Power of Place

Being in a different place for Christmas

by Steve Brock on December 25, 2014

Christmas at church near hospitalI write this on Christmas Eve in a setting I’ve grown not just tired of, but burdened by this year: a hospital.

First, between surgeries and treatments for my wife’s breast cancer over the last year, I spend more time than I care to think about in or near hospitals. She’s doing great now and just finished her last treatment a week ago, but still, it has been a long year.

Then, in May, I spend several days in a hospital down in Bend, OR with my mom who broke her arm and had a pacemaker put in.

Now, it’s my youngest son, Connor.

Yesterday, December 23rd, we leave our home at 6:00 a.m. for a 7:50 a.m. flight to spend Christmas with family in California. On the drive to the airport, Connor, 17, suddenly cries out in agony. He has a piercing pain in his abdomen. We don’t even make it as far as the airport.

A few miles short of there, we pull into an empty parking lot. Connor rolls out of the car and onto the asphalt writhing in pain. We call 911 and soon after the EMT arrives, Connor is in an ambulance to the nearest hospital and I’m frantically racing to drop my wife and other son off at the airport. We figure there’s nothing they can do, so reluctantly they agree to catch the flight that Connor and I will never make.

I rush to the ER, find Connor and wait for doctors to give him pain medication and carry out some tests. A few hours later, they tell us that Connor has acute pancreatitis and must spend several days in the hospital.

We move him to the nearest children’s hospital (I never knew that most hospitals cannot admit minors) and eventually learn that the cause is unknown (which happens about a third of the time with this inflammation of the pancreas). However, the treatment is known: hydration through IV, no food or water, and rest along with medication for the intense pain.

So here I am, the next day, waiting with Connor, grateful for wonderful doctors and nurses, friends who have stopped by during this busy time of year and the news that Connor is feeling a bit better and that we might be able to go home tomorrow.

But here’s the odd thing: When we didn’t know what was going on, one doctor warned this could be serious, even life-threatening. So I prayed desperately for my son. And in return, you’d think through all this I would feel especially close to God. I’ve got plenty of quiet time here in the hospital and a heart filled with gratitude. And yet, where’s that warm glow and intimate sense of God’s presence, especially now at Christmas? I’m not sure.

You know the old saying, “If it feels like God is distant, guess who moved?” So this evening, I choose to try and scoot a bit closer to the Divine. I find out there is a Christmas Eve service at a church a few blocks from the hospital. I decide to go while Connor rests.

The church I visit is old (see photo above). The services, contemporary. The people are welcoming. The music, classic carols done to rock arrangements. A woman with a lovely voice reads a new but touching rendition of the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2. The pastor delivers a short, but poignant message. We pass the light of our candles to each other as we celebrate the coming of Light into our world.

And somewhere along the way, Jesus and I get reconnected in a powerful way. Was it the music? The lighting? The words spoken? Likely all the above. But most of all – apart from the sheer grace of God – it was that I was in a different place: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

This is a good reminder at Christmas that God came to a different place – our world – just to be with us. He moved closer even as we, in our proneness to wander, drift away.

Movement and place affect us more than we realize in ways both subtle and profound. But the Christmas message tonight makes me realize that no matter where that place is – even a hospital room on Christmas – we are never, ever alone.

Emmanuel. God with us. Wherever we find ourselves.

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Strange buildings around the world

by Steve Brock on June 22, 2011

Even with all the construction cranes, you get a sense that this isn't your ordinary church....

In light of my recent talk on The Power of Place, I was intrigued when my friend Pam forwarded me an email of some of some of the strangest buildings in the world. You can check out the full list (there are actually three parts to view) at http://villageofjoy.com/50-strange-buildings-of-the-world/ but you can see several of them below taken from this site’s top 50 list (I just selected some random ones I liked so the numbering below won’t necessarily be sequential).

The question for me is this: When does strange become meaningful? When does something move from a mere curiosity to something that provides meaning or significance to your trip or your life? I think it all comes down to context.

Something about the light and configuration of stone and glass made the interior of La Sacrada Familia magical...

I recall visiting La Sacrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. At first view, the building looked like a church created by sand drippings on the beach. But when I stepped inside, even though it is still under construction (and will be for years and years to come), something about the combination of light and stone, despite all the people around me, made this a sacred space, a meaningful moment.

How about for you? Ever come across a place that on the surface seemed downright bizarre but after you were there you realized that it touched you in a special way?

Sometimes we travel just to see the curious. That’s great. The buildings below definitely grab your attention and often that is enough. But when you find that the story of that place and your own intersect, it makes for more than just an interesting photo.

