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.

Banking on God: Crisis, Part 5


The picture of dark daysSo here we are a month later at the penultimate post in this series. Today, I’ll be expanding some of the general ideas I discussed yesterday, while adding practical ways we can address crises better as a body of believers.

In times of darkness, we must be Spirit-led, radical thinkers who take chances that flow against the status quo’s stream. Truth is, the status quo got us into many of the troubles we face as Americans, as no one wished to buck the system to make things better. Too often, though we say we love the rugged individualist, the strongest voices for godly change are the ones we shout down fervently. Remember: they stoned the prophets, but the prophets were right.

Here are a few ideas I believe we must seriously consider in our churches if we are to prevail and be a shining, countercultural light for Christ in dark times.

Healthcare is troubling issue because fewer and fewer people can afford it, yet none of us is immune to entropy. The early Church made its name in Rome by caring for the sick. Most of the world’s hospitals were founded by Christians. Yet Christian leaders today seem utterly flummoxed by the issue, preferring to ignore it even while their congregations suffer.

I had a taste of this Easter Sunday when one of the key members of my church’s worship team was laid out by a condition easily treated by a physician. The problem? He couldn’t afford to see the doctor and get the prescription medicine he needed that would have enabled him to join us!

For this reason, I believe that churches need to start stepping up to the healthcare plate. Many communities are home to retired doctors. No reason exists that a church (or a communion of churches) could not approach these retired doctors and offer to pay them a stipend to look after those people in the church who lack healthcare options. A retired doctor could see the sick on a Saturday for a few hours. House calls are even possible. This kind of thing is easily set up.

To be even more radical, why can’t a series of churches in a community band together with local politicians to have the entire community buy the services of an actively practicing doctor—or three or four? We pay for fire departments and police, why not community doctors? Keep it local by keeping the county and state out. That keeps if from becoming a big government initiative while continuing to benefit an entire community. With most office visits handleable by general practitioners, there’s no reason why this can’t work. Why then are we not pursuing it?

For funding such an idea, or any other benevolence fund, most of us, as I noted yesterday, could get by fine without 75 percent of what we own. The early Church divested itself of all sorts of extra goods, including houses, but we seem loathe to give up even the smallest thing. Just how stingy are we? Look at how many families are failing around us and see how the cultivation of our island (every family for itself) mentality has damaged even our church families.

We need to get some sense about how we spend our money. When we’re starving, we can’t eat an iPod.We spend millions on junk, yet what really lasts escapes us. God will judge our generosity some day. Are we feeding Christ by feeding the hungry or are we simply out to feed our own desires? Which one makes us sheep and which makes us goats?

We Christians will collectively spend umpteen millions of dollars each year on Christian conferences that we attend and then forget about a month later. Imagine what we could do if we channeled that money to worthy preparation and stopped our fixation with one religious high after another. Could we strategize new ways of living and fund those initiatives?

Take housing, for instance. A coalition of churches could buy older apartment buildings, rehab them, and offer housing to those who fall prey to bad times. We had a family in our church lose a home to fire just a couple weeks ago and another family offered the use of the home they just left. That’s one way to go. Or a couple churches working together could buy up foreclosed or auctioned properties and rehab them for families. Or they could work deals with families who are moving to donate their old homes. Heck, that’s even a tax writeoff! These are all readily workable ideas.

We need to re-explore Christian communities. I’ve written before that I believe it a wise thing for a group of Christian families to buy available land, build their houses together on that land, have a common meeting building, farm the land, and maintain some percentage of common purse for use when tough times hit. Or a couple families could build condo-type houses with common areas linking two homes. Or we could work to rent out apartments together in the same building. We are not limited here if we set aside our faulty ideals on what it means to be well-off!

Food is big issue, too. Dark times almost always mean less food. I was in the store today and was shocked at how prices continue to rise either outright or through what I like to call “packaging fraud.” (Your half gallon container of ice cream is now 1.75 quarts, or even 1.5 quarts. I noticed today that packs of cheese that were once half a pound are now six ounces. Same price, but no fanfare on the smaller size. I consider that fraud, frankly.)

How do we deal with the problem of food? We grow our own.

I catch a lot of flack from naysayers on this, but if we have a backyard and we’re not growing food on it, we’re wasting our property. We can’t keep relying on others to feed us. It’s time that we Christians started assuming leadership on the back to basics of growing and making our own food. No excuses here, either. If I, the world’s worst “black thumb,” can grow food in raised beds on my property, you can, too. I have a fruit orchard, also. No reason why you can’t, either. And it’s far cheaper to grow food ourselves and preserve it than it is to buy from big food conglomerates. Tastes better as well.

