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A Family of Architects

[Note: This 2020 version of an allegorical parable of the Church is the most recent of several revisions since it was first created in 2004.]

Again, he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundred-fold." And he said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Mark 4:1-9)

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This well-remembered "Parable of the Sower" found in The Gospel According to Mark suggests how the proclamation the Gospel can have different outcomes depending on the context into which the seed is “sown.” I could spend the next few paragraphs giving you a critical analysis of this text to suggest how it illuminates the relationship of the Church to the contemporary world. Instead, I am going to follow the time-honored teaching method upon which Jesus relied so often. I am going to tell you a story…

Not so long ago and not so far away there lived a great family of architects and builders. In the early days the founder of the family had envisioned a family home that would be built on the crest of a hill overlooking a valley town. Succeeding generations had established the foundation and built upon it. The result was a great castle with high walls. You could look upward into the clear blue of the heavens and the bright light of reason could shine within, but the walls blocked out the coarseness and boisterousness of the valley town below. In these latter days the castle was inhabited by a large and diverse family who were the descendents of the founder.

The original plans for the castle were contained in The Book of Design. These plans had been inspired by the architectural vision of the founder but they had actually been drawn by the first generation of his offspring. From the first days of their drafting no line in the original plans had been changed. Of course, with a growing family there had been the need to add this floor or that wing. So, each generation in its turn had extrapolated or interpreted the original plans to meet these needs.

Many of those dwelling in the castle agreed that such additions conformed to the spirit of the founder's vision. But there were a few - some living in the most heavenward levels of the castle and some in its most extreme wings - who were suspicious of any new addition. They believed that most of these changes compromised in some way the original plans in The Book. Actually, the majority of most recent construction had been in the form of facades. These had the appearance of the most contemporary materials and techniques of the building trade but they served no real structural function for the castle.

As life flows from life so to the present head of the clan of architects and builders there was born a son. He was called Mayson, meaning “one who builds with stone.” From his infancy he was tutored in the crafts and lore of the family. He came to revere The Book of Design and, as he matured, he vowed to be guided by it and it alone. When he came of age, he followed his forebears and took on the vocation of architect.

He was aware of the valley town below the castle though from a distance. He knew of its exotic architectural styles. He knew that there lived in the town other architects and builders who had emigrated from distant lands. He knew of the Institute of Building Science which had been established in the center of the town and of the analysis of building principles and experiments with new building materials and techniques which occurred there. But for him The Book of Design was the only true and sufficient source of building principles.

So, he turned his back on the town. He judged it to be a place of passing fads, of conflicting authorities, and even of architectural heresy. Still, like the others who lived in the castle with him, he depended upon the valley town for his groceries, his medical care, and for numerous other goods and services, and not the least for a wife who would commit to the traditions of his family.

In time, a second son was born to the family. He was given the name, Duncan, meaning “dark-haired warrior.” Like his elder brother he was trained in the building lore of the family. But somewhere in his education, perhaps as a result of running errands into the valley town, he began to doubt the absolute validity of The Book of Design. As he matured, he spent more and more of his days in the town. He was fascinated by its diversity and the intensity of its life. He was drawn by provocative murmurings about a new, more glorious day of brilliant structural styles and innovative building techniques.

But as he thought upon that imagined future, he concluded that the coming of that new day would require decisive action. Before the new could arrive, the old had to go. He became extremely dissatisfied with traditional styles and all those who maintained them. So, he left the castle of his father and took up residence in the valley town.

There he adopted the name Shiva, meaning “destroyer and creator of worlds,” and took upon himself the vocation of demolitions expert. He used his knowledge of design and structure to locate the weaknesses of traditional buildings and so was able to place his charges at just those locations that could most effectively bring down the sturdiest walls.

As time passed he came to actively dislike all ancient designs. He became a stern critic of the castle of his father, calling it "an odious blemish on the landscape." He disparaged The Book of Design and spoke derisively of the vision of the founder of his family. He argued that old structures might be of some arcane interest to scholars but that they held no importance for truly vital contemporary people. Worse, old buildings were impediments to the new structures that needed to be built.

So, he went about his work, contracting to demolish old buildings, dreaming of the new structures that would replace them. Yet, he found himself strangely dissatisfied with every new building that rose out of the rubble of his demolition work. He also took a wife from the town, one who shared his iconoclastic vision.

Now the immediate generation of offspring were not all male children. A daughter was also born to the current head of the clan of architects. She was given the name, Chloe, meaning “blooming green plant.” Unlike her older brother, from her earliest childhood she felt the stark walls and complex pattern of hallways, floors, wings and rooms to be too cold and confining. Yet unlike her other brother she was not drawn to the valley town but rather to the forest and its glades, to the fields of wildflowers surrounding the castle, to the quiet wooded springs to which the forest animals came to drink, and to the sparkling streams which leapt down from the crest of the hill to the valley below.

