The Decline of the Eden State

What is the “Eden State”? It is a nation that believes the self-evident rights of its citizens are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights — privileges — were precisely the ones bestowed on the first humans. And we all know how that turned out. Perhaps we are on the precipice of a similar catastrophe.

The trajectory of American culture should come as no surprise. Futurists like Francis Schaeffer predicted with uncanny accuracy where we were going in the West 50 years ago. Wherever the values of a nation rest on personal fulfillment, affluence and security, decline is inevitable. That’s what Schaeffer said.

Since then, many others have joined the warning chorus. Mark Sayers, who may be called a futurist, has written two insightful books on the subject, titled The Disappearing Church and, The Reappearing Church. I’ll be drawing more from them later.

Welcome to the Bleeding Edge

In the mean time, it appears we have arrived at Schaeffer’s predicted future. As the nation trembles in the wind of pandemic and civil unrest, established institutions are showing signs of weakening. We may be at the edge of decline.

A few years ago, I submitted a post I called, “The Culture at Midnight.” It was the first time I used the phrase that was to become a category all its own in my writing. In that post I decried the release, screening, and newspaper review of a movie that dealt, somewhat sympathetically, with the subject of bestiality. Frankly, I was uncomfortable even writing about it, so astonished was I that such a film had been made, much less screened and reviewed. Nevertheless, I mentioned it as evidence that, in the words of an unintentionally prophetic popular song of the mid-twentieth century, “it’s later than you think.”

Thankfully, the film was on the fringe of cinema. It came and went without much further notice, but considering how inexorably, if slowly, the fringe becomes part of the warp and woof of American society I feel compelled recall it. Now, we live in a world where sex and sexuality is newsworthy by definition. What would have been scandalous to discuss in public a decade or so ago, is now considered the next frontier of liberty. What lies ahead, we can only imagine.

Building an Ark

I may be grieved by all this, but I am not surprised. The decline of the Eden state seems inevitable. What is left to me as a follower of Yeshua’s way is to remain humble, devoted to my Master and compassionate toward a world that may, in not too long, become intolerable for many.

In the early days of our people, one of the symbols that was meaningful to them was the ark. It communicated that in the midst of the turmoil of the world there was a place of safety called the “ecclesia,” the church. I expect as the storm of decline in our society becomes intense, there will be many seeking a place of safety. I want to be ready invite refugees from this dying world into the ark.

I can’t do that alone, of course. This wasn’t to be an assignment for only a few. It was intended to be the mission of a new community of followers. Want to join me?

Smoke, Fire, Church

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

~Harlem: A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred? The inhumanity in Minneapolis may have answered the question. The time for change has come. When those who have privilege fail to recognize a moral responsibility toward those who have not, social conflict escalates. Historically, disempowered classes have shifted the balance of power, overthrown governments, and formed nations. Those with the least to lose and the most to gain have been the spark that has ignited many a revolution.

The Smoke

When a heat source is persistent and intense, combustion becomes likely. In the US, indifference and unchecked privilege is a tinderbox.

But first comes smoke:

Continue reading “Smoke, Fire, Church”

Let’s Build a Rat Park

As the culture clock ticks toward midnight, we read the following headline: Deaths from booze, drugs, suicide could spike 60 percent to 1.6 million over next decade. Tragically, that dire warning didn’t surprise me. I bet you could say the same.

We’ve watched the downward skid for quite awhile. Watched. Fretted. Made peace with impotence.

As this blog series has suggested, there’s not much we can do outside the community of Jesus. People gonna do what people gonna do.

The Lessons of Addiction

What we can do, though, is build a rat park. I could argue that Jesus has commanded us to build a rat park (John 13:34-35).

In the late 70s, researcher Bruce K. Alexander of Simon Fraser University, used rats to study addiction. [Rather than describe it , let me encourage you to read the details here.] Briefly, he found evidence that addiction (and possibly other social ills?) were strongly related to social connections–community. When the rats in the study lived in a healthy and vibrant community they were less inclined toward addictive behaviors.

