As our country continues its seemingly unabated descent into lawlessness, Godlessness, and selfishness; several explanations have been offered for the deterioration of a society that began with so much promise over two hundred years ago and became the envy and model for free-thinking people all over the world. The most popular being the destruction of the family unit whose decline ultimately leads to the breakdown of community. Within community each family stood as member of a larger family; where help in areas of financial difficulty, spiritual advice, shared burden, and practical aid was available within a context of loving and caring relationships. The motto of these shared experiences was: “As long as I have a roof, no brother sleeps in the rain; as long as I have food, no sister goes hungry; and as long as I have a home, no child is an orphan.” Each community took care of their own. The success of the community lay in the strength of the families of which it was composed.
There have, of course, been tragic exceptions along the way; not all were cared for. The most notable being the decimation of this country’s native population after their aid in helping us learn how to survive here, the exploitation of various races (most noticeably black and Chinese) in building this land, fatherless and motherless children, and in more modern times there was “The Great Depression” where thousands struggled just to stay alive. I’m sure you could name a few more. Yet, through it all the family unit largely weathered these storms and in many cases was indeed the shelter in these storms.
However, after World War II commodities and energy were cheap and jobs were plentiful. The rush to own the newest car, the best house, and every new convenience that our emerging technology offered, consumed a people whose possessions for generations had come hard-fought and hard-won. Within a generation materialism and the desire to own replaced the desire to share and care and was limited to one’s own immediate circle. And very quickly the isolationism that was separating communities from each other and the world began to separate families from their communities, the new motto became: “I gave at the office.” It was inevitable therefore that the ultimate fruit of isolationism, selfishness, would become ruler of our hearts and minds. The field was tilled, the seeds were planted, and an abundant crop of individualism was ready for harvest. And with this harvest family members became separated from each other. The clarion calls of “If it feels good…do it” and “If we can…we should” ultimately paved the way for a new definition of the “pursuit of happiness.” It was no longer pursuit as a people or nation but the personal pursuit of individuals. We were no longer members of a “tribe” or people whose actions, dreams, successes, and failures affected the whole; we were sign-carrying zealots for individual rights and self-empowerment. John Dunne went into the trash. Not only was “…man an island”; we came to believe we were each master of our own world.
So, where was the church in all of this, you might ask? Certainly with the breakdown of community the nucleus of that community will obviously suffer. The church was at one time the social, humanitarian, and even political center of these communities. It has even been theorized that the main difference between the American and French Revolutions was that one was hatched in church pews and one was hatched in brothels. However, I believe the main reason the church ceased to be the center of our communities was because it changed its focus from “go and tell” to “come and hear.” From its earliest days, the strength of the Christian community has not been in church buildings but in “church-building.” We are at our best when we are going forth. Likewise, a Christian could travel any distance but when he encountered another Christian community he was welcomed as a family member and he felt as if he was home. Today we build bigger and bigger churches while having little or no knowledge of the members or mission of churches only a few miles away.
Whether the walls went up because of social, ecclesiastical, or prideful reasons; if the church ever hopes to be the “lighthouse” in the community it once was, these walls must come down. We must make every effort to spend less time debating the issues that divide us and more time immersing ourselves in the Blood that unites us. It must never be at the expense of the Gospel message, the purity and trustworthiness of scripture, or the personhood of the Son of God; but come down they must. “By this all men will know you are my disciples.” And what is “this”? It is as simple and as profound as the old hymn says. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” All must see our love for God by what we say and do. They must witness our love for each other by how we relate and care for all brothers and sisters in the church (not our church…THE church). And they must feel our love for them; not as “spiritual cops” pulling them over for some infraction, not as teachers telling them how to live, not as parents telling them what to do or what not to do, but like the saying goes, “…as one hungry beggar showing another hungry beggar where he found food.”
Anything lost can be found with diligent searching, anything broken can be fixed with patient resolve, and any “slave” can be redeemed for the right price. Our communities need strong families on which to rebuild. Our country needs strong communities in order to grow. The ship called “America” is lost and perilously close to being smashed against a rocky shore. It needs a Lighthouse to guide it away from danger, it needs reliable navigational maps to get it on course again, and more than anything it needs a seasoned and trustworthy captain.
The “Captain” is ever-ready to take the bridge; is the church ready to “light” the way?