Even as a child she resisted learning the building lore of the family. As she got older she would often claim that there was more truth in the smell of a forest after a spring rain or in the feel of new grass under her bare feet than in all the books of lines and numbers and material specifications. It did not pass her notice that few of her teachers really expected her to master the building tradition and so to become an architect herself. Most expected that she would only acquire sufficient knowledge to be a fitting helpmate to an acceptable suitor from among the architects in the valley town. As she grew to maturity neither of her brothers sought her opinion on any matters of significance, yet both expected her to follow their leads without question but with enthusiasm.

As might be guessed, at her earliest opportunity, she too left the castle of her father. But she did not descend to the valley town. Instead she built a small thached home of sod and bark on the edge of the forest. Its use of materials from the forest and the field made it virtually invisible until one was almost upon it.

She became a potter and poet creating works of clay and word, more intended as explorations of aesthetic spirit than as artifacts for utility. She lived a modest life sharing her home and sometimes her bed with others dispirited by the economy of the castle and town. Her richly passionate poetry became a scandal to her family. Some in the countryside even adopted her verses as anthems for protest movements that sprang up from time to time decrying the materialism of the day.

A third boy was born into the family of architects. He was named Logan, meaning “hollow.” Like his older siblings he was tutored in the family trade. But like Duncan he happily ventured into the valley town. There he made many friends, far more diverse than the inhabitants of the castle. There he enjoyed artistic entertainments more provocative than those permitted in his castle home. There he discovered many opportunities for community service no less welcomed than those provided by the residents of the castle. There he was amazed by the public presentations at the Institute for building Science.

As the years went by the center of Logan’s life drifted slowly but surely into the town. He attended less and less to the doings in the castle and immersed himself in the doings of the town. When he came of age he left his castle family not with animus but just because he was for all practical purposes already living in the town. Knowing about buildings, he took up the vocation of real estate broker. He joined the Exchange Club and while participating in a community choir, met and married a nurse and began a family of his own. Amidst all the busy-ness of his life he ceased thinking of himself as a child of the castle.

Now there was a fifth and final child born in this generation, another daughter. She was called Alexandra, meaning “helper of humankind.” Like her siblings before her, she was instructed in the heritage of the family, the history of the castle, and the skills of the family trade. As the "baby" of the family, and a girl at that, her technical potential was often underestimated not only by her teachers but by her family as well. Yet, she had a disconcerting ability to suggest creative solutions to architectural problems, solutions which often took her elder brother quite by surprise. Though she recognized that no one held high expectations for her as an architect or builder, her own fascination with the integration of form and materials to create aesthetically appealing and functional space was sufficient to spur her to excellence in her studies.

Like her second and third brothers she was also drawn toward the valley town. Her imagination was sparked by its many architectural styles. Her mind was challenged and stimulated by the research done in the Institute of Building Science. She respected and cherished the heritage of her family but she did not worship it. She was intrigued by the possibilities for architectural innovation but did not believe that her heritage had to be discarded in order to make room for the new.

She attended Logan’s community choir recitals and participated with him in some of the Exchange Club service projects. From time to time she baby-sat for Logan and his wife to allow them some adult time together. It was during one of these visits with Logan’s family that she met one of the faculty from the Institute of Building Science who was avocationally a graphic artist. Their relationship grew and in time led to their marriage.

She often visited her sister. They would lie together in grassy fields and make up stories about the cloud-shapes in the blue sky above. They would bathe together in woodland ponds and splash and giggle as children. She spent many pleasurable hours learning as she watched her sister mold clay and listened to her mold words. She developed a respect for nature but was also impressed by its underside: the thorn of the rose, the fang of the wolf, and the talon of the hawk. She was also troubled by the uncritical way her sister's poems were often used by others as passionate denunciations of both the town and the castle.

Now, when she came of age, she did choose to take upon herself the vocation of architect BUT she also left the castle of her father. With her she took a copy of The Book of Design, which had been hers since childhood. She also took many notebooks she had filled while listening to the town's structural scholars describing their investigations. Lastly, she took a collection of poems and clay figures she had written and shaped with the encouragement of her sister.

With her new husband she went neither to the valley town nor to her sister's glen but to the crest of a hill across the valley from the castle of her father. There they laid the foundation for their own home.

Its form was inspired by the vision of the founder of the family. Yet, the actual plans drew not only upon The Book of Design but also upon new architectural principles developed in the town's Institute and upon aesthetic visions her sister, Chloe, had shared with her. Her plans incorporated many diverse building styles into a single coherent design and she constructed the home using both materials from the forest and the fields and newly introduced synthetic materials, materials which possessed both strength and flexibility.

