Glorious Ruins – The Story of a Church, an Image, and a Song – Bethlehem Lutheran – St. Louis, Missouri

Glorious Ruins by Larry Byars and Nicci Womacks from Pied Beauty Photography on Vimeo.

If you follow this blog you may be aware that on occasions I have collected some of the images and put on an exhibition. From these exhibitions, occasionally a signature image will emerge which several people will want to purchase. The characteristic that these images share is that they  each evoke a strong emotional response from people. The image of the crumbled Bethlehem Lutheran Church which was being carted away brick by brick was the latest image that met with such a response.

Last Christmas, a customer bought it as a Christmas gift for a friend. Then she was so moved by the image herself that her husband was compelled to contact me secretly to have a bigger image of it printed and framed for her. Being a part of the secrecy and surprise of that story was a joy in and of itself. Then a little while later the story got even better as the husband told me that he was writing a song based on the image. How wondrous strange!

Several weeks ago, when Larry Byars sent me the audio for the track which he wrote with Nicci Womacks, I collected some images and produced the video above. It was all accomplished relatively hurriedly on my iPhone so it is not the most dynamic video you will ever watch, but combined with the lovely melody and lyrics of the song, I think it is pretty effective. A friend did ask why I chose to use other ruin pictures during the bridge, given my repeated expressions of my reluctance to take and glorify pictures of ruins which is detailed here. In truth, the answer is simply because I did not have enough images of the church to sustain an interesting video. Even so, I hope that you may enjoy watching the video. I recommend watching it full screen and clicking on HD to get the best effect.

Also, if you are further interested in the story of this church here are several links:

“You have been king of my glory; Won’t you be my prince of peace” – Old Bethlehem Lutheran – Old North St. Louis

I post another set of ruin photos and once again attendant upon this act are the feelings and the questions of what is it inside me that make such photos appealing. Are the images cautionary? Or are they mirrors–a feeling of diminished glory in own life which is reflected so well here in this crumbling church. Whatever the case may be in my own reflections on these images, I should note that a church is fundamentally more than the building in which it is housed. Perhaps the building which a church indwells says something about that church or about its past or the things it values or how it views God, and yet a church is not its building. A church may wither first and then its building after it or a church may go on strong and its building be left behind like the molted shell of an insect. That is the case with this church, as I have it on good authority that this church continues to thrive in its school building next door. But, oh, what a glorious shell it left behind, now being taken apart brick by brick to be used elsewhere, perhaps in many new buildings. Now there is a metaphor that might be worth exploring! The title of this post comes from this lovely song by Rich Mullins with which I resonate a great deal.

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Like a Ruined House – North St. Louis – Images and a Reflection on “Ruin Porn”

Some of my best received images are artful depictions of ruins. One such piece hangs above my mantelpiece and fairly often elicits praise. The pictures below, from an afternoon last week, fall into the same category.

And, yet, while I am quite obviously drawn to this subject matter, I am also quite ambivalent about taking such pictures. What is it about depicting and viewing such brokenness that draws us? For me, it is principally because of how ruins work as a metaphor of neglect and its consequences. I relate it to the concept of dissipation, of letting oneself go, for whatever reason. In many ways I can relate it to tendencies I find within my own soul, and that is cautionary, instructive. I also like the juxtapositions that one can sometimes create in such settings, like pairing a dilapidated house with a church, though it also may be in some state of decline, or with a still living tree.

In some ways with such maneuvers I am taking the particular and abstracting it or generalizing it. And perhaps therein lies the problem. In doing this am I ignoring the particularity of a neighborhood? By drawing attention to its brokenness do I run the risk of diminishing its dignity or the dignity of the people who live in it? More pointedly, do folks who live amongst these conditions, or other analogous ones, find the same “beauty” and meaning in such scenes? I suspect that they do not. I do not know that I have any answers, but these are the questions that I carry with me as I, from time to time, reflectively allow myself such photo shoots.

In a bit of a corollary, what is it with the “pornification” of our vocabulary? In this post, I have used other words to describe what is sometimes referred to as “ruin porn,” with “poverty porn” being a closely related term. On Instragram folk use hashtags such as #foodporn and #sunsetporn. Of course I get it. Folks are analogizing a way of seeing and correlating it with how actual pornography is viewed: with obsession, with addiction, with even a sort of hunger. And yet this semantic trick is a bit of a trouble to me, one who struggles to avoid the moral harm caused by the real thing. And even the mere existence of all these new obsessions, fetishes, peccadillos, too, is perhaps a bit of a trouble in and of itself. The great writer C.S. Lewis, seemed to inadvertently presage some of these things when addressing a Christian view of sexual morality.

OK. Enough philosophizing! Here are the images:

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