Saturday, July 9, 2011

Horses, Gothic Cathedrals, and a Faith That Matters

A few hours ago, I overheard my wife and #3 daughter talking about working at a food concession at a horse show.

Which reminded me of horses, technology, late-medieval architecture, martial arts, Eastern philosophies, and the Diocese of Orange, California.

What Sort of Crazy List Is That?!

It's not as disconnected a set of topics as it may seem. I put a sort of explanation at the end of this post.1

Feeding the Folks, Cleaning the Barns

Once a year, or thereabouts, a group of horse enthusiasts2 have a get-together at the county fairgrounds, about a quarter-mile south of my house. They pay local groups to provide services.

Some years our Soo Bahk Do3 group gets the food service, some years we shovel out the barns.

This year we got the food service.

My wife and #3 daughter worked there this morning, and yesterday: and they'll be back tomorrow. Quite a few of the Soo Bahk Do folks are around my daughter's age, and related to each other. Which isn't at all unusual around here.4

Hijinks and Calm at a Rural Horse Show

I heard that one of the younger Soo Bahk Do folks included a picture of a horse, seen from the rear, on the erasable menu we've got at the fair ground's food service. Same as she's done in previous years. The horse folks like it, I gather.

Our patrons know us, from years of association - and didn't seem to notice the younger members of our group chasing each other around the concession. We're careful about what we do. Which might not be obvious to a newcomer.

Getting Used to Technology

I've noticed a few technologies make the transition from 'threat to civilization as we know it' to something that's 'always been there.' Television and the telephone were eroding the foundations of society in my teens. At least, that's the way a few 'experts' and 'concerned citizens' saw it.

Me? I was in my teens, and filed the prognostications of doom and gloom under 'interesting' with cross-references from 'abnormal psychology' and 'quaint ideas.' Not that my mental processes have ever been quite that formally organized - but that's pretty much how I viewed the notion that technology controls people.

Or that the various super-technologies, from string and fire to computers and nuclear energy, would surely destroy us all.

'Just Wait - - -'

Then there's the cartoon showing two older cave men, standing apart from some younger folks and a fire. One of the old (about my current age) coots says to the other, 'just wait: someday it'll get out of control, and burn down the whole village.'

Ever hear of the London Fire of 1666? Folks in London haven't forgotten. Then there was the big Chicago Fire in 1871. Most, if not all, cities seem to have had an enormously destructive fire: after which they decided that building codes and something like a fire department are good ideas.

Which I think makes more sense than outlawing fire, or telling people to stop living close to each other.

Horses and the End of Civilization, ca. 1900

Although I've had to bow out of quite a bit in the last decade, I've helped the local Soo Bahk Do group shovel out horse barns.

Trust me on this, folks: horses, lovely creatures that they are, generate a sort of pollution. And it's not the sort that a brisk wind will send downwind.

Now, imagine the city of London, in the late 1800s. Since horseless carriages were still mostly in the future, the place must have been wonderfully pollution-free, right?

Depends on your definitions: Smog, no. Manure, yes. Lots and lots of manure.

Around 1900, London had 50,000 horses for registered vehicles - and a whole lot more attached to carts, wains, or just about anything else that moved. With each horse producing around 15 to 35 pounds of manure each day. By the end of the 19th century, serious thinkers realized that horses would surely bring about end of civilization.

Surprisingly, though, 1944 rolled around - and every street in London was not buried under nine feet of manure.5

Gothic Cathedrals: Geodesic Domes of the 12th century

Ah, the 'Good Old Days: When folks built Beautiful Buildings and things were just simply spiffing.

I think quite a few folks think that "Gothic cathedrals" look nice - and may even feel that they represent the way churches 'really should' look. I think they're beautiful, myself.

Parts of the Gothic Cathedral - Chartres Cathedral, MathKnight and Zachi Evenor, via Wikipedia (April 20, 2008)
(MathKnight and Zachi Evenor, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)

Nave of Reims Gothic cathedral, looking west. The upper rose window is in Gothic architecture Rayonnant style. Vassil, via Wikipedia (March 18, 2007)
(Vassil, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)

I also know that for centuries, starting with the Italian Renaissance, these wonders of building technology and architectural design were considered ugly. Because, I gather, they'd been designed by Europeans - and didn't look just like what Roman architects had built, centuries before.6

Never mind that the 'primitive,' barbarian Europeans had done what nobody has achieved before or since - built stone structures with walls that were mostly glass.

