It is a great day to be a young church….
…And it is not the first time. I hope I won’t lose you in the third sentence, here; but let me remind you of our encouraging ancestor, Benedict. His era might have been even more challenging than ours.
Benedict of Nursia’s society is falling apart in the 500s after the Roman Empire has finally disintegrated. Warlords are fighting for territory in Italy. Before he dies, the Byzantine emperor from the east, Justinian, will increase the violence even more when he attacks Italy as part of his grandiose and short-lived plan to reunite the empire. Local systems are overburdened. There is recession. There are major outbreaks of the bubonic plague. Back on March 21 (Benedict Day), I sat with him and God and prayed, “This all sounds very familiar.” We’re experiencing the same damned things he did.
Benedict did not just lament, lash out, or defensively react in some other way. He built something from faith. He saw that there were people, like him, who wanted to follow God. They banded together and created the basis of European monasticism: what became the Benedictine Order. It was a simple idea: we’ll seek God together in community, set a rhythm of work and prayer, be self-sustaining and make a safe place for the beauty and healing of Jesus to flourish. The Rule of St. Benedict has been guiding people ever since.
Our world seems like it is falling apart from the inside and out. People are tempted to escape into vidiocy or drugs, and are lured into enslavement by corporations or the military because they don’t know where to turn. Just list the large problems that everyone is talking about and it seems like any one of them could run us over:
- The economic system is rigged for the rich.
- The cities are rapidly gentrifying with rich, childless people.
- The government and educational institutions indoctrinate people with hypermodern philosophy.
- Debt seems to drag down every young person, especially if they go to college.
- More technological connecting is resulting in less human connecting.
- Men, especially, are indoctrinated for sex by porn.
- Global warming is changing everything.
But just like in the time of St. Benedict, it is a great time to be a young church. In every era of the passing-away world, Jesus manages to find people with an eye on the age to come. Jesus followers are immensely creative at being the presence of the future. As an historian of that fact, I’d say that the worse things get, the better some Christians will get. Would you say things are deteriorating? Then it must be time to shine.
We can react to the disasters around us with judgment and fear, or we can create something wonderful to make a safe place for the truth and love of Jesus — a place for beauty, for healing, and for creative kingdom of God building. We are trying to do that. Working together with Jesus will build something beautiful right where it is most needed.
We have a lot of great people. Can they stay together and work together? We have a great workable paradigm. Will we work it and evolve it or let it calcify?
Plus, we have a great niche. I don’t mean we have the “latest thing” to sell to people who have everything. Our niche is “next” — what’s “new” when all the stuff you thought was newer and greater is worn out (again). I keep finding out about just what we’ve got when I am around other Christians who are still fighting the battles of yesterday, or who have to watch their words all the time lest they offend the powers that dominate them. Thank God we are not stuck looking for Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders to save us, as if either of them can or would! We have the Way of Jesus to keep discovering and completing.
We have a wonderful opportunity. And we are about ready to begin mapping it. Who knew Philly would transform and repopulate, and our whole region (the whole megalopolis!) would be the center of development? We find ourselves, like Benedict, at the center of the empire as it falls apart into something new. He and his friends made such a creative and courageous stand for Jesus in the face of what was happening that people are still inspired by it and even following his rule! If unexpected barbarians find me, I hope they find me doing something like that!
It seems like everyone and everything around us is getting shaken up in the Yahtzee cup of who-knows-what. When we find out what has been rolled, will we trust God? Even more, will we get into God’s game and perfect unshakeability? I think we will.