I grew up in LaPorte, Indiana, a small working-class town an hour