By Phillip Luke Sinitiere
With four young, growing children and a dissertation to finish--in addition to high gas prices as well as other expenses, I'm all about staycations. According to Wikipedia, a staycation is "a period of time in which an individual or family stays at home and relaxes at home or takes day trips from their home to area attractions."
So, inspired by Kelly's recent thoughts about Roadside Religion and summer vacation, Randall's previous reflections on "religious travelouges", and Mike's post on traveling through New Orleans, I wondered what a spiritual staycation might look like in Houston.
With limited funds, half a tank of gas (although my car does have a/c, a nice comfort for sweltering gulf coast summers), and a stack of Mapquest directions, what religious sites could I tour in Houston to get a sense of the city's spiritual offerings? Where might I take a first-time visitor to see some of the landmarks of Houston's religious landscape?
One place I'd go is to the Rothko Chapel. Built in 1971, it is home to religious services, spiritual ceremonies, and showcases art as well as other local events. I'd then travel the short distance into downtown Houston, stopping at the Islamic Da'wah Center, once home to Houston National Bank and co-founded by former Houston Rockets basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon. While in downtown I'd swing by Christ Church Cathedral, an Episcopal congregation founded in 1839 and still very active. The last stops in downtown before heading out to see the spiritual life of suburban Houston would be the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, recently renovated and (re)dedicated, and consecrated by one of Houston's religious superstars Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, and St. John's Downtown Church, a vibrant justice-oriented (Methodist) congregation led by the tireless service of Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.
Heading out to the suburbs and braving the dense Houston traffic, I'd stop at all 3 locations of Dr. Ralph West's Church Without Walls, billed as "a church that is not restricted by geographical location or sociological background, but limitless in God’s possibilities. It also represents a church where anyone is welcome." I'd then spend some time at the massive Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Houston's newest Hindu temple, and heading back toward the city stop at Masjid Al-Farooq Islamic Center, where I was once a guest at Friday prayer (or "khutbah").
Other highlights of a summer spiritual staycation would take me to Congregation Brith Shalom, where Hasidic hip-hop, reggae artist Matisyahu once performed, and all 5 locations of Houston's Second Baptist Church (one of the earliest "multi-site" churches). I'd end the staycation with a stop at Lakewood Church, reported to be the nation's largest and fastest growing church and home of rising religious superstar, the "smiling preacher" Joel Osteen--and Marcos Witt, pastor of Lakewood's Hispanic congregation and winner of 4 Latin Grammy awards.
There are of course many other places to visit in Houston, but this would perhaps be a good start.
If you went on a spiritual staycation in your city or town, what what would fill the pages of your "religious travelogue"?