The name "Los Angeles" is Spanish for "The Angels." And nowhere is that name more obvious than at the downtown Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral. It's a new cathedral, built in 2002 after an earthquake shivered the timbers of the old one. And the new version is as modern as Millie.

You won't find any right angles in the cathedral. It's filled with nooks, crannies and odd corners. And most everything inside is the color of sand — including the enormous tapestries that line the walls. They are subtle and tasteful.

Everything is in good taste.

In short, if cathedrals were cars, this would be a Cadillac. A friend says it fits right in with Hollywood. It's fashionable.

There's nothing wrong with being fashionable, of course (I have a bolo tie with a tiger-eye setting myself). The problem comes when good taste begins to trump authenticity — when how we appear becomes more important than who we really are.

We all fall into the trap. So much of life is a "performance" now — in music, movies, relationships, recreation. Sometimes we worry a bit too much about the impressions we make instead of the people we are.

We think "How did I come across?" Not: "Was I me?"

Jesus had a word for such concerns. He called them "mammon." Mammon is more than money. Anything that lets the world throw the focus onto us instead of onto God is mammon. Fashion can be mammon. So can trendy causes, modern literature — even religion.

Years ago rabbinical students had to study the scriptures for years before their teachers would let them open the mystical Kabbala. Now Madonna passes Kabbala scriptures around like greeting cards.

It's all about trends and taste.

The false God of our time may well be The God of Good Taste — a fickle God who praises something one day, then hates it the next. He's not the same yesterday, today and forever. Sometimes he's not even the same from one morning to the next. And he's always hungry, craving what's fresh and new — as long as it's stylish.

But he's only dangerous when we let him distract us. The God of Good Taste only wins when we think too much about the creations of other people instead of the creations of God.

When we worry too much about sophistication, The God of Good Taste shows up. Sometimes he even shows up at church.

And so, to bring things full circle, I struggled a little with that new and improved Los Angeles Cathedral — a building that has been called a "Postmodern Wonder of the World." I really wanted to like that striking candle holder made from molten metal, for instance, but it wasn't a window to heaven for me. It was just an accessory.

Maybe if I return a few times the odd architecture will grow on me. Maybe, with familiarity, the church will open up and show me something besides itself.

For now, however — perhaps through my own failings — all I find when I go there is self-conscious sophistication.

All I see is The God of Good Taste.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com