Through the Middle Ages, the Cathedral was the true skyscraper of most ancient cities. It could be seen for miles and dominated, not only the skyline, but occupied the central square of the town. As the Renaissance set in, palaces and government buildings began to dominate the central square and even the skyline as the churches shrunk in stature and moved to the side streets. Today, our great cities such as New York and Chicago have skylines dominated by great buildings of commerce and industry. The Cathedrals of these great cities would be hard to find by most visitors. What does all this say about our culture? How are we known by our buildings? What are the priorities and central focus of our time?
Now, all that said, I suppose it would be silly to build a 150 story church. At some point a church serves its purpose at 100 feet. And, buildings for people to live and work in can serve practical purposes at higher and higher levels. Still, the poet in me says, love should soar highest. So the poet and dreamer in me says, what if the tallest of our buildings were places that served the poor, cared for the sick, or were places where people crowded in to make spiritual retreats and study God’s Word? I know, absurd! Call me a dreamer. Call me inefficient, and say that we don’t need taller spiritual buildings, just more of them. Perhaps. But there’s something about a tall building that says: “prominent,” “important,” “significant” and “preeminent.” The dreamer in me suspects that if our spiritual values were more central, our skylines would announce it to any passerby: “Here is a city whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 33:12). Just dreaming!
Here’s another dreamer, Fr. Robert Barron, who, in this video, makes an interesting observation in the renaming of the Sears Tower to the Willis Building about 2 years ago. It now appears that the three tallest buildings in Chicago are all named for, and owned by’ Insurance Companies…go figure! And while you’re at it, ask, “What does this say?” It seems to say, that the more affluent we become, the more anxious we become. With all our stuff we have much more to protect, much more to insure, much more to be anxious about!
And in whom do we trust to bring us this protection? Surely God, you will say! Ah, but look again; by our buildings you will know the answer! Jesus saves, but, “just in case He can’t come through,” man insures. Or so our culture would seem to say.
To be sure, there is nothing evil about insurance, but our buildings tell us we are quite anxious about many things and that insuring and ensuring looms large in our culture.
Yes, we who have much, have much to lose. And our anxiety about that sticks out; it looms large, and stands tall, very tall.