To be honest, I had forgotten what it was like. I had forgotten how difficult it is here in the US. I remember, oh, so clearly the mission teams, the work teams, coming to serve in Venezuela and Mexico remarking on how refreshing it was to worship there…on how deeply spiritual the people seemed…on how faith was somehow different there. I lived, moved and breathed the culture there…and saw nothing unusual…wasn’t really sure what they were talking about, but nodded, smiled and affirmed their assessment. After a month-and-a-half back in the US, I finally understand….
Living a life of vibrant faith here is so hard! The culture crushes in from all sides…and sucks the faith out of life. Technology is God. Money is salvation. Status is the goal. Possessions and shopping are the passions. And the Church here is not immune. Worship has become a technological production, practically impossible without multiple digital projectors, state-of-the-art sound systems. I even saw recently that one conference of churches is even offering workshops on “worship design.” What? Giving is the great push in many congregations still. Status within the community—if not the wistful desire of the church, is the desire of the pastor. Bigger, more, better…the accumulation of things is even part of the church-culture. And, by participating—whether ignorantly or purposefully—the Church is teaching her people that this is right and good. As the people fill their pockets, cars and homes with technology, as they work unceasingly—even multiple jobs—to put more and more money in the account to pay off the revolving credit cards, as they seek status among peers, coworkers or neighbors, as the house—and garage…and rented storage unit!—fill to overflowing with stuff…as people pursue and engage in all of these things, their lives are left empty, vacuous, ultimately meaningless. And they don’t know why….
Our culture is an immensely powerful force. Oh, it’s not a living entity, not really diabolic, but it does have a life of its own…and that ‘life-of-its-own’ happens to be quite contrary to the spiritual life, to the life of faith. The culture leaves no time for spirituality. The culture pushes the spiritual and inner life way down on the priority list.
It is no wonder, then, when North Americans go to those “backward,” third world countries, when they break away from the power of culture here, when they get to a place that has no TV or radio (at least, not that they can understand!), when they become ‘helpless’ foreigners without status or power, then…then the life of faith can finally flourish and bloom and grow.
I know this because I have seen what has happened to my faith-life since returning to the US. Slowly, quietly, it has been pushed down and aside. I found myself being caught up in the “new” stuff that fills the stores to overflowing. I began plotting and planning as to how I might save enough money to replace the four-year-old thing-a-majigy (that works perfectly fine) with a brand new one! The self-serving consumerist culture began to seep into my own life…replacing the simple and living faith that carried me unfailingly through almost seven years of missionary service.
So, I now realize that I must consciously and purposefully live counter-culturally here in America if I am going to nurture a spiritual life. I must decide NOT to buy or to want or to pursue what the culture insists I must have in order to fit in and find happiness. I must determine to focus on those things that have nurtured and carried and strengthened men and women through the centuries…and they are not things I can buy at Target or order from Amazon or gain through higher or lower interest rates.
The spiritual life, the simple faith, is fed through prayers—extemporaneous and guided, Scripture-reading, devotional readings, and contemplation, meditation and silence. Oh, yes, worship is important, but we have no shortage of that—what our inner lives crave is the calm, the silence, that gives balance to the noisy, boisterous, rockin’ 21st Century North American church life. The inner-self craves a quiet simplicity that will nourish who we really are and prepare us to face the false cravings and dead-end pressures of our complex, technologically advanced, consumerist culture. May God help me. Amen.