged joke). There is truth however you look at it. We forget to look at the joy in the journey. We are always headed somewhere.

  2. “Say – I’m going in a -swimming, I am. Don’t you wish you could? But of course you’d druther work – wouldn’t you? Course you would!”

    Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:

    “What do you call work?”

    “Why, ain’t that work?”

    Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered carelessly:

    “Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know it suits Tom Sawyer.”

    “Oh, come now, you don’t mean to let on that you like it?”

    The brush continued to move.

    “Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

    That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth – stepped back to note the effect – added a touch here and there – criticized the effect again – Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

    “Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

  3. The work we do is important not because in it we are changing things but in that God uses it to change us, to make us fit for being an ornament in His cathedral home. In the end we do not so much do the work as we are the work. We, together, are the cathedral of Christ. We are a building not made with hands.

    p.s. I like painting as well. It is one of the few things I do that I can ever say / Oh, that’s done.

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