Over the past few months, one of my Friendly Followers and Bloglings (GB) has posted a number of pictures of different kinds of church buildings in New Zealand. Somehow, his last church post (from the Anglican cathedral in Napier) led my thoughts back to a picture I had pinned up on my notice board for many years in my previous flat.
I had some trouble finding it now but at last I did. (Not on the internet, but in one of my drawers.) It's a postcard of an oil painting by a Swedish artist, Olle Olsson-Hagalund (1904-1972), entitled "Girl with plaster churches". As you can see, he depicts a girl having a bit of trouble choosing between a number of different models of churches for sale at a market.
There is no Wikipedia article in English for this artist, but if you click on his name above, the link will transport you to a Swedish website where you can have a look at some more of his paintings. His style is somewhat naivistic, very colourful, and marked by a lot of detail. He often also framed his paintings himself and then also painted the frame in his own very original style, to become part of the picture. (There are some examples of that too on that website.)
I saw a large collection of his paintings "live" at an exhibition back in the 1990s, and I think it's the only temporary art exhibition that I ever went back to three times (in a month or two) because I liked it so much. I also remember some of the things I learned about him - like the fact that when he went to his studio to paint, he used to put on his best suit! It was a feast for him to paint; and the joy of it often shows in his pictures. The painting of the girl with the churches was also included in that exhibition.
When I had that card put up on my wall, I combined it with a quote from an interview with the English writer Adrian Plass. His most famous book is probably The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37¾ (from 1987). (Ha! I only just now learned the full title of it - the Swedish translation leaves out the 37¾! I wonder why - I absolutely love that!) There are also a couple of sequels to that first one; but the first one was especially hilarious because the first time you read it you're not prepared (or at least I wasn't) so it takes you by surprise.
It is a very humourus, fictional satire of Christian life - "including such moments as trying to move a paperclip by faith" (sentence quoted from the Wiki article).
I find the book quite unique in that Plass manages to make fun of things without ever getting really mean or bitter about them. Part of the secret might be that he lends his own name to the main character and narrator of the story. This underlines that he is not just making fun of "other people" but of himself. And somehow he manages to catch the struggles, the stupid extremes, and the grains of true faith and love in the midst of it, "all in one". (I've been in churches very much like his fictional church; pretty much every scene in the book is familiar to me.)
This blog post is all digressions so far. I wonder if I'll ever be able to get round to some sort of point?
Getting back to that little piece of a quote that used to sit on my notice board, together with the Girl With Churches picture: That interview with Adrian Plass was published in a Swedish magazine, in 1996, i.e. some years after The Sacred Diary. In the interview, Adrian mentions that through the years, he has come to realize that he really belongs to two churches. One consists of the Christian friends who he is actually spending time with, talking to, sharing his life with. That "church" has no written rules, no real structure, and no building - but nonetheless, those people are his church. But then, at the same time, there is also the church that he formally belongs to (which does have rules, and structure, and a building to meet in); and going to services there he sees as a sort of public confession of his faith and of belonging to the Christian Church as such.
Now why did I have this picture, and this quote on my wall? Maybe after my ramblings here you can more or less guess. Through my life, I have "collected" a number of churches myself. Sometimes, the choice has come naturally, because of facts of life like moving from one town to another. Sometimes, there have been choices a little more complicated. But basically, around the time that I went to that art exhibition and read that interview back in the 90s, I found myself in a position similar to what Adrian describes. In my heart, there was one church of friends. But those friends did not all go to the same building to express their faith; and in some ways I found myself (like the girl in the picture) embracing a whole "set" of different churches (with the same basic beliefs, but some different ways of expressing them).
Nowadays, with pain problems and things like that in the picture for me as well, I don't go regularly to any church. And when I do go, I have become a bit of a "browser". But there is still a church - or the church - in my heart. And over the last year, that church has kept growing faster than for a very long time. Because (somewhat to my amazement) I keep finding "church-building" ingredients everywhere in this cyberspace: wonderings, thoughtfulness, questions, doubts, faith, discussions, prayers, longing, worship, wisdom, laughter, tears, sharing and caring! Thank you.
“It's rubbish to tell people that we can easily dispose of life's huge questions once and for all. We all have times when we're bad-tempered or we grumble. We all have doubts. What's wrong with saying that?”