The resulting structure was neither dominating nor obscure. Though clearly visible it seemed to emerge naturally out of the hill upon which it sat. Perhaps its most striking feature was its east wall; that whole wall was a window allowing Alexandra and her family an unimpeded view of her father's castle, the valley town and the glen of her sister on the edge of the wood.

Over the years her family grew. So, Alexandra and her husband expanded their home. But they never simply added a new level or a new wing to the original structure. Instead, with each addition they carefully considered the latest discoveries from the Institute and newly available building materials. Alexandra made sure each addition was an integral part of the existing structure and, when necessary, changed walls and shifted support members of the existing building in order to accommodate the expansion.

Then, in most recent days, the storms of change began to rage across the land. Winds of discontent roared through the valley and over the hills. An icy cold settled on the land, chilling the body straight to the spirit. The countryside was caught in a deluge of frustration and disenchantment. The inhabitants of the valley and the hills sought shelter in their homes. Many from the valley went to higher ground.

Some came to the castle of the father. But they were only admitted if first they would swear allegiance to The Book of Design. Others sought out Chloe, having heard that her home was open to all. Though they were graciously received, they found scant shelter in a structure built for sunnier times. There were some, along with Logan and his family, who came to Alexandra’s hilltop home. Through her dealings in the town, folk had come to know and respect her. All were welcomed, though accommodations became cramped and some unusual living arrangements had to be tolerated.

The valley and the hills were ravaged by riotous weather. The damage would not have been so extreme except that Shiva (Duncan) had recently demolished the old flood control dam in anticipation that a new one would be built. However, that new construction had been delayed due to a protest movement under the banner of one of Chloe's poems. Tragically, Shiva was caught on foot when the unreasoning flood waters raced through the valley. He was swept away and never seen again. (Although it was rumored that he had been saved by the daughter of the bank owner of a village downstream, whom he subsequently married; that he returned to his given name, Duncan; had become a successful insurance salesman and the chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce.)

Chloe's home weathered the early stages of the storm but the nearby pass of a tornado of passion ripped it asunder, exposing its inhabitants to nature's most ferocious elements. Chloe, herself, was terribly mauled by a she-bear who charged from the forest in search of her young. Chloe was carried by her few surviving companions to her father's castle.

Alexandra's home withstood the onslaught well but not without damage. The great window was smashed by flying debris. Alexandra, her husband, their children and some of those gathered with her, including Logan and his family, were injured but none seriously. For the most part the storm rolled over her home, finding no wall that presented absolute resistance. The strong yet resilient materials from which the building had been constructed absorbed most of the force of the storm, like the grasses of the fields bending but not breaking.

On the hill across the valley, the massive walls of the father's castle were strong but they had no flexibility. The facades that had only the appearance of new materials quickly fell away with the first strong gusts of wind. Under the continuing onslaught of the storm, first small cracks appeared in the walls, then leaks, then plaster began to fall from the ceilings as ancient tiles blew from the roofs.

One by one the great towers began to collapse; then the farthest wings; then, finally, the great hall of the castle fell in upon itself. Most of those within the castle escaped serious injury, though there were many scrapes and bruises and a few broken bones. The patriarch of the family was struck in the head by a piece of stone blown from a wall and suffered a concussion. The Mayson's leg was broken when he ran into the great hall to save The Book of Design and was caught under a falling beam.

In the hush following the passage of the storm, Alexandra and her husband with Logan, made her way to what was left of the castle of her father. There they found him and Mayson huddled together with the remainder of the castle family. Alexandra urged them to come with her to her home and to join the valley folk in rebuilding their town. But her pleas fell upon deaf ears. In a dull and lifeless voice, the castle dwellers began to chant the plans of The Book of Design as though they were magical incantations that would somehow restore the castle to its original state of dominance.

In a corner of what remained of the great hall Alexandra found Chloe, lying alone, abandoned by her companions, softly singing the most melancholy of songs about betrayal and disillusionment. Alexandra washed Chloe's wounds, formed a litter and placed her sister upon it. Sadly, Alexandra left her father and brother as they sang lost songs in the dark. Together with her husband and Logan, she took Chloe to her home where they could nurse her back to health, though it was unclear whether Chloe's scars would ever completely fade.

Then without hesitation Alexandra, her husband, and Logan descended to the valley town and began to help those there who were already beginning to clear away the devastation. From her own storerooms she brought building materials and plans, including the Book of Design. She joined with those who had weathered the storm in her home and those who had survived on their own in the town in the effort to rebuild their community. As they met in the last chill of that early morning to plan a new city, the skies began to brighten with the dawn of a new day.

"Those who have ears to hear, let them hear."

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