Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Often my worship experiences at the big contemporary church I attend each Sunday leave me wanting to sing some small, deep, poetic songs. Thank God I have some. I've been collecting these songs lately. One of the purposes I've dreamt for this "church house" is for it to be the setting for a Sunday worship service - and here you see part of the reason for the name of the house. Part of the service (which I will have to talk about more later) will be singing some of these songs each week, a cappella, or acoustically accompanied.

Take a song like "I Am A Pilgrim":

"I am a pilgrim and a stranger,
Travelin' through this worrisome land;
But I've got a home in that yonder city;
And it's not, Good Lord it's not made by hand.

I've got a mother, a sister and a brother,
Who have all gone on before;
And I am determined to go and meet them,
Good Lord, on that other shore.

I'm going down to the river of Jordan,
Just to cleanse my weary soul.
If I could touch the hem of His garments,
Lord, I do believe it would make me whole."

Or, "Blooming Vale," based on Psalm 55:

"O, were I like a feathered dove,
And innocence had wings,
I’d fly away and make a long remove,
From all these restless things.

Let me to some wild desert go,
And find a peaceful home;
Where storms of malice never blow,
Temptations never come.

By morning light I’ll seek his face,
At noon repeat my cry;
The night shall hear me ask his grace,
Nor will he long deny."

Here's a really well-known one that I often wonder why we never sing in church, "I'll Fly Away":

"Some bright morning when this life is o'er,
I'll fly away to that home on God's celestial shore.

When the shadows of this life have gone, I'll fly away;
Like a bird from these prison walls, I'll fly away.

Oh how glad and happy when we meet,
No more cold iron shackles on my feet.

Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away to a land where joys will never end.”

Contrary to most of the songs my church plays, these songs are poetically crafted, saturated with biblical imagery, and open to the realities of life, death, heaven and hell while imbued with joy. These are very different from "praise songs" that we're used to. Why should all the songs we sing in church be praise songs? Some Sundays I don't feel like saying, "God, you're so good to me." Some Sundays I feel like Naomi and want to name myself "Bitter." The biblical Psalms ("Songs") also alternate between highest praise and abysmal despair. The songs we sing as a congregation could do this too, and thereby give us the opportunity to be real with God about what is going on in our lives.

I'm not a "chronological snob," by the way. The songs don't have to be old. They just have to be good. The best, in fact, great, perfect - because God is. These are just the songs I've discovered so far. I would love to discover a slew of contemporary songs that are equally imaginative, biblical, beautiful, and true. Anyone know some?

Music is very important to this house. As I wrote in my sketchbook one day, I want this house to be worthy of having great music played in it. That is, I want the design, the architecture, to be composed as carefully and expressively as the greatest music. When I play music in my current apartment, the music is a pearl cast before swine.


  1. Good, yes. The best, maybe. Perfect, no - at least, not this side of Jordan. This holds, I think, both for the music and for the architecture.

  2. True, nothing we make here will be perfect, but this should be our goal nonetheless. That's all I'm saying here. Jesus taught us to "Be perfect" knowing full well we would not. But we'll come a lot closer if we accept it as the standard rather than something less. Specifically regarding architecture I came across this verse recently in 1 Chronicles: "..the sanctuary that is to be built for God has to be the greatest, the talk of all the nations;.." (22:5) I think Solomon actually did it!

  3. Yes, Solomon certainly did it - I am reminded of Joseph Rykwert's book "On Adam's House in Paradise" (2nd ed. MIT Press, 1981, esp. chap. 5), which gives a fascinating account of later speculations about the perfection of Solomon's temple.

    I also just re-read the 1 Chronicles chapter, and was reminded that God explicitly forbade King David from building that temple:

    "And David said to Solomon, My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the LORD my God:
    But the word of the LORD came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight."

    And the following two verses sound increasingly familiar:

    "Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days.
    He shall build an house for my name; and he shall be my son, and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel for ever."

    What are the further implications of this passage for architecture? Do we not, like David, have blood on our hands? And does this not put us in a difficult situation? On the other hand, is not Solomon here a type for Christ? Does the temple of verse 5 - the greatest, the talk of all the nations - not refer, in the end, to that temple of which Christ spoke? How might one best acknowledge, in architecture, that the true temple, and the true home, are to be found elsewhere?

    As an aside: I recently came across an inscription painted on a bakery in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany, standing in a long tradition of such inscriptions dating back at least to the mediaeval period. You can see it at The rhyming original translates, roughly, as follows:

    "You’ll find bread for your body in this house; bread for your soul is dispensed in God’s Word."

  4. Thanks for the Rykwert reference; sounds like a necessary addition to my reading list.

    I don't think we have blood on our hands in the way meant in that passage; if we did then Solomon would have too. The distinction seems to be about David living the life of a warrior, killing many people, while Solomon's life was peaceful. I do think Solomon is a type of Christ in that passage, and the temple he built a type of our future perfect home. But I think the beauty of passages like that is that both senses are true at the same time - Solomon's temple was actually the greatest, the talk of all the nations, AND the New Jerusalem will be too.

    I love your question, "How might one best acknowledge, in architecture, that the true temple, and the true home, are to be found elsewhere?" The first thought I had was of David Leatherbarrow's lovely little book, "On Weathering," praising buildings designed to thoughtfully reveal rather than deny their own deterioration over time. If a building wears its "mortality" on its face (as we do), we have another reminder that we live in no lasting temple here. My commitment to natural materials free of paints and coatings dovetails nicely with this goal, no?