What of your community? Does your community of Jesus freaks live together with grace and encouragement? Is is alive with hope? In this world does it reek of life and rumble with anticipation of God’s Kingdom coming? Is it light and love? Moreover, are you and your marvelous comrades visible more than once a week (and then behind closed doors) loving and celebrating the Jesus life?

Seems to me, we don’t need a war on drugs. We need a rat park of Jesus freaks. One with a sign that reads, “Enter and begin the journey to a costly, vibrant kind of life.”

Life in a Culture of Death

How Will We Choose?

Choose for yourselves whom you will serve…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15.

Joshua laid it out plainly. You have to make a choice. Serve the gods of the land, or reject those gods and serve the God of Israel. Choose in or choose out. If you choose in, you’re rejecting the ways of the nations and embracing the unique character of the people of YAHWEH.

A few months ago, the abortion issue found its way back into the news. Alabama and Missouri were leading the charge back to the Supreme Court. The target? Roe v. Wade. Turn the ship around. Reverse the course set in 1973 when the slaughter of millions of us began. Whole generations exterminated at the stroke of a pen.

The pro-life movement intends to stop it.

That is the world’s answer: change the law. That was the answer in ’73 when the champions of abortion rights planted the flag on SCOTUS’ front lawn. It would appear that is still the answer as the pro-life forces sound the warison in Alabama, Missouri, and elsewhere. These are the first battles in a much longer war to change the law.

The question is, in 45 years since Roe v. Wade, what is the condition of the heart of this nation? Has Western culture grown more inclined to value life? The answer seems obvious. Given the choice between rights and restraint, individual rights are the clear winner. How troubling that this culture regards the freedom to end life as a cherished right while regarding the creation of life as, at best, a happy result of a loving union, but not infrequently, a regrettable hazard of sex.

Celebrate Life

As for we and our house…we shall reverence, honor and celebrate life.

We followers of Jesus, cultural outsiders, must devote ourselves to living consistently with the faith of our earliest fathers who selflessly cared for discarded children.

An early observation of the community of the Christ followers reads:

…there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through . . . Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not [abandon them to die].

~ Excerpt from the 2nd century Letter to Diognetus 

Let’s begin here:

  • Life is holy.
  • Life is a gift from God.
  • The creation of life is a responsibility and an honor to be entered into in the context of a covenant.
  • The termination of life is a fearful responsibility that belongs to God alone.
  • We must respect the freedom God has given all men and women to choose, even if we are confident those choices are wrong in the eyes of God.

This means that the new community ought to be a refuge for the helpless. We should be committed to protect children and provide shelter for those who need it. We should be ready to provide assistance to men and women who are unprepared to nurture the life that has been entrusted by circumstance to their care. Among us, we should be determined that the creation of life belongs in the context of an abiding union that reflects the relationship between God and His creation.

The priorities of the church should include adoption, prenatal care, childcare, training for parents, foster care, family counseling — in short, anything that nourishes and celebrates life. Imagine a community in which the announcement of a pregnancy is a call for celebration; the anticipation of birth a joyous season, and the bringing forth of new life a call to community. Not just an announcement in the bulletin, but an intentional party.

As the world looks on, may the community of the saints reflect the joy and holiness of life. In contrast to a culture that values as a right the destruction of life, may we honor, protect and celebrate it.

The New Community

A Category Explained

In my blog I have included a category called “Culture at Midnight.” The title identifies what I believe to be the sober reality of our times. The culture of the west, America in particular, is in transition. This category will grapple with the question of how to navigate the force-fields of that transition. Are we followers of Jesus prepared to live apart from the surrounding culture? Are we willing to reject cues from media, politics or any other cultural bellwether; to act by the Spirit and from the example of our predecessors in the faith?