I don't think anybody had achieved that sort of breakthrough until Buckminster Fuller worked out the math for geodesic domes, in the 20th century.

Soo Bahk Do? In Central Minnesota?

Quite a few folks around here don't know what Soo Bahk Do is.

However, thanks to Bruce Lee, they do have some notion of what Karate is. Soo Bahk Do isn't Karate2, but they're both martial arts.

And martial arts isn't much like those movies with titles like 'Fearless Fang and the Ninja Doom Assassin.' In the world outside movie studios, I doubt that anything is.

I've had to quite, but my wife, #3 daughter, and son are still involved in the local Soo Bahk Do group.

What? I let my wife learn martial arts, and I call myself a practicing Catholic?! It gets worse: I've learned some Soo Bahk Do myself, and hope to find a way to work around some physical constraints.

Martial Arts and Being Catholic

I don't see a problem with learning the sort of physical and mental disciplines it takes to break boards, learn a form, or pay attention to something you can't see at the moment. Which isn't as mystical as it sounds: ever find a light switch in a familiar, but dark, room?

For what it's worth, the local Soo Bahk Do group's leaders, and all the members I know, are Catholic. I've discussed perceptions and reality of 'foreign' ideas and Eastern practices before.

'New' isn't Better - or Worse

Europeans and Americans are used to Gothic cathedrals now, and have seemed - starting around the 19th century - to realize that something didn't have to have been invented in ancient Rome or Greece to be okay.

The 19th century's 'Shazam!' moment - coming out of the Renaissance's haze and realizing that folks hadn't stopped having useful new ideas when Rome fell - may explain why we were so convinced that 'new' was 'better,' up to the '60s, when the current 'we're all doomed' attitude caught on.

And that's not quite another topic.

Church Architecture and "LET THERE BE LIGHT"

MOSSOT, Saint-Denis - Basilique - Choeur, used w/o permissionDespite its name, the Basilica of Saint Denis is - architecturally - a Gothic building.

We're used to seeing walls of glass, stained or otherwise. Centuries of familiarity may mask just how amazing it is, that a stone building could have those vast expanses of window.

All that glass is important for several reasons.

First, on practical grounds, it's easier to use a building that's well lighted. For the most part: movie theaters and some eateries are among the exceptions.

Second, those windows are colored glass - which are aesthetically pleasing (your experience may vary), and illustrate what the Church teaches. Multimedia was not invented in the 20th century - and that's yet another topic.

Third, I've run into the assertion that Christian literature uses light as a metaphor - a lot. I'm inclined to believe it. Arguably, then, a Christian church should let in, or provide, as much light as possible - without dazzling the folks inside.

Diocese of Orange and the Crystal Cathedral

I wrote about the Crystal Cathedral yesterday. It's a very 20th-century building. And, I suspect, 'doesn't look like a church' to quite a few folks.

Local Favorites and Hidden Treasures, Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau
(Adapted from Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau, used w/o permission)

Crystal Cathedral, Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau
(Adapted from Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau, used w/o permission)

I've discussed the Diocese of Orange / Crystal Cathedral situation before:
Bottom line, for me? The Crystal Cathedral obviously isn't built the same way as the Gothic cathedrals were. But they both used some of the best contemporary technology to create a house of worship filled with light.

A Faith that Matters

I'm a convert to Catholicism. I made that decision for quite a few reasons - mostly because I found out who had the authority my Lord gave to Peter. (June 15, 2011)

Then there's the way the Church teaches that we should act as if Jesus matters. All the time - not just for an hour on Sunday. (April 27, 2010)

And it's good to be follow the Word of God, Son of God and Son of Man, Light of nations, 7 who came to save all of us. (Catechism, 432, 813 ...) Is the Catholic Church "universal?" For all times, all places, all people? Yes. I've been over that before. (April 19, 2010)

Related posts:

