My dear friends, Ron and Suzanne Dirsmith (both are internationally known architects), sent me the story of their crowning achievement in modern architecture, the famed fussed glass windows of the North Shore Unitarian Church in Deerfield, Illinois. The rich human experience of creating this work of art is at least as moving and magnificent as the art itself, amazing as it certainly is. You can read the details of the story at Ron and Suzanne’s web site:
I’ve heard the story numerous times over the years from various people, including from Ron himself. But never before was I exposed to this level of human details surrounding its creation. Only man/woman of Ron’s and Suzanne’s sensitivity and imagination are capable of bringing out such richness and power of human experience. It’s impossible for me to resist the temptation of relating their wisdom and passion to our own lives/times. I am talking about developing an architecture of human experience that is capable of sustaining civilizations in this post-modern era.
It is all but lost in our age of multi-cultural democracy that human experiences must have a coherent architecture for a community of human beings to strive together passionately and fruitfully. Otherwise, fragmentation or entropy is the inevitable outcome. The universe might have started with merely dusts but the flowers of human existence demands more, much more.
What is this architecture? Beauty, Truth and Goodness are still and forever be the holy trinity that we must apply to any imperfect creations of human imagination. What was unusual and inspiring in this story is the fact that a small group of people pulled together in the turmoil 60s to create an art of enduring beauty for themselves and posterity, based on the belief in an eternal and ever expanding universe, with their own spirits soaring with it. Each piece of fused glass maybe imagined as a human life of fused sorrow and joy, to be given meaning through the architecture of human experience, itself a creation of evolving human wisdom and compassion. Bob White’s famous words, “The Search for truth is the truth” is a beacon of light forever shining through any form of despotism falling back to its dogmas, however well intended and constructive it might have been when first invented. As far as a coherent architecture is concerned, though, it requires some elaboration/explanation. By “search” we don’t mean merely ideas or idle thoughts, it must also include acting on our ideas and thoughts to its fruitions or failures and, in the process, refining them to better reflect the true shape of the universe and our own nature. The acing is at least as important as the idea part of the search. Unfortunately, that’s where contemporary Unitarian and liberal movements in general lost their ways and over time, even the ideology itself became out dated due to lack of feedback from actions. Liberal churches have become places of protesting against external tyranny (them) and “feeling good” (us) instead of examining and reconciling the experience of our own life/time with the wisdom of history and extending the creativity of humankind and the universe. Not that the former is unimportant. But they are clearly secondary in an ever expanding universe as conceived by these pioneers who created the fused glass windows and NSUC in the 60s. What is the remedy? I can’t see any possibility of reviving the enthusiasm and reversing the momentum spiraling downwards other than what these remarkable individuals did in the 60s. What bonded them together is not money or prestige but a sincere desire to be part of a universal (truthful) creation of enduring beauty. No budget? No physical place of worship? No problem! What counts is the fire in the belly! To re-kindle such fires, it requires us to reflect and identify the key challenges or anomalies of our time and then do something meaningful to overcome them. Many people think they’re global climate change and environmental destruction. I believe that’s only the symptoms, resulting from our ignorance of an organic universe and over extending the material dimension of our nature. The real challenges and benefits to us and our children must come from making our everyday experiences at work and home more organic and less mechanical. Perpetuating industrial productions and consumerism while fighting global warming during the weekend is not a sustainable strategy as most contemporary organizations and liberal churches are doing. A sustainable strategy and architecture of human experience must provide a way for contemporary human beings, who are by large working in industrial organizations, to relate their work with spiritual experience and meaning in order to reduce industrial wastes and increase the quality of their existence at the same time. It necessitate a revolution far beyond ‘feeling good” during weekend. I have yet to see such implementations of any sizable scale anywhere. I believe this is not due to lack of opportunities but daring and passionate individuals as Ron, Suzanne and their co-conspirators were in the 60s. It seems that the mere mention of such passions and universal architecture offends the sensibility of political correctness of our liberal friends, who have difficulties distinguishing their own fundamentalism from the Republican brand! It is ironic that I found more openness and opportunities in the “dirty” world of business corporations than the supposedly enlightened communities of liberal thinkers. It seems that actionless minds are becoming at least as great an illness of our time as mindless actions are, another paradox crying for a change of heart and will as well as mind.