Congregation of Ghosts

“…do you ever wonder why American Christianity seems to wait for the real thinking to be done elsewhere?”

…from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

Sometimes I get tired, very tired.

I don’t mean tired in the sense of being weary, rather in the sense of being disgusted.

Sometimes I get disgusted and fed up with things that I see, so much so that I want to get in a heated argument or shake a few people by their lapels until they come to their senses.

I know how petulant this sounds. At least, I know how petulant it sounds to me when I hear others expressing similar sentiments.

But, truly, I wish I could convey the depth of my sincere concern for others in the midst of this seeming tantrum.

Perhaps it is because I did not grow up in an overtly Evangelical home. Perhaps it is my own immaturity in this paradigm, or as a minister thereof. But there remains so many things within this three-ring circus that baffle, bemuse, and utterly bewilder me about the last dying vestiges of Christendom we know our present Age.

It has come to a point where I feel more in common with the barbarians outside the gates than the glad-handing hucksters within. So many who can only polish the brass, while the Titanic sinks slowly into the sea.

Perhaps this is how it has to be?

I often wonder if the fruit of decades-long hubris comes in the form of a great yawning indifference, rather than any turmoil of revolution…  that the greatest leveler of any movement is simply time and inertia, more than any direct onslaught.

When I talk to people about what they think and believe about their lives, I sense considerable passion and conviction. As I delve deeper into ideas about reality and human existence, the passion usually burns hotter. Yet, more often than not, this ardor fails to manifest itself into a practical application.

In rural East Texas (arguably the most conservative region of a very conservative state) church attendance is drying up. The most successful congregations in a given area do little more than trade the same church-going families back and forth.

Few inroads are being made into the larger culture, and Christianity itself grows increasingly irrelevant. This coming Spring will see yet another generation of “youth group” Christians matriculate into colleges, careers, and the rest of their adult lives.

But it’s not the youth I’m most concerned about. You don’t build a church around a bunch of high school and college kids. Well, not right away.

I live in a rural county of about 50,000 people, with the larger cities of Longview (population 75,000) to the North and Tyler (population 110,000) to the West. Located near the exact middle of East Texas, in proximity as well as population density, it provides a unique statistic base from which to gauge what’s going on around here. It has been said: “as Rusk County goes, so goes East Texas.”

While a few holdovers from a bygone era remain, the old way of “doing church” is all but obsolete and, with it, any concept of a recognizable “Christendom” which informs the culture.

So, where do we go from here?

The foundation of our faith is the timeless truth found within the person of Jesus Christ our Lord, the Sovereign King who clothed Himself in humility and bore our Sins as a suffering servant.

We would do well to remember what our place on this Earth has always meant to be, and strive to better demonstrate it before a watching world.

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