Every family in our churches should be growing food. End of story. And for those with bigger properties, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and cows can supply meat. (I’m exploring that for my family even now.) Those people who have more resources for food production can assists those with less. Folks, this is about survival.

As for other skills, your church directory should list not only the basics like a phone number and address, but the skills and talents of each person listed. Someone got car fixing skills? Time to use them to the bettering of everyone in the church. Who sews well? Who can teach others sewing? Who has legal training? We need to know this. Every ability should be noted and made open for use. People who can pay should. Those who can’t should try as best they can to, yet that inability to pay should not keep them from getting services from their brethren. People with plumbing skills should be fixing plumbing in the homes of people in the church. Same for electricians, accountants, and whatever other skill is needed. We need to start depending on each other and living up to real community, even if it hurts. Again, the days of our privacy are gone. The government already knows everything about you, so privacy is a myth anyway. Our churches need what we have to give, money, skills, and all. Time to pony it all up.

Jobs are a big issue. Those people in the congregation who can make hiring and firing decisions need to understand that they should be hiring their out-of-work brethren. For those people in our churches who can train others in worthwhile work, they need to do it now, not wait till bad times come. An out-of-work person in a church is everyone’s responsibility. You can tell how loving and godly a church is by how well they meet the needs of their weakest members. And nothing in our society renders people weaker than being out of work. If our churches are filled with out-of-work people, then we’re not living up to the high calling of Christ. Jobs training, networking leads, anything that works we should be exploring. Absolutely no excuses on this, either.

Churches need to be working with local businesses to ensure them that they can provide ethical employees. Our churches should be able to go to any local business and say that the people in that church will make the best employees because they are godly, moral, ethical people who will do a company right. If we can’t say that, then we fooling ourselves concerning our discipleship programs. Church leaders need to be able to make that promise and fulfill it. They should cultivate relationships with community business leaders that will ensure that, even in down times, their congregants will have work.

As you can see, this takes on an alternative economy kind of thinking after a while. Underground economies exist all over the planet, but we suburbanites do a lousy job of creating our own. We need to learn how to barter and exchange outside the system. One day, off the grid and outside the system may be our only means of surviving. We better start planning those means now.

Why aren’t we training our children to survive? For all our obsession with homeschooling, how many homeschoolers are teaching real survival skills like animal husbandry, power generation, farming, and the like? Knowing Latin won’t fill an empty stomach. Our kids need to know how to live like the pioneers of old if they are to live in the days to come. (We adults also need that wisdom, too, though I suspect too many of us spent our precious time learning how to play video games or memorizing sports stats and not enough learning how to sex chickens.) Who in our churches can teach the next generation how to do these things? We need to identify them. And if we can’t identify those people, then we need to drop all the other junk we’re doing and start teaching ourselves those skills.

Our churches need to learn what real persecution looks like, too. How is the Church persecuted in other countries? We need to know how those persecuted churches survive. What happens if we have our church building taken away? How do we keep meeting? How does an underground church work? Our church leaders should stop assuming that tomorrow will be all milk and honey and start finding ways to test-run persecution. Break your church up into house churches for a while and see where the pressure points and weaknesses are. Who are the leaders of the church? Who will run things if the pastor or elders get taken out? How are we training people to assume leadership roles? This is basic discipleship training! How are we living it out?

Do we have prayer meetings in our churches going on all the time? Why not? Dark times call for serious prayer. Why are all the old ladies filling our prayer meetings? Why are all the able-bodied men camped out watching sports? What a waste! Are we serious or not? I’ll tell you, we’ll be serious when we lose our houses or can’t put food on the table. But by then, it may be too late.

Bad days call for fasting and repentance. I read all sorts of headlines about the dire economy, but I hear no Christian leaders calling for repentance, fasting, and prayer because of it. Why not? How badly do we want to be caught unawares? I don’t wish to be and I don’t want my church to be, either. Are we serious people or are we dancing when we should be preparing for winter? Dance when the stockpile is in place, but not before.

I could go on and on here, but I think the time has come to wrap this up.

I ask again, How serious are we? When did we Christians get so “fluffy”? Tough times call for tough people and brave ideas with committed follow-through. Good times won’t always be here, yet we act like they’ll last forever. How foolish we are when we, of all people, know how things will end, yet we are not prepared for that Day!

In the next post, I’ll wrap up the “Banking on God” series. Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 5 (Conclusion)


In this last post in the series “Being the Body,” we’ll look at a few more ways that our churches can better grow the community of believers within them.

#8 – Our communities should regularly enjoy a real communion feast together.

Folks who have studied the communion meals of the early Church come away with one truth: they were true feasts. Not the thimble of grape juice and a portion of a cracker, Still from the movie Babette's Feastbut entire meals in which the sharing of the bread and wine was the high mark.