Calculated Indifference

Yesterday, I had a discussion with a young friend who was curious about my political opinions. I told him I had very few. That was being honest. I have little confidence in political motivations and the ability of government to bring about a just and peaceful world. Moreover, I doubt that we are getting real transparency through the media and from persons in places of power who have good reason to tell the viewing public what the focus groups say we want to hear. I moderated my indifference by telling him that I felt it was counterproductive, even improper, for me to throw my negativity into the roiling cauldron of discontent that passes for discourse these days. Instead, I told him that I was committed to pray for the leadership in our country and beyond. I even went so far as to say I was a monarchist and that my King was not of this world. I had a twinkle in my eye when I said it, but the statement is probably truer than I gave him reason to believe.

Continue reading “The New Community”

Not of this World

Opting out

As the world seems to get crazier and crazier, I think a new translation of something Jesus said may be in order:

Not my circus… is apparently a Polish aphorism. It sums up my attitude toward politics and pop culture. It’s my way of saying, “meh!”

Another Way

On Being Ecclesia

I have become convinced that there needs to be a new referent when we speak of the community of Jesus followers. In the past, the simple word, “church,” has sufficed. In these contentious times, the term is no longer adequate because it suggests a place, often a building. Moreover, it communicates being an establishment and a part of the cultural landscape, a landscape that has shifted beneath our feet to the point that we will have to withdraw from it if we are to be faithful to our calling.

My reason for suggesting “ecclesia” to describe the community of Christ-followers is because of its first century meaning. It was understood to be a representative body of a particular state, essentially a group called out to assemble for the business of the city. It was understood to describe an assembly with specific goals and qualities. The most important feature, though, was its separateness.

Another example of intentional separation occurred in Germany as the specter of Nazism, was rising. Some clergy saw the danger and, as a matter of conscience, withdrew from the established ecclesial order. They came to be called “the confessing church.” The term came to describe a fellowship of clergy who felt the need to distinguish themselves from the established order and societal trajectory.

One thing seems clear: As the culture approaches midnight, Christ-followers can no longer be understood to be a part of the established social order. We must be understood to be a community called out from among–a peculiar people with distinctive values and purpose.

We are an ecclesia.

A Mourning Walk

We had intended to stand out on the boulevard today as a gesture of mourning over the death of George Floyd. Then, the violence, destruction and looting began. The narrative shifted from outrage at the abuse of law to disgust over the breaking of it. More than that, the behavior of the crowd brought dishonor to the memory of George Floyd. We decided we had to choose a different way to mourn the callous injustice. We needed to go beyond merely taking a stand, we had to walk. We must change course and move toward a better future.

Truth is, standing by the curb is easy—one and done. Changing my behavior is  hard. If my grief and outrage only burns for an hour or two on the sidewalk, what difference was made beyond the assuage of conscience? If Minneapolis does not mark the beginning of new direction, then the memory of George Floyd will have been entrusted to the hooligans who used it as a pretext for violence and looting.

This man’s death ought to be a catalyst for change, a point in time that calls us to compassionate community. In the last few days there has been much screaming at cameras, hoping presumably, to be heard in Washington or at the State capitol. Maybe someone in the halls of power can do something this time. I have my doubts. A legislative agenda is no substitute for a good example, a change of heart and soul.

Moreover, I am tired of waiting for change. Do I really expect compassion to trickle down from some tower of political virtue? It has been said that “politics is downstream from culture.” If that is true, then the source of this contagion of hate is not in the White House or the halls of congress, it is in me. It also means that I, in my small corner of the world, have the power to change things.

But this kind of change does not come because I hold a sign by the boulevard and take a stand, it comes when I decide to be different and take a walk. Mother Theresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Small things can have an amazing impact. Consider COVID 19.

What might be the impact of small,  deliberate communities joining together to obey Christ’s command to love one another (John 13:34-35)? Am I convicted enough to change that much? Are you? I try to imagine the outcry over the death of George Floyd marking the beginning of an epidemic. Only this epidemic will not call for social distance but social unity. The symptoms of this virus are love, compassion and justice. Most of all, it calls for intentional relationship, the multiplication of small, extended families whose unified purpose is to…

Do Justice.
Love mercy.
And to walk humbly with our God.


For more information about small and simple churches visit