Friday, January 9, 2009

The Museum of Me

Reading the July number of Current Archaeology Magazine, I came across a piece on 'The Museum of Me'. The editor noted:
"One of the many reasons why the study of the past is essential to society's wellbeing is that it teaches humility and an awareness of one's own insignificance. That being a far too difficult and moralistic message for this egotistical age, the organisers of this years' Museums and Galleries Month have decided to ditch fuddy-duddy archaeological musums and encourage us all to set up our own virtual museum - the Museum of Me!
According to the publicity 'the Museum of Me will provide a snapshot of Britain today'; that being the case, why even bother with the outmoded concept of a 'museum' at all?"

How many modern Evangelicals would visit a museum of the Church? Very few, I suspect. One of my favourite places in England is Wesley's Chapel on the City Road. Not only is this historic building kept beautifully clean, but its basement houses a Museum of Methodism, and next door John Wesley's House is preserved as a museum. Across the road is Bunhill Fields burial ground, where John Bunyan, John Owen, John Gill, Thomas Goodwin, Joseph Hart and many other great Christians of the past lie 'in sure and certain hope of the resurrection'. Close by is the site of Whitefield's Tabernacle, where the great evangelist preached to thousands.

The Church is not a museum, it is a living thing. But too often today the evangelical Church has amnesia. I am not pleading for chapels to be preserved in such a way as to keep us from making buildings more user-friendly, for example taking some pews out and installing a ramp for those in wheelchairs. But too often what we do today is not that, it is that we try to re-invent the idea of Church. Theology, hymnody, ecclesiology, all of these are areas where the Evangelical Church has a rich heritage. But we are apparently determined to ignore it all for that ephemeral thing that is the present.

What would that 'Museum of Christianity' be like? Well, it OUGHT to be housed in an impressive Grecian building, in landscaped grounds. Galleries would range from the early Church, with precious manuscripts, through the period of the Church Fathers, with mosaics and liturgical objects, through the Middle Ages, the Reformation, Lutheran and Reformed, the post-Reformation period, the Puritans, the Eighteenhth century, and so on to the present. Bibles in every language, from every age, from illuminated folios to pocket editions; psalters and hymn-books, a library to awe the most devoted bibliophile; pulpits, personal objects of great leaders.

But what would the modern evangelical think of it? Well, the Emergent would take some parts and destroy the rest, a bit from here and a bit from there, no real respect for tradition. A non-denominational Evangelical would deplore the early galleries as too Roman Catholic by far, he would get rid of the Lutheran wing, seriously truncate the Reformed wing, and find no place for the Puritan wing at all. The Victorian Galleries would be there, but reduced in size, and the displays would betray an ignorance of the context of the objects. Then we would find Billy Graham came next, and then Rick Warren.

The Museum of Me. A terrible thought, and a window into the self-centered mind of modern-day man. Better to have a museum that expands my knowledge. Let the Museum of Me be demolished, so that I can see better the Museum of God.

No comments: