That Dreadful Silence


Beyond the recent lack of posts here at Cerulean Sanctum, another series of silences continues to blanket the American Church. I’ve written about them before, but I want to address them again, if only to keep the topics fresh in people’s minds. These issues matter. Our lack of conversation in the Church about them on any sort of national level bothers me to the extreme. What we don’t talk about says as much, or more , as what we do.

It would be fine if I could ignore these problems, but I can’t. The main reason is that they  confront me personally every day.

I live in what is called penturbia by demographics experts. My neighborhood straddles that fine line between rural and suburban, with a leaning toward the former. My neighbor across the road harvested his corn last week. That tells you a lot of what you need to know, though most of us on my road are not reliant on farm income for a living.

Greater Cincinnati has maxed out growth in its northern suburbs (which used to be farmland 20 years ago), and the big push was supposed to be toward the east, where I live. That push was starting before the economic downturn. The big news was the announcement of a WalMart coming to my little town. That WalMart hasn’t come is now the new talk.

Today, I drive along a road with an increasing number of homes for sale. Worse is the rise in homes left to the elements, abandoned.

Few things disquiet me more than an abandoned home. Once, a family lived there and filled that house with life. Now it sits like the dessicated remains of a bug sucked dry by a spider. Abandoned houseGrass grows wild. A window blind hangs half open like the eyelid of a corpse. And inside, nothing but cobwebs and emptiness.

The dead shells of homes litter my road, and I wonder where the life that filled them vanished to.

What bothers me more is that no one seems to wonder with me. I’ve heard no sermons on this, read no blogs on this topic. No one in the Christian community has brought up the subject of families that are here one day and gone the next. No one asks how awful it must have been that someone up and left a house behind to decay. No one asks whether anything could have been done to keep that house filled with life.

Concerning the homes on the market, I wonder how many For Sale signs were stuck in the ground reluctantly. I wonder if there’s a family out there that had to chase jobs to a more economically stable state. I wonder if they are being bled dry by owing on two mortgages as their home here sits unsold month after month. I wonder if the breadwinner chased a job, even though it pays less, and now that unsold home is an albatross that more than undoes the gain of a move. I wonder how many families would have been better off staying put, but the panic of unemployment forced them into a decision that ended up working against them in the long run. I wonder how many marriages will end because of that “rock, meet hard place” decision.

I overheard a conversation on a cell phone two days ago. A middle-aged woman was talking to someone about a young man who lost his job, chased a job to another state, lost his job there, was paying two mortgages, lost his wife, lost custody of his kids, got buried in child support payments, then killed himself. I wonder if that conversation is becoming more common.

And I wonder why no one seems to care that it might be.

Our county fair was last week. It’s a big deal around here. Kids get the whole week off from school because so many have animals and 4H projects they show. Again, this is still a place where people make a living off the land and its bounty.

I ran into several people I know there who were part of a group my son and I belonged to. I use the past tense because none of us seemed to know what happened to that group. It just petered out, another institution whose well went dry.

When I look at the social fabric of this country, I can’t help but notice it’s threadbare and full of more and more holes.

My family has not had a good track record of late in maintaining ties in small groups. And that loss is not by our choice, either. Groups just seemed to wither and die. Where we used to be highly connected, we now are a part of only one small group, which meets erratically.

While that is a Christian group, I’m beginning to wonder if finding some connection in a group that has no pretenses toward anything religious is the answer. At the same time, even entertaining that thought bothers me. Many of those groups are dying just as quickly, if not quicker.

I believe we Christians are too isolated within our ghettos, yet at the same time I wonder about the viability of the ghettos we’re in. And while the other guys’ ghetto may look good, perhaps it’s more sick than ours.

So, I wonder if we Americans have reached a place of no return. I wonder if it’s indeed possible to recover what we have lost—and we have surely lost our vitality, if not our hope. Yet.

And more than anything else, I wonder why we don’t talk about these issues in our churches. I wonder why those Christians with a national stage say nothing. I wonder if we devote so much time to fighting the culture wars because they are easier to fight than to answer the questions I’ve raised here in this post .

