Florida Southern College (FSC), a historically Methodist-related college, has a collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. I have gravitated towards Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) since I saw one of his homes in Buffalo, NY, and found that as a person who knew nothing about architecture, I could actually identify FLW work.
A while back, FSC found some blueprints of a house requested by the first president of the school to FLW. They intended to build a faculty neighborhood and have the houses have a particular look. FLW believed that the United States had a unique place in history. He felt that his era (1930’s and 40’s) had a particular contribution to make to the advancement of civilization, and that the technologies being developed in the United States had particular advancements for humankind. FLW found a word to describe this particularly unique “United States-ness.” He called it Usonia, or Usonian. Look this up.
The blueprints found at FSC were for a “Usonian” house. Meant for faculty, the house is rather small – two bedrooms – but has three flat roofs, at different levels to create clerestories (definition: An upper portion of a wall containing windows for supplying natural light to a building). The flat roofs cantilever out to create shade where some walls are mostly glass. Nestled in a tropically vegetated lot, they would have been really cool, if in my mind somewhat small. The reason they didn’t build any of these things is because FLW designed the cinderblocks with all kinds of little colored glass inserts. The construction costs would have been astronomical.
The reason I can speak to all of this is that the other evening, after a conference I was attending, I went for a walk, and found this Usonian house built right across from campus. I had never noticed it before. Built in 2013, they built it as a memorial to FLW, and a celebration of his contributions to the school. You should see it sometime.
It touched me on a whole different level though. I thought the house was cool and all, but it was the word Usonian that caught my attention. As you probably know, I grew up in Costa Rica. Which is in Central America. Every one that I knew there was born in America. They were all “Americans” in that sense. I never felt comfortable calling myself an “American” because, well, Canadians are Americans, and Mexicans are Americans. But not finding a descriptive word (at least a kind one) exclusively for people from the US, I have occasionally resorted to describing myself as an American. It is true after all!
But here is this word “Usonian,” a word coined in the 1800’s, which never took off. I don’t know if I will ever use it. But it’s there. It’s kind of like using the term “Methodist” for myself. Am I a United Methodist, or a Free Methodist, or an African Methodist or a Global Methodist, or Wesleyan, CME, AME Zion, etc., etc.? Do I make a term up like “UMeth?”
Struggling with this does not mean I am embarrassed or hesitant to be recognized as, say, from the United States. I am proud of my country, I am delighted to be a citizen, I choose this place not just because I was born here, but because I have seen many alternatives, even lived in them, and prefer here. But maybe specifically because I have lived elsewhere, I am hesitant to think distinctive what isn’t.
So, what names do we call ourselves? How about Christians? More important than American, or Usonian, and more important than Methodist (or some variation on that theme) I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am His disciple. And more of me as an individual needs to be recognizable as Christian than my nationality, or denominational preference, or anything else. At the end of my life I want people to remember me as a good follower of Jesus, THEN as a good husband, father, citizen, (oh, and grandpa, I’m still getting used to that one!).
Back from the Usonian house,
Our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself, will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Philippians 3:20,21