All over America, people find creative ways to share things they are passionate about. One way they do that is to build museums. Often designed to show large or elaborate collections, many are more modest. Historical museums abound, but it’s also common to find sites with different themes: railroads, arctic life, steam engines, clocks, board games, etc. (In fact, there are more museums in the U. S. than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined!) The best are more than just exhibits, they engage people in creative ways that encourage them to take something when they leave, something more than photographs or a trinket. With all these examples of people sharing what’s important to them, why is there so little representation of Christian spiritual truths? There are many religious museums, but where are the exhibits that teach spiritual truths, instead of scientific ones? This may seem an odd idea, but I believe that when one considers the amount of parable and other creative expressions of spiritual truths in the Bible, it shouldn’t seem odd at all.
What follows is an imaginary tale of a family visiting such a place, told from the father’s perspective.
This week on the Williams family update: we visit the The Gate Museum.
This museum is a place for “Seeing beyond the natural”, although I’m not exactly sure what that means. Although not obvious at first, we eventually realized it was from a Christian standpoint. We decided to visit after the kids insisted. We’re not a religious family, and I’m personally wary of the social agenda that various religious groups try to force on people. But some of the kid’s friends had been to the place and it sounded like mostly harmless fun. I’m not sure we would have gone to the museum knowing it really was religious, but go we did, and ended up having a great time.
So, we decided to spend a day “learning to see”, and let the kids lead us around.
The space was very open and bright, with exhibits scattered about, some in the middle and some along the edges. It was easy to wander around and experience the displays, and although the space was open, there were definite clusters as they were arranged in themes. One thing that stood out was the number of chairs scattered around. When we first got there, I thought they were rest spots. And while that was certainly part of it, we learned that they were also good places to sit and talk. More on that later.
For a “spiritual” place, it certainly had a hands-on nature. The place was filled with odd yet intriguing little exhibits that creatively illustrated various ideas. Like a hands-on science museum, the idea seemed to be to interact with the exhibits in order to fully understand what they were saying. But of course, the topics here weren’t necessarily science. In fact, they didn’t shy away from science and technology either, that just wasn’t the focus. If nothing else, it was fun, and to be honest, got me thinking a little.
For example, one of the exhibits was this odd visual display. When we walked up to it, all we could see was a vertical line of LEDs. As we looked around the booth, we would catch fragments of an image out of the corner of our eyes. The second stage of the exhibit caused some additional LEDs to flash on either side of the line. We found that if we tracked those flashing LEDs, we would see an image floating in mid-air. If we tried to concentrate on the image, or do anything other than move our eyes back and forth with the flashing LEDs, the image would disappear or become jumbled.
Apparently the message was that, in order to see the spiritual at work, one has to walk a certain path of obedience. Otherwise you may get glimpses, but never the whole picture. It was very frustrating to try getting glimpses without following the lights, but there was no way around it. Got to admit, if it takes a pure heart to see God, then it’s no wonder he seem so invisible these days, when you just look at the culture around us.
Another group of displays used UV lights to change pictures in surprising ways, while others had groups of people interacting in a mysterious yet synchronize manner. One sort of carving or sculpture or lamp or whatever, illustrated how something unseen can be perceived in multiple ways yet still not be fully understood. Most of the displays were like that. Something quirky and intriguing, with a little conceptual surprise.
Just outside the building was a little garden area with tables and chairs, and even a small waterfall and some sophisticated fountains. The museum has a little cafe, and we sat among the plants while enjoying a bite of lunch. It turns out that the garden area was part of the exhibits, for among the plants and waterfalls were signs that built on the themes introduced inside. After eating, we walked around the garden and were surprised by the peaceful creativity. I’m not much of a gardener, but Donna was captivated by some of the descriptions of life among the flowing waters. So after a loop through the garden, we headed back inside.
A number of “docents” were walking around, willing to explain what they meant. Fortunately, there were quite a few chairs scattered around, so it was easy to get into conversations with the people. Apparently that’s what the chairs were for, rather than just resting.
Talking to these museum people was a little different. Many of them talked about “hearing him”, as if that were a natural part of things, as if some eternal being was somehow active in their day-to-day lives. I’ve heard a number “salvation testimonies” from people trying to evangelize me, but this was different. They talked with an easy familiarity, like one would a close friend who was close at hand, rather than from their distant past.
I wonder what they’re experiencing.
They also talked about the lessons in the exhibits, and I began to get a picture of how limited our normal perspectives are. A couple of the exhibits really got to me, and I began to see how much I needed something more in my life. Although I’ve heard a lot about “Christianity”, the things here were more about spiritual ideas. I began to get a much different picture of Jesus than just a legendary figure and social activist. More like a gateway to a different sort of life.
Even the kids got something to think about, because they asked all sorts of questions about “forever” that, not only could I not answer, I started wondering about myself. Donna was smiling quietly when we left, and said she wanted to talk about something she learned while we were there. Sounds like we’re going to have an interesting conversation.
It was an odd sort of place, almost more like an art gallery, and a place that left us with more questions than answers. Or maybe answers to questions we didn’t know we had. 🙂 But we all had a good time playing with the exhibits, exploring the environment, and talking with the people. We stopped at the obligatory souvenir/gift shop on the way out. Some of the exhibits were available in simpler form, and there were a variety of books. Pretty typical in many ways.
All in all, the whole family had fun. We all enjoyed ourselves, although each in a different way. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in new perspectives about spiritual things.