Enjoy some very strange buildings…


1. The Crooked House (Sopot, Poland)

Construction of the building started in in January 2003 and in December 2003 it was finished. House architecture is based on Jan Marcin Szancer (famous Polish artist and child books illustrator) and Per Dahlberg (Swedish painter living in Sopot) pictures and paintings.

The Crooked HouseImage via: brocha

2. Forest Spiral – Hundertwasser Building (Darmstadt, Germany)

The Hundertwasser house “Waldspirale” (”Forest Spiral”) was built in Darmstadt between 1998 and 2000. Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the famous Austrian architect and painter, is widely renowned for his revolutionary, colourful architectural designs which incorporate irregular, organic forms, e.g. onion-shaped domes.

The structure with 105 apartments wraps around a landscaped courtyard with a running stream. Up in the turret at the southeast corner, there is a restaurant, including a cocktail bar.

Forest Spiral - Hundertwasser Building (Darmstadt, Germany)Image via: Kikos Dad

4. Ferdinand Cheval Palace a.k.a Ideal Palace (France)

Ferdinand Cheval Palace a.k.a Ideal Palace (France)Image via: Mélisande* 

  5. The Basket Building (Ohio, United States)

The Longaberger Basket Company building in Newark, Ohio might just be a strangest office building in the world. The 180,000-square-foot building, a replica of the company’s famous market basket, cost $30 million and took two years to complete. Many experts tried to persuade Dave Longaberger to alter his plans, but he wanted an exact replica of the real thing.

The Basket Building (Ohio, United States)Image via: addicted Eyes

6. Kansas City Public Library (Missouri, United States)

This project, located in the heart of Kansas City, represents one of the pioneer projects behind the revitalization of downtown.

The people of Kansas City were asked to help pick highly influential books that represent Kansas City. Those titles were included as ‘bookbindings’ in the innovative design of the parking garage exterior, to inspire people to utilize the downtown Central Library.

Kansas City Public Library (Missouri, United States)Image via: jonathan_moreau

8. Habitat 67 (Montreal, Canada)

Expo 67, one of the world’s largest universal expositions was held in Montreal. Housing was one of the main themes of Expo 67.

The cube is the base, the mean and the finality of Habitat 67. In its material  sense, the cube is a symbol of stability. As for its mystic meaning, the cube is symbol of wisdom, truth, moral perfection, at the origin itself of our civilization.

354 cubes of a magnificent grey-beige build up one on the other to form 146 residences nestled between sky and earth, between city and river, between greenery and light.

Habitat 67 (Montreal, Canada)Image via: ken ratcliff

9. Cubic Houses (Rotterdam, Netherlands)

The original idea of these cubic houses came about in the 1970s. Piet Blom has developed a couple of these cubic houses that were built in Helmond.

The city of Rotterdam asked him to design housing on top of a pedestrian bridge and he decided to use the cubic houses idea. The concept behind these houses is that he tries to create a forest by each cube representing an abstract tree; therefore the whole village becomes a forest.

Cubic Houses (Rotterdam, Netherlands)Image via: vpzone 


12. Dancing Building (Prague, Czech Republic)

Dancing Building (Prague, Czech Republic)Image via: jemil75

15. Manchester Civil Justice Centre (Manchester, UK)

Manchester Civil Justice Centre (Manchester, UK)Image via: tj.blackwell 


16. Nakagin Capsule Tower (Tokyo, Japan)

Nakagin Capsule Tower (Tokyo, Japan)Image via: pict_u_re

17. Mind House (Barcelona, Spain)

Mind House (Barcelona, Spain)Image via: angelocesare 


18. Stone House (Guimarães, Portugal)

Stone House (Guimarães, Portugal)image via: Jsome1

19. Shoe House (Pennsylvania, United States)

Shoe House (Pennsylvania, United States)Image via: James Gordon

27. Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain)

Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain)Image via: disgustipado 


28. Bahá’í House of Worship a.k.a Lotus Temple (Delhi, India)

Bahá'í House of Worship a.k.a Lotus Temple (Delhi, India)Image via: MACSURAK 

29. Container City (London, UK)

Container City (London, UK)Image via: y Fin Fahey 

30. Erwin Wurm: House Attack (Viena, Austria)

Erwin Wurm: House Attack (Viena, Austria)Image via: Dom Dada

31. Wooden Gagster House (Archangelsk, Russia)

Wooden Gagster House (Archangelsk, Russia)Image via: deputy-dog.com

22. The Hole House (Texas, United States)  The Hole House (Texas, United States) 

 Image via: melinnis


25. Grand Lisboa (Macao)

Grand Lisboa (Macao)Image via: Michael McDonough 

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