1 In case you wonder how I think horses, technology, late-medieval architecture, martial arts, eastern philosophies, and the Diocese of Orange, California, are connected - here's what happened, pretty much:
  • Horses
    • Beautiful creatures
    • Once the energy source for many technologies
      • We still use terms like "horsepower"
    • "Technologies" segues into - - -
  • Technology
    • "the application of the knowledge and usage of tools ... and techniques to control one's environment"
      (Princeton's WordNet)
    • Rapidly changing for the last several centuries
      • Which, depending on personal attitudes, can be
        • Scary
        • Bewildering
        • Fascinating
    • Which a person may use to do
      • Good
      • Evil
      • It's the person's decision
        • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2292-2296
          • For starters
        • Apathetic Lemming of the North (December 2, 2009)
          • And elsewhere
    • Affects what people can do
      • Imposing limits
      • Expanding practical options
    • Is changed when people want make something new, like
      • Disease-resistant plants
      • Machines that fly
      • Stone buildings with walls made of glass
        • Which is how we got late-medieval architecture
          • Gothic Cathedrals
  • Martial arts
    • My wife and daughter were raising money for a martial arts class
    • What we call "martial arts" started in east Asia
      • So did 'eastern philosophies'
  • Eastern philosophies
    • Which aren't necessarily religions
    • But certainly aren't 'American'
      • And didn't come from northwestern Europe
      • 'Just like' those Catholics
  • Diocese of Orange, California
    • A Catholic diocese
    • Which may buy the Crystal Cathedral
      • Which isn't built in the Gothic style
        • But has a whole lot of glass walls
Back to top.

2 It's the MHAHA, or Minnesota Half Arabian Horse Association:
3 Soo Bahk Do is a martial art, a bit like Karate. Except Soo Bahk Do was developed in Korea, and isn't Karate. To someone who isn't familiar with either, they look sort of alike.

4 When I moved to Sauk Centre, I was related, by marriage, to about half the folks in town: Not all that closely, in many cases, but all I had to do was say whose daughter I'd married, and they knew who I was. And that's another topic.

5 The Manure Crisis of 1894 would make a good case-in-point for why we need common-sense environmental regulations. I think the reason you won't find it used that way is that it doesn't lend itself to a 'technology is bad' mindset.

Excerpt from a comparatively obscure publication:
"Manure crisis of 1894 to traffic congestion today – technology is the answer"
Belinda Vesey-Brown, Brio Daily (June 27, 2011)

"As I drive to work each day and sit in peak hour traffic patiently waiting for my turn to move ahead a metre, I can't help but think this is a complete waste of time and fuel, but yet I endure it day after day. This is not the first time the changes to our society and the growth of our cities gets to breaking point where we need to stop and find a solution.

"A classic example of this is a problem that was getting steadily worse about a hundred years ago, so much so that it drove most observers to despair. This was the great horse-manure crisis.

"Nineteenth-century cities depended on thousands of horses for their daily functioning. All transport, whether of goods or people, was drawn by horses. London in 1900 had 11,000 cabs, all horse-powered. There were also several thousand buses, each of which required 12 horses per day, a total of more than 50,000 horses. In addition, there were countless carts, drays, and wains, all working constantly to deliver the goods needed by the rapidly growing population.... Similar figures could be produced for any great city of the time.

"The problem of course was that all these horses produced huge amounts of manure. A horse will on average produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day. Consequently, the streets of nineteenth-century cities were covered by horse manure. This in turn attracted huge numbers of flies, and the dried and ground-up manure was blown everywhere. In New York in 1900, the population of 100,000 horses produced 2.5 million pounds of horse manure per day, which all had to be swept up and disposed of.*...

"...Writing in the Times of London in 1894, one writer estimated that in 50 years every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure. Moreover, all these horses had to be stabled, which used up ever-larger areas of increasingly valuable land. And as the number of horses grew, ever-more land had to be devoted to producing hay to feed them (rather than producing food for people), and this had to be brought into cities and distributed by horse-drawn vehicles. It seemed that urban civilisation was doomed....

"...* See Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 [New York: Oxford University Press, 1999]."
Sound familiar?

That time, the solution wasn't shooting all the horses, making the people stop having babies, and returning Londinium to its natural state.

Although a few generations later, someone did try 'cleaning' Europe's gene pool - and that's another topic.

6 See:
  • "Gothic Art And Architecture"
    Andrew Henry Robert Martindale, Professor of Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, 1974–95
7 More:


Brigid said...

Number agreement: "Not that my mental process have ever been quite that formally organized"

Extra vowel: "I've had to quite, but my wife,"

tense agreement (or something): "and have - since the 19th century - seem to realize that"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


You sure have my number! (It had to be said.)

Found, fixed, thanks!

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.