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Megan Sweas

Writer, Editor, Student of Life

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Commentary

Have you visited your local mosque lately?

Published by Huffington Post Religion, October 8, 2012

With the Southern California sun shining off its white marble walls and tall blue minaret, King Fahad Mosque in Culver City is hard to miss. But I almost did miss it.

As I turned my car around, I thought about how easy it would be to keep going straight instead of going to the mosque.

Continue reading “Have you visited your local mosque lately?”

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Muslims respond to Islamophobia

After listening to a speaker defend Shariah, or Islamic law, as just and merciful last spring, a young Muslim found himself walking out of the auditorium with a member of a Christian group called Truth Defenders.

“Why do you follow the Prophet? He was a womanizer, terrorist,” the man said to Mohannad Abu Alrub, a member of the Muslim Student Union at University of California – Irvine. “That didn’t fly with me,” Alrub told me later. Continue reading “Muslims respond to Islamophobia”

Decolonizing Coverage: Religion, Celebrity and Kony 2012

Media critique for TRANS/MISSIONS, the site for the Knight Center for Media and Religion, March 26, 2012

After visiting a slum in Delhi, India with a young evangelical woman from Georgia, a friend and I got into a discussion about Americans working in the developing world. “Maybe I just don’t like NGOs,” he said, convinced that the efforts of not just evangelicals but all Westerners are tainted by a sense of cultural superiority. Continue reading “Decolonizing Coverage: Religion, Celebrity and Kony 2012”

Catholics United? Take a Closer Look

Media critique for TRANS/MISSIONS, the site for the Knight Center for Media and Religion, February 13, 2012

Since President Barack Obama announced his contraception compromise on Friday, the coalition of religious conservatives that had united against the Health and Human Services mandate to cover contraception has begun to fall apart. Obama said that insurance companies rather than religiously affiliated institutions would be required to cover “objectional services.” Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S. question whether this would actually work, but in rejecting the compromise Friday night, they also called “for the rescission of the mandate altogether.” (Rocco Palmo has a “bulked up” explanation of the bishops’ position.) Continue reading “Catholics United? Take a Closer Look”

A Catholic Crystal Cathedral

The windows of the Crystal Cathedral aren’t as shiny as they once were.

In three years, the Crystal Cathedral will be a Catholic cathedral. What is the Catholic Church getting for $57.5 million?

We’ve all seen the shining pictures of the shining cathedral, but since moving out to L.A., I’ve been really curious to see it for myself. I finally made it down to Orange County a few weeks ago. Visitors still flock to the architectural landmark, but bankrupt mega-church is showing its age.

Aside from the 236-foot bell tower, looming cross, and countless statues, the grounds resemble a confused corporate campus, with plenty of parking for commuters. At a distance from the main buildings, an uninspired boxy, white school looks as if it might hold cubicles, not classrooms.

Take off the gigantic cross, and architect Richard Neutra’s Tower of Hope is no more than what it is—an office building built in the 1960s. The curved stainless steel façade makes Richard Meier’s visitor center, completed in 2003, look like it could be the centerpiece of a technology company’s headquarters, rather than an ancillary building on church grounds.

These buildings are reflected in the windows of Philip Johnson’s all-glass cathedral, the gem of the campus. At first glance, though, even the cathedral could be a uniquely shaped 1980s office building, its dark window not revealing what’s inside.

The mish-mash of styles in the three main buildings is supposed to represent the evolution of Southern California modern architecture, but it also appropriately represents the venture of its founder, Robert Schuller, who has combined business, entertainment, and inspiration in his ministry for more than 50 years.

The Crystal Cathedral bankruptcy proceedings revealed how much business and politics go into running a church. The Crystal Cathedral at first opposed the diocese’s bid because after three years, the church couldn’t broadcast the “Hour of Power,” which bring in much of its revenue, from the cathedral. Schuller was a pioneer in combining entertainment with ministry, reaching out to the masses rather than waiting for them to come to church. He first held services in California at a drive-in theater. “Come as you are in the family car” became his tagline.