Perhaps we are all just a little more afraid than we care to let on. Only this can explain the dreadful silence.

15 thoughts on “That Dreadful Silence

  1. I see abandoned, decaying hundred-year-old farmhouses around here and wonder the same thing. As best I can tell dozens of families around here abandoned old but perfectly serviceable houses to move into larger, prettier McMansions. Now many can’t afford the McMansions anymore, but many of the older houses have been neglected to the point of not being fit for having. From what you’ve written, this trend is not limited to Middle Tennessee.

    The questions you raise are hard to answer. Clearly our socially disconnected lifestyles are not sustainable. What remains to be seen is whether or not we can reclaim any sense of local connectedness without the current system collapsing.

    • Milton,

      Thanks for writing.

      In my area, it’s not mostly old farmhouses left abandoned or put up for sale. Instead, in town, it’s those smaller “built in the ’30s and ’40s” Cape Cods that are up for sale right and left. The abandoned homes are most likely trailers, sectionals, double-wides, and modulars on the outskirts of town (which is where we are). One day someone is living there, and the next it’s empty. No For Sale sign, nothing. People just leave. And the home sits there to rot. What’s really sad is when garbage cans are left by the curb and just sit there, or they are left beside the house overflowing with trash.

      Honestly, I don’t get what that’s all about. All I know is that everyone seems to look the other way.

    • Milton wrote: And the old houses, it seems, may be a metaphor for our social condition.

      Once a glorious, actively working home, but now a ruin.

      Man, I’m depressing myself! 🙁

  2. Joshua

    I see the same thing in small town Northwestern Missouri. Our town is littered with dozens of ran down empty houses. I would guess anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 of the houses here are abandoned. If you head out of town into the country it’s even worse. I’d rate that at half or maybe even higher. I’ve seen several abandoned roads even that have been allowed to go back to being mud and dirt because no one lives out there anymore.

    Our society is very disconnected. There is nothing in this little town other than the fire department, the two churches, and the bar that people can gather at. If we expand to the two other towns in our school district, then we can include the school sports and the boy scouts.

    As the intern at the Church I serve at, I have suggested small groups to the pastor and the elders on several occasions, but nothing has ever come of it. But then, maybe it would just crash and burn too at this point in time. Who knows?

    • Joshua,

      I was out last night driving around the supposedly wealthier northeast suburbs of Cincinnati and passed strip mall after strip mall sitting 70 percent empty. And the 30 percent occupancy was not by top tier shops but those desperate storefronts that make one question how they stay alive—the mom and pop greasy spoon, the nameless thrift shop, a military recruiting station, a run-down tanning and nail salon, some sort of social work agency, and a mega-discount chain no one’s ever heard of.

      Every once in a while I passed an area that was happening, with newer stores and eateries, but then just down the street from them was the happening spot of ten years ago, now abandoned and left to the state I described above.

      Seriously, it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s depiction of hell in The Great Divorce, where the buildings keep multiplying as people move farther and farther away from each other, unable to stand the presence of other people for any length of time, thinking that a new location will fill their emptiness—until that gnawing need to get away kicks in again.

      Man, I really am depressing myself!

      • Joshua

        At some point in time I imagine everything will collapse and start again. I just hope we are able to do that. As an intern, I work mostly with the young children. And what I see in them frightens me. The lack of connection between them and others. The lack of discipline. If their entire generation is like this, and I think much of it will be, then in twenty years I am afraid of what the culture will look like.

        I think right now the Church is really just about the only hope for these generations. They are so disconnected from everyone, even their own families. And yet, the Church has unfortunately disconnected itself from them as well. We really need to get our act together. I just wish it was easier to convince people of how important it is. I think that they won’t realize it until it’s too late.

  3. Peyton

    Why has this come upon us? Perhaps we should listen to Abraham Lincoln?

    By the President of the United States of America.

    A Proclamation.

    Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

    And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

    And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

    It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

    Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

    All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

    In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

    Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

    By the President: Abraham Lincoln
    William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

    • Peyton,

      You know what really kills me about that statement from Lincoln? Many historians will claim that he was not a genuine born-again believer at the time of its writing.

