Monday, May 05, 2003

Good Experience Live XV

Stephen Bauman: Thresholds to Mindfulness

Stephen Bauman is senior minister of Christ Church United Methodist in New York City. With a master of divinity degree from Yale University Divinity School and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Bauman also has work experience that has taken him to office buildings, oil fields, and Times Square, where he worked with runaway and homeless youth. Here is a rough transcript of her talk at Good Experience Live:

I guess it is by design, although it wouldn't have been my design, that I am the last speaker. And having been here all day, I guess it is appropriate that the day end with a minister. I operate from the premise that all of us are spiritual beings. All of us function with a set of implicit or explicit transcendent values. Sometimes these are conscious. And sometimes these are unconscious.

These values leave a wake behind us as we travel through life. All of us believe the world is generally safe or unsafe.That people are generally to be trusted or not trusted. That things are more true or less true. To hold a conference called Good Experience Live reflects that some experiences are better than others. Evidentally, because you're here, you are on the lookout for the good ones.

As part of this benediction, I want to offer some snapshots of great American religious organizations. All but one are Christian because that's what I know best. For instance, Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri, an outgrowth of the Precious Moments greeting cards and porcelain figurines. He bought up 3,000 acres in both as his graphic art and life-size figurines feature prominently. This is a destination attraction, so parking lots surround the property. This is a closeup of his depictio of heaven. The Precious Moments Chapel has nearly a million visitors a year.

Just north of Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, is a new theme park called the Holy Land Experience. It's educational. It's inspirational. It's theatrical. Calvary's Garden Tomb is near the Dromedary Depot. Admission for a one-day pass costs $30 or you can purchase the Jerusalem Gold Pass for $75.

Now let's step back for a moment from these destination sites and consider some living, breathing churches. One is my own, Christ Church United Methodist in New York City. It sits right on the sidewalk. It is meant to be a part of people's daily experience. The doors are just three steps up from the sidewalk. What interests me about this is what I refer to as the threshold experience, stepping off the sidewalk and into this space. There's often a physical response in first-time visitors. If one has a taste for god or depth of thinking or silence, this space makes that connection. There is no parking lot attached.

In direct contrast to this, consider the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Willow Creek is the model for the megachurch. Their model is that of the mall. It's I'm OK, You're OK design. Crossing the threshold of a megachurch is meant to be as easy as crossing the threshold of the Galleria mall, complete with a foodcourt, a Starbucks, and a sanctuary designed much like a movie theater. Here, the horizontal human experience is emphasized rather than the vertical experience.

Since you're here in New York, it seems appropriate to say a word about a walk. Start at the Bethesda Fountain near 72nd Street in Central Park and walk past the band shell, down through the mall, out into the Grand Army Plaza in front of the Plaza Hotel, and down 5th Avenue to about 50th street. This walk won't take much more than an hour. This park was designed as a space of spiritual respite. As you come out onto the Grand Army Plaza, take note of the buildings and spaces, and become mindful of your experience. What is it that it does to you?

The mall near Rockefeller Center is embued with mythological meaning -- spiritual meaning. At the end of the mall is the golden image of Prometheus. It's an extraordinary public space. If we were to become mindful and thoughtful, the benediction is to take that into your world. If you were to take the stroll from Bethesda Fountain to 50th Street and 5th Avenue, being mindful of spiritual matters, I guarantee that you will have a good experience. A very good experience.

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