Monday, November 07, 2005

bathroom of heresy

The Bathroom of Heresy was created by two of my colleagues, the Rev. Heather Janules and the soon-to-be-Rev. Elizabeth Harding, when their seminary living quarters shared a bathroom. They decorated it with religious images both sacred and profane, setting fine art next to contemporary kitsch. They displayed everything from tracts handed them on street corners to postcards with Jesus pointing the way to Las Vegas. There was a reproduction of a Renaissance painting near a wind-up “boxing nun” toy (she spit sparks!), and a poster on the wall advertising a play called “Pastor of Muppets” with Cookie Monster wearing a clerical collar. They had non-Christian icons, too, including a Buddhist monk drinking coffee and talking on a cellphone.

Despite its name, I did not perceive it as heretical. To me, it was a museum of the ways human beings try to make sense of their world. There was certainly a skeptical, slightly sarcastic tinge to it all, but there was earnestness as well. It wouldn’t have been funny, if there weren’t something powerful behind all those images and toys.

Similarly, there is a Coffee Messiah coffee shop in Seattle, with a blue neon “Caffeine Saves” sign in the window. The bathroom there is no less heretical, although more tightly focused, depicting various scenes of a Christian hell. Again, although some may find it troubling, others really do congregate in Coffee Messiah seeking the salvation of human company. The irony of the iconography affirms that while the patrons have joined up, they have not been sucked in, to borrow a phrase from Tom Levinson’s book, All That’s Holy.

All of this is well and good for adults. I imagine that many UUs might appreciate the message of the Bathroom of Heresy. However, our children need a more concrete, less complex message, on which to build their spiritual foundations. This is why we spend so much time and money on our (very strong) Religious Education program. I definitely want our young people to grin if they enter the Coffee Messiah shop, but I also want them to appreciate the power of the yearning behind the imagery.


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