      If THAT is from the hand of someone who does not assent to the Gospel, then God help those of us who do assent, because Lincoln makes us look even worse!

    • ccinnova

      If any president or state governor issued such a proclamation today, I expect some organization would quickly file a federal lawsuit claiming it’s unconstitutional. I frankly wouldn’t be surprised if the judge agreed with them.

      That underscores why we shouldn’t look to the government to rescue us. But when will we hear such a call from a well-known Christian leader?

  4. His Sublime Direness: “Perhaps we are all just a little more afraid than we care to let on. Only this can explain the dreadful silence.”

    This is a great piece, Dan, and beautiful, very haunting. Empty houses, standing desolate, are the perfect metaphor describing the End of Days here in America-Babylon. Everything is falling apart right before our eyes. The rust of disintegration eats at us in a thousand different ways, everything from having a “red diaper baby” in the Whitehouse, to our government being populated by fools and knaves, to the latest economic meltdown coming because of the massive fraud caused by the “robo-signers,” to Todd Bentley still running amuck.

    I think the reason why we are “silent” is that nobody has the slightest clue on what to do. Who knows what to say? It’s as if the entire nation were under Divine Interdict, where everything is being coordinated by Heaven so as to bring about a destruction whose scope and range would make our ears tingle if someone were to describe it all to us.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy

    The dead shells of homes litter my road, and I wonder where the life that filled them vanished to.

    What bothers me more is that no one seems to wonder with me. I’ve heard no sermons on this, read no blogs on this topic.

    Not even any as “Fulfillment of Such-and-Such End Time Prophecy”?

  6. Dan,

    I am apparently going in reverse order in getting caught up on your blog. To me, your post on the sniff test is incredibly relevant here. The church has no answer because the church is as lost as the world. Where is the shining example of the body of Christ, caring for one another, those living in abundance supplying the lack of those in need? It is noticeably absent. There is obviously an answer, at least for the church. And it is the church that we should be concerned about, in my opinion, and not the world per se. Because we do church the same way the world does business, we are disconnected from one another. Does going to the same building with 1,000 (or 100) other believers on Sunday morning, or even Sunday and Wednesday nights as well, connect me to them? From my experience the answer is no. The system fosters a fast-food mentality so often, and also often fosters a very superficial interaction, where people put on their best face for Sunday morning, and then go home and act much differently. And, how do we support one another when we are too busy supporting church buildings and salaries? And we call that “giving to God”. The answer is for God’s people to return to the kind of community gathering found in the New Testament. It is time for us to not be divided from one another based on different beliefs on trivial issues. It is time for us to love ALL of mankind, and especially the body, even if they don’t talk, act or smell like we do. It is time that we set aside our traditions and rethink how we interface with one another and with God. It is time that we serve and submit one to another. It is time that we forsake the materialism of our society, and live our lives separate and distinct from that culture. IT IS TIME THAT WE LIVE ACCORDING TO KINGDOM PRINCIPLES AND NOT BY THE WORLD’S PRINCIPLES!!!

    Regarding your “depression” (term taken lightly), I would offer that the decay of the world should not affect us as the body of Christ. Although I am in the world, I am not of the world. My true citizenship is in heaven, and I take the words of Jesus as being relevant here: “Let the dead bury their own dead”. We as Christians are not responsible for the direction of society. I for one do not hold to the equating of patriotism with spirituality. Although I don’t complain that I live in America, and would not move to another country (because I don’t know any other country), I also don’t live and die by what happens with our nation, as my supply is from heaven. I try to spend my time promoting the advancement of His kingdom, and really don’t care how man rules himself.

    Well, sorry for the long comment.


    Sorry for such a long comment.

    • Mark,

      I don’t think that the American Church is as much lost as it is distracted and sidelined. And those distractions and our subsequent sidelining is due to our inability to focus on what is truly important. More and more, I just want to see the Church live by The Golden Rule. If we could all do that well for a few months, I suspect we could change the world. But if we’re too busy tearing up Korans, screaming about public schools, and generally going around yelling and being angry all the time, then we’re going to miss God’s best.

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