Pilgrims,Tourists and Vagabonds in the New Dark Ages
Two books have profoundly grabbed my attention the past few months. One is "Impossible People," by Os Guinness, the other is "The Benedict Option," by Ron Dreher.
Both books address something we may not want to hear, but if we are honest, can sense, because the evidence is all around us: Rome has already fallen (the West-and that includes America) and we (Christians) have not yet come to terms with it, but we must. The fall starts with the fall of culture into the dark abyss of full blown postmodernity and relativism, and continues with social fragmentation and decay (loss of a shared morality and ethic) and we are about to enter a new Dark Age of sorts. You need to read these books.
We Christians must come to terms, just as the Christians did when the Roman Empire fell, with reality and must be about the business of not only counting the cost of what it means to be a Christian in such days (and that will certainly include suffering and various forms of persecution), we must also develop strategies, as did those Christians who lived in the fallen empire, to preserve and pass along the faith to children and families. We must also find ways to inflluence the culture in these New Dark Ages.
Not surprisingly, the prescriptions of both authors require us to do something fairly radical: embrace the Gospel and take up our cross and follow Jesus. In Christianity, radical is normal. It is expected as the norm, so in a way, it's not radical, it's simple obeience.
Perhaps seeing simple obedience as 'radical' is symptomatic of our larger problem? I think that is a comfortable assertion.
In the past, when things were perhaps more 'comfortable,' in our culture, and there was this somewhat shared Judeo-Christian narrative that shaped public discourse, attitudes, wordlviews, etc., the church, though not at the center of public life, was still somewhat respectable and Christianity itself was generally agreed upon as something 'good.' If anything, it provided some kind of moral framework.
Now? Not so much. You and I know that the fundamental message of Christianity and our worldview itself is seen as 'antiquated' at best and 'hostile,' 'hateful,' 'offensive,' and so on at worse.
As we enter this Brave New World, the goal of the High Priests of Social Engineering are nothing less than removing the 'shackles' of the 'old morality,' and basically embracing and celebrating everything that is contrary to our historic spiritual heritage.
To disagree with what is new, the dissenting voice is viewed as 'hateful,' or 'oppressive,' or 'offensive,' and shouted down with the goal being to silence all voices who do not praise this Brave New World.
And this leaves each of us with a choice in our spiriitual journey: Are we going to be pilgrims, tourists or vagabonds?
The spiritual vagabond never plants himself or herself anywhere. He or she drifts from this or that. Driven by the personal feelings of the moment and the spirituall trends of the day (whatever they may be), the spiritual vagabond drifts to this and that because he has no moorings or roots. The vagaond is perfectly tolerated in this New Dark Age because ultimately, he or she will never stand up for anything or against anything that contradicts the darkness. He is simply flowing along with the current, wherever it leads. The vagabond walks in the shadows and prefers it that way. There are spitual vagabonds who drift in and out of our churches weekly.
The spiritual tourist is someone who may well like Jesus and the things He says in the Gospels and has probably at some point made some kind of 'decision,' in his or her life. But, as time went by, they found themselves in a dangerous position: they became the center of their own spirituality, not Christ. As such, their relation to Christ and His church became much more about pursuing certain experiences and feelings than it dies pursuing Christ. For the tourist, Jesus doesn't say, 'deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.' Instead, this Jesus says, 'I'm here to give you your best life now,' and 'I'm here if you need me.'
Spirtual tourists seek to use Jesus (the Jesus of their making) for whatever their purposes may be: to feel better about themselves, to be more 'successful' at work, or marriage or family or to achieve financial blessings and be healthy and so on. Spiritual tourists are almost distinclty a Western thing. We are the center or reality and everything exists for our good pleasure. If it doesn't make us happy, we jettison it as soon as possible to go on to the next thing.
As such, as these emerging Dark Ages become more hostile to the historic faith, such people will quietly disappear from any association with Christ. After all, suffering isn't fun. It doesn't 'feel' good. That is certainly not a part of the 'Best Life Now Tourist Package.'
Our churches are filled with spiritual tourists.
We are called, however, as Christians, to be pilgrims. Pilgrims are on a journey toward a specific desination. We are just passing through on the way to eternity. We recognize this road we are on is not always comfortable. In fact, at times it is painful and even scary. We know it is a narrow road and few are on it. We know that on this road, crosses are not 'optional.' We are following Jesus, even if it costs us severely. Along the way, we are not to live in fear. For even though we walk through the Valley of Death, we will fear no evil, for His rod and staff, they comfort us. The Good Shepherd is with us. He calls us to live boldly and lovingly and courageously for Him, to shine beauty and truth and goodness into the darkness, even if the darkness attacks us for doing so.
For the church in America to survive (and hopefully, even thrive) in such times, we must recapture, as Christians, this notion that we are indeed pilgrims. We are on a journey and it is a lifelong journey. We are not the center of the universe-He is, and He does indeed call us to take up our cross and follow Him on this narrow road towards our heavenly home. He promises that He will be with us and that nothing can separate us from His love. He does not promise us comfort and ease on this journey, though.
Even now, as the Darkness spreads,professing Christians across the land are already shrinking back. To follow Jesus on pilgrimmage means a person stands out, and if it's one thing a person doesn't want to do in the face of this growing Darkness is to stand out too much.
But we must. He died for us and purchased us. We no longer belong to ourselves. Those living in Darkness must see the Light of Christ-and that light must eminate from His followers.
May we reject spiritual vagabondism, spiritual tourism, and embrace (as scary as it may seem now), being pilgrims on journey together, encouraging one another onward as we follow our Master.