The vision he asked Johnson to create in his cathedral was one of openness—where he could see the blue sky, just as he could at the drive-in.

Today the windows of the Crystal Cathedral are slightly grimy, not shining like crystal in the afternoon sun. Inside the carpet is worn and spotted by the steps of countless visitors and worshipers. The Sony Jumbotron has nothing on the audio-visual displays of more modern mega-churches.

But as I sank into a faded blue seat—Row I, Seat 4—I could see Schuller’s original idea. The parking lot behind the Cathedral disappeared, and all I could see beyond the white lattice-structure was blue. The space simultaneously seemed small and large—a boat that can hold nearly 3,000 people, floating through the expanse of creation.

A bird flew down and landed next to the long fountain that extends down the center aisle of the church. Trees grow inside, and a volunteer set up plants along the altar.

Or perhaps it’s better called a stage. The marble front piece, after all, is the backdrop for the “Hour of Power” broadcast. A second look skywards and I noticed stage lighting hanging from the steal frame. The balcony holds not only the world’s third-largest organ but also professional studio cameras. Seating is theater-style, not pews. I knew I was in a church—there’s a cross in the corner, after all—but it doesn’t really feel like it.

It’s unclear still what the diocese means when it says that “critical design upgrades” are required. The space could benefit from a sprucing up, but I hope the diocese goes further than that. Losing the “studio” elements in the cathedral would eliminate some distractions from worship, but the rest of the campus, which is so wrapped up in Schuller’s story, needs to be considered too.

The board of the church ended up supporting the diocese bid because they wanted to see their cathedral remain a church. But is an evangelical mega-church fundamentally different from a Catholic cathedral? How can the Catholic Church make the space its own while respecting what came before?

I look forward to visiting it again in three years.

I wrote a description of the Crystal Cathedral as a part of a class I’m taking about writing about architecture, and updated it today with news of its sale. It was also posted at USCatholic.org and then quoted in a Religion News Service article posted on sites such as USA Today, Huffington Post, and Christian Century.

I’ll be green for Christmas

Published in U.S. Catholic, December 2010

Cover December 2010Let’s not only be green when summer’s here but also during the most wonderful time of the year.

The anticipation was over, the gifts all opened, and nothing left to do except take it all in. Even when I was little, it was one of my favorite moments of Christmas. I’d sit with my loot sorted next to me and survey the living room while peeling the customary orange from my stocking. Red, green, and patterned wrapping paper covered the floor, and the cats, high on new catnip, would be attacking a bow under the tree.

I loved getting the orange, along with an apple and nuts (and chocolate, of course) in my stocking. It felt so Little House on the Prairie, as if these were exotic fruits, a special treat savored in the middle of the winter and not an ordinary purchase at the grocery store. I imagined Pa trekking home from town with brown paper packages—one each for Ma and us girls—getting caught in the blizzard and having to eat our special Christmas treat to survive. Ah, those were the days!

It’s not that I wanted to give up the Nintendo, books, and whatever other toys I got for this frontier fantasy. But at some age I started to see the effect of all my gifts. Eventually my moment of Christmas bliss was over, and we would have to stuff trash bag after trash bag with packages and shiny wrapping paper. According to use-less-stuff.com, Americans produce 25 percent more waste from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, amounting to 25 million tons of extra trash.

Is this any way to celebrate Christ’s birth? …

Read more on USCatholic.org

PDF of “I’ll be green for Christmas”

Catholic and feminist: You got a problem with that?

Published in U.S. Catholic, January 2009

Catholics ought to be loud and proud in the fight for women’s rights, argues a young feminist.

This is what a feminist looks likeI still remember the first time I heard a friend utter the words I considered near blasphemy: “I’m not a feminist.” I was shocked. We were bright junior high girls in the age of the Spice Girls’ “girl power,” and I, for one, had been raised a feminist by a 1960s feminist mother.

I wasn’t burning my training bras or hating men (they weren’t yet on my radar screen, anyway), but my feminism was ardently liberal and a huge reason I struggled with my faith. …

Read more on USCatholic.org

PDF of “Catholic and Feminist: You got a problem with that?”

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