Seeing Through the Stained Glass

Yesterday I shared a story that appeared on the front page of the Fort Worth Star Telegram.  It was an article about Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary installing a series of custom stained glass images that “will immortalize Baptists who helped effect the culture change to more conservative attitudes in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Apparently the project was the dream of Dorothy Patterson, wife of the seminary’s president Paige Patterson.

“My dream was to portray the 20 year history of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Church”, said Dorothy Patterson.

You can follow this link to read the complete article: Stained-Glass Windows Honor Leaders of Fort Worth Seminary

My post simply stated “There’s just something about this that rubs me the wrong way.  Am I alone?” and included a link to the article.

As it turns out, I am not alone.  So far there are 55 comments from 42 different people.  I will be the first to admit that this doesn’t fall under the category of “going viral”, but I was surprised at both the number of comments and the emotion behind many of them.

I am an infrequent blogger at best, but the response to the post made me want to better express my thoughts on the subject.

Let me begin by saying that I’m not against honoring men and women who’ve contributed to the kingdom.  I think their stories need to be told, and their examples should be held up for future generations.  In fact, looking through a few of the names and images of those in the project’s first stage, I am certain that those whom the Patterson’s are seeking to honor were (and are) men and women who genuinely love God and the church.  There isn’t one name I don’t respect.  In fact, many of them are pastors I have admired for years who have tremendous ministries, but I wonder – are they all deserving of stained glass?

Maybe plaques and portraits.  But stained glass in a chapel?

Stained glass has been used throughout history to tell the stories of the giants of the faith and to beautifully illustrate the basics of theology for a largely illiterate audience.  I admit that I may be elevating the medium of stained glass to a place it doesn’t deserve, but in my mind stained glass is a kind of sacred ground reserved for only a select few.

I’m not saying that a few of these individuals may not deserve to be immortalized in stained glass one day in the distant future, but for now it seems a bit premature to immortalize the major players in the conservative resurgence, especially when the wounds of that battle are still healing.

Taking it a little further, the whole project feels  slightly self-serving and comes off as an attempt to engineer a legacy.  In my thinking it is the role of future generations to look back and honor the contributions of their predecessors by immortalizing them in stone or glass.  However, in this case, it seems like those who’ve made a contribution to the Conservative Resurgence are trying to secure their place in history (and some would say their version of history) while they still can.  To be celebrated and immortalized is something you leave for history to do for you – not something you take upon yourself.

That being said, here is what I propose (as if anyone on The Hill cares)…

What if the seminary leveraged its tremendous research resources to unearth the stories of Southern Baptist pastors and missionaries who served and sacrificed anonymously for most of their lives?  What if we could find some accounts of a pastor who served for 30 years in a small country church meeting the needs of a rural farming community?  What if we could find an example of a missionary who went to a country to which she had never been and learned a language she did not speak, all so that she could love a people she had never met?

Over the next 50 years thousands of students will come to Southwestern to prepare for a life of ministry.  Imagine them walking through the chapel past those faces etched in glass.  In a culture that has become increasingly infatuated with the glow of celebrity, what better message can we convey to these students just starting their ministries than to tell the stories of the great men and women who faithfully served the Kingdom year after year without recognition, without applause, and without the promise of stained glass?

Am I being naive and idealistic? Probably. But if Dorothy can have a stained glass dream, so can I.

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4 thoughts on “Seeing Through the Stained Glass

  1. shanec3 says:

    I agree Wes! I was extremely “weirded out” by the article in the Telegram. Stained glass in the past seemed to have been reserved for telling Bible Stories to the illiterate and children. However, admittedly, I can take by views to an extreme with not elevating people… For example, it puts a ‘pit’ in my stomach to see a man’s name or picture on the church sign in front of a building. As though, the main draw for the church is a man in a nice suit! Haha. Didn’t the Word have something to say about, “Lifting up Jesus, and He’ll draw all people to Himself?” At our worst… we make idols. Anywho, I appreciate your ministry… I’ve been under your teaching several times when I was a Student Pastor. Now, I’m a Church Planter in Rowlett (www.c3rowlett.com). Keep on preaching Jesus, bro!

  2. Dyon Drain says:

    A woman commissions a glass artist to immortalize certain individuals including her husband and herself. So where is the conflict? There is no conflict in this issue…it is about her doing what she thinks is appropriate and giving credit where credit is due. Matthew, in his gospel gives a statement of about being rewarded on earth and possibly that being enough or all you will get…as opposed to the ‘small town pastor for many years preaching and teaching and receiving his reward later…the best reward will come later.
    Between the two positions (and certainly not to infer that this is an evil deed and not to be of God’s liking) I much prefer to let God be the judge and receive my reward in due time.

    In one respect; this is all silliness and no one really cares in the greater outlook of what matters. Let Dorothy have her dream, and let it be executed with great attention to details as she supervises the artist chosen and those she or someone ‘deems worthy of such a high position of honor’. To misquote scripture….’many are called but few are chosen’ seems to roll off my tongue at the moment and leaves me with the thought/wish…”if only I could be so honored”. 😦

    Actually, it is just real creepy to be alive and to have faces and figures adorn the walls of a chapel in this day and age. I thought we had progressed to more modern forms of artistry.
    And I cannot stray from the ‘thought of all that we do should bring Glory to God’. And in reality when time passes and when ‘He returns’ I would not want any association with stained glass on chapel walls…but I also can imagine Him not really caring who or what went up on certain walls.

    I personally cannot see through these stained glass windows…maybe I need to wear a pair of rose colored glasses to be able to see properly what is on view.

  3. Romans 1:25 “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the creator, who is blessed for ever, Amen.” We see the rank fundamentalists are doing what those guys did in Paul’s day. Some things never change.

  4. Mark Plosser says:

    The only saving grace (pun intended) is that these windows are questionable at best, so few people outside of the inner circle will take them seriously. When it comes to high art forms, contemporary Christianity always fails miserably. Instead of inspiring awe and wonder – think the Sistine Chapel or Handel’s “Messiah” – contemporary Christians go full Wal-Mart and make it as bland and unoffensive as possible. Whether it is art, film, music, or architecture, their execution is always a blurry and watered-down facsimile of anything approaching honest reality or artistic integrity. Seriously – who will find any intrinsic beauty in the form of a stained-glass man stiffly posed in a business suit? It’s the equivalent of a “grip-and-grin” photograph in a small town newspaper – simply a self-congratulatory and superficial effort that is lacking any soul or spirit, usually reserved for the likes of celebrities and politicians.

    On another point, I truly feel like these windows are nothing more than self-serving and narcissistic in nature, and it is symptomatic of what’s wrong with the contemporary church. The Jesus I love didn’t sacrifice himself so that church leaders could blow their own horn in the most blatant way possible. It’s a prime example of the Pharisees showing off and praying in public. Thank you for allowing me to respond.

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