We need to encourage our churches to prepare this kind of feast at least once a month. In fact, the more meals we eat together as a church, the more we’ll grow to know each other.

I would also encourage these real communions services to be a time when people share what Christ has done for them (since the last time a communion meal was held). We need those stories of faith to build our own faith,  but we seldom get to hear them enough for them to do any good. This would also be a time for the entire church to pray for individuals in need. We could hear the need, pray for the need, and use that time to meet the need right then, if possible.

#9 – Those of us in community should always keep an open home.

A community is not closed. It’s always open to others. It’s 24/7/365, too. Because our homes are the Lord’s and not ours, we need to always make them open to others, be they part of the community or not.

We can’t let the fortress mentality so prevalent in our country today keep others out of our homes. Our homes are not bunkers, but stations of ministry. Our mission field starts within the walls of your house and mine. If we’re not making our homes open, then we’re despising God’s gift to us.

We’ve got to get over having each room perfect, too. If you’re house is a little messy, who cares? Real homes are messy to some extent. We’re not supposed to live in museums. Obsessing over a home’s cleanliness speaks more about our fixation on the material rather than loving people. Better that a house be filled with love for everyone who enters it than it be spotlessly clean.

(See sidebar category listing “Hospitality” for more on this.)

#10 – As a community, we must find a holistic Christian perspective on our employment.

We have no excuses: we spend too much of our day devoted to our means of employment. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve heard this before, but unless we Christians rethink the way we work, we will forever have the Lord third or fourth in our lives. We need a revival of Christians seeking God for ways to drop out of the rat race and still provide for our families. Since we’re making community a priority, these issues should be discussed by the community.

We must also rethink unemployment. As a community, we are responsible to ensure that no brother or sister in the community goes without work if they need it. Despite the fact that today’s jobs are much more specialized than in ages past, we must ALWAYS draw alongside anyone seeking work and actively help them find a job. Our community is diminished by letting the unemployed search for work alone. If we are not dropping at least two dozen leads for each unemployed person a week, then we’re shirking our responsibility. The Bible commands that we work, therefore we are compelled to provide or seek work for those in the church community who need it. And we don’t stop helping until they get it.

(See sidebar category listing “Work” for more on this.)

#11 – True community makes ministering to the “weaker parts of the Body” a priority.

And who are these? The single parents, the elderly, the mentally ill, the sick, the developmentally disabled, and the families of those people.

An exceedingly powerful way to tell how vital a church truly is would be to examine how they deal with these folks. Are people ashamed of the mentally retarded teen, or do they go out of their way to incorporate him in the life of the church? Do people volunteer to take care of him so his parents can have a couple nights out to themselves each month?

Same goes for the single mom or dad. Some churches treat them as if they’re an embarassment rather than ministering to them as Christ would. If their singleness bothers us, then we should be routinely watching their kids so they can get out and meet a potential mate.

Real community always considers the weak and asks what can be done to bless them or their families. It’s one of the perpetual thoughts of people who esteem others better than themselves.

#12 –  True community is never afraid to be countercultural.

Being a community flies in the face of everything we hear daily as Americans. Thinking of others first does not come naturally to the natural man, but to the spiritual man it is the core of his ministry. If we fear Man, we should not be servants of Christ.

For this reason, we must pursue real community in the Body of Christ even if the world fights viciously against our desire to do so—and it will, because the world is passing away. But the communion of saints is eternal! What we begin here in our church communities is the groundwork for something that will never perish. We must always remember that our fitness as a community will reflect in the afterlife. God gives us our time here to fit us to heaven, and if we’re not living in a godly community that stands apart from the world’s individualism, then we are not being good stewards of the time the Lord has given us.

The bottom line of community is this: we can continue to live as randomly scattered body parts that accomplish little for God’s glory, or we can be the vital Body of Christ living in countercultural community. God demands the latter of us when we come to Christ. Yet our American cultural mandate is anything but community-focused.

We Christians in America must rethink everything we’ve assumed about community, putting it under the authority of the Scriptures as illumined by the Holy Spirit. That we’ve failed to do so even the slightest bit speaks against the American Church’s obedience to the very principles God lovingly gave His people.

I believe that nearly every vice in our churches today can be traced back to a flawed understanding of what it means to live in true community. We are the Body of Christ. To live as a Body, we must make life-changing decisions. Time is short, so we must start being real community or God will judge us for it.

So do more than consider the twelve ideas presented in this series, start living them out. And go before the Lord and find even better ways to live out community. What I’ve laid out here is a mere sketch of what can be done

Have great week and bless others.

Posts in this series:

(Image: Still from the movie Babette’s Feast, 1987)