Sunday, May 13, 2012

Foreclosing on God

"From 2010 to present, bank foreclosures on church buildings have skyrocketed -- 270 foreclosures since 2010; a record 138 foreclosure sales in 2011 alone."
                                                                  -  "The Motley Fool," in
Where God hath a temple, the devil will have a chapel.
                                                                  -  Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy 

Having once taken an apartment in what I supposed was a quiet neighborhood in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I awoke one bright December Sunday, the morn balmy, the faithful making their way through the streets to the neighboring churches. My helpmeet left me on the roof in agnostic sunshine, carefully padlocked the grate across the front entry, and walked briskly off with the only housekey. 

The streets in San Miguel are narrow, cobbled alleys. Next to my bespoken abode was a modest building with a paved courtyard partially roofed in well-seasoned sheets of corrugated steel. That first quiet Sunday morning, all without warning, the sound of jubilant group singing accompanied by guitars, drums and keyboard obtruded itself into the air. The roof panels rattled with Christian fervor like a soundbox, the very houses and stony streets echoed back the joyful noise. To my mild consternation, I discovered too late I had settled next to an impromptu pentecostal church, no housekey within reach. The hours passed, cantatory, hortatory, oracular, the irony nearly insupportable, my reprobate nature confirmed. There were other solutions to this dilemma, though having only just arisen I forebore the solace of slumber . . . 

All of this is a reminder that you can't be too careful who you end up living beside. Bank foreclosures in recent years have been making a mad lottery of neighborhoods everywhere, no less when your near neighbor is a church. In fact, just around the corner, a church which had for years been Lutheran, has been sold to new congregants. Lutherans are noted for quiet piety, sobriety, general decorum, solemnity, a becoming spiritual reserve, unexceptionable manners, sober modes of worship, abhorrence of "witnessing," canvassing, "ministering" to their neighbors or going door-to-door through the neighborhood like Jehovah's Witnesses. They were, in a word, ideal neighbors. Their voices may have been raised in worship, but no one hereabouts was ever the wiser, it being nigh impossible to raise the roof by singing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" in wholesome, solemn unison.

Back in the day, when churches were their own bankers, foreclosures weren't in the cards. Back then the brethren could really get things done in style, without looking over their shoulders at some guy in a cheap suit. God had an unlimited line of credit, no mortgage and no house payments. He was about as flush as God could get.

Times have changed. I suppose that hard times arrived at just about the time when churches started resembling the Cow Palace more than they resemble any recognizable ecclesiastical edifice. But extravagant suburban architecture doesn't always fare well in the corporate age: Wells Fargo and Citibank trump everything in sight - God, governments and gentlefolk. So far as I know the neighboring church sale wasn't the result of a foreclosure. Still, I wonder what's in store on future Sundays. Will it be another congenial lot of Lutherans or Presbyterians? or will the Holiness Brethren show up in busloads for a weekly shoutfest and visitation from the Holy Spirit? 

But, I remind myself, there are worse things to come out through the church windows than noise.

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