Monday, April 13, 2009

Keystones and Importance

As I've mentioned before, I was Student Body President of Montreat-Anderson College just as they were making the transition to the name "Montreat College" the following year. At that same time, Montreat College adopted their current arch logo, with the highlighted keystone. The logo takes a cue from the gateway to the town, arguably Montreat's most iconic landmark, which has a couple of these arches (officially, the logo is inspired by arches in the college chapel, but it's hard to imagine that the gateway wasn't in mind, also). Naturally, a lot was said at the time about the imagery behind this logo. Specifically, it was noted that the keystone was the most important part of the arch, and that its removal would cause the collapse of the entire arch. For a Christian college such as Montreat, it was an easy step from there to make the analogy of saying that Christ is the college's "keystone." (An official statement from Montreat professor Don King, written at about that time, can be found here. Although I don't see here an explicit statement that the removal of the keystone will cause the destruction of the entire arch, I don't think it's an unfair interpretation of what is there to suggest that this is the assumption.)

I've always wondered a bit about the claim that the keystone is the most crucial part of an arch. When I was a child, I remember playing with an exhibit at a children's museum, where were invited to make an arch out of blocks on a flat surface, which could then be raised to stand upright. Remove the keystone, we were told, and the whole thing would fall down. This was certainly true, but it was just as true that removing any other block would achieve the same result! Not that this mattered too much to me as a kid. It was just fun to build the arch and tear it down again! More recently, I stumbled upon this article (linked via the Wikipedia article on keystones) that argues that keystones are not only in the position of least stress on the arch, but may in fact be unnecessary altogether!

This work of art lies outside one of the business complexes in Monrovia. While I don't presume to know what was in the mind of the artist who created it, it certainly seems to consciously subvert the conventional wisdom about keystones and arches. Here, we see two sides of an "arch" remaining upright despite the obvious removal of the keystone, which sits at the bottom as though it had simply fallen out of place.

Whatever the architectural realities behind keystones may be, I do think the symbolism at Montreat remains valid. But I also think it's worth remembering what I'd inadvertently discovered as a child. Other parts of the arch are important, too. While the removal of any other part of a system may not cause the entire system to collapse, as was the case with that block arch in the museum, I think it's safe to say that a system is often weakened when parts are removed, and care must be taken to ensure that parts are removed with care, if and when they are removed at all.

Christianity has an illustration that conveys this idea rather well, I think: that of members of the church being Christ's body. Each of us serves a function, and is considered important to the well-being of the body as a whole. While I certainly don't wish to argue that Christ is anything other than of central importance, I sometimes feel that some church leaders are too willing to ignore the importance of individual people in favor of some supposedly Christian ideal or another. I do not believe that Christ is honored when we do this too flippantly. Christ is honored when the members of Christ's body are honored. In this time of economic hardship, where many businesses and many churches are having to make very difficult decisions, it is my prayer that those in positions of leadership remember this.

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