The Gray Church 5/11/22

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

In New York City, there was a little gray church that has been the topic of speculation and study in architecture schools for years.  Apparently, this architecture historically chose bright colored stones for his buildings, so the debate was over why he chose these gray stones for this church.  Was he making a statement of some kind?  Was it an indictment of organized religion?  Was he angry with somebody when he chose the building materials?  Was it a request by those who had paid for the church to be built? 

There is no reason that I should be aware of this academic issue.  I’m not an architect myself, and I can’t even recall the name of this individual, and even if I could it wouldn’t really mean much to me.  I am, however, familiar with the debate because, as I was living in New York City, there was a news story about the decision to wash this church.  Nobody could remember it ever being done previously, so they hired a company who came in with power-washing equipment.  As it turns out, once the grime of several centuries had been washed away, the pink rose quartz stone underneath was revealed.

In 1980, the US EPA began the Superfund, earmarked money for cleaning the environment.  Prior to the Superfund, pollution was so bad in the air that Los Angeles routinely declared smog emergencies, the Ohio River near Cleveland had caught on fire multiple times, and DDT has nearly wiped out American Bald Eagles.  The Superfund had split up the nation into a handful of “regions” and monitored the environment for pollutants.  I actually worked at a couple of private labs that had Superfund contracts, testing oils for PCB’s (a carcinogenic additive to mainly transformer oils, so prevalent that they had to evacuate the White House when a transformer in the basement exploded and contaminated the building with these chemicals), soil for pesticides and herbicides (including one sample that was roughly 30% by weight DDT), and water for herbicides.  Not only did the EPA Superfund locate these sites, but also cleaned them and would bring lawsuits against companies guilty of violating pollution laws. 

Forty years later, it’s easy to forget just how bad the environment once was.  Some are advocating for freeing up industry from pollution fighting regulations, saying that if you look around at how clean everything is, clearly industry has been responsible all along.  This argument is no more valid than anti-vax arguments that diseases are a thing of the past without stopping to look into the reason that this should be so.

Sometimes I feel as if I am carrying around a coat of pollution from my past, a “soot of arms” if you will.  As humans, we all have things from our past that haunt us and tarnish our reputations.  Focusing too much on the mistakes in somebody’s past can prevent us from seeing the beauty of the foundational stones underneath.  Sometimes it’s difficult to see past things in some people’s past, and while we might not personally get past hurts, it’s also important to remember that people are not the sum total of their errors.

That’s not to say that we can ignore mistakes.  If somebody has cheated on their spouse, this might be tarnish on their character, but may also reflect who they truly are as well.  I have too many friends struggling with this, and while I myself feel as if one transgression is one too many, they’ve forgiven their significant others for these as mistakes, only to see a pattern of infidelity repeat time and time again.  There does come a time when attempting to wash away the sins of the past simply reveals that the foundation is ugly to the core.

I honestly have no idea what this post is about.  I’ve lost myself in the forest.  I find it extremely challenging to see past my own accumulated soot, although my friends keep trying to encourage me to do so, claiming that I’m better than I believe myself to be.  For my readers who are struggling with their past, you’re not alone.  But, although I find it easier to say than practice, we are not our mistakes.  Our moral fiber is what determines our future, not our soot.  Unlike buildings, though, if we don’t like the foundation of our being, we can change it.  We can decide that the person of the past is past and change our future if we have the desire and fortitude to make it so.  I’m still struggling to try to see my own future.  Maybe the smog will clear someday, and I’ll be able to breathe again.

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