October 14, 2009

Been There--Done That!


 Some weeks ago I was invited to present a paper at a workshop, organized by the University of Helsinki in Finland, and found myself with a couple of hours in between appointments. My hotel was located less than half a mile from the “Rock Church” (as it is known in tourist guides), and a leisurely five-minute walk brought me to this wonderfully designed place of worship owned by the Lutheran Evangelical Church. Besides a piano player and two women sitting in the foyer, who seemed to be selling religious souvenirs, I was the only person in the church—a structure hewn into a rocky outcrop with lots of light from high glass panels and an amazingly designed copper dome. Very simple. Very minimalistic. Very quiet.
2009 1529 page6A young woman played wonderful classical music on a grand piano. I sat down in one of the simple pews, checked the impulse to take pictures of this sanctuary, and just listened. I was soaking up the wonderful music, closing my eyes, when suddenly it happened. A number of tour buses, carrying hundreds (at least it seemed like that) of eager tourists, had arrived. People filled the sanctuary like a wave rushes toward the coast. They must have had only a limited time and swarmed around the church, snapping pictures from any and every possible angle.
My moment of solitude was over. As I looked at the human invasion of the sanctuary space four words suddenly flashed into my mind: “Been there—done that.” Have you felt like that? You look at a particular scene, you listen to a familiar tune, you travel on a well-worn path, and suddenly it seems as if you have been there before.
As Christians we sometimes say these four words in many other forms. “Yes, I still remember the exciting moments of my first love for Jesus,” and it seems as if the excitement has gone from our eyes. “Yes, I once was very concerned about an authentic Christian lifestyle (including my diet, my dress, and my time management), but now I have moved on to different issues. This has been crossed off my list.” Been there—done that!
With our arrival in North America I noticed a trend that I had not known before—at least I had not seen it before live. Church hopping and Sabbath tourism seems to be an increasing phenomenon in Seventh-day Adventist churches all around the country. People move around to listen to a good preacher visiting the church across town. Been there—done that. They like the music in another church, but prefer the fellowship lunch in yet another church. Been there—done that.
Have we become like tourists, snapping wildly at different motifs, trying to get the most thrilling, exciting, entertaining menu for our Sabbath mornings, but not staying long enough to enjoy the quietness of God’s gentle whisper or the sometimes jarring but badly needed polishing that God’s Spirit is doing on our characters through the brother or sister sitting next to us in that pew?
Solitude did not return to Temppeliaukio church in Helsinki, Finland, on that day. As I left the church that morning I wondered about the “been there—done that” attitude in my own life.

Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of the Adventist Review.
This article was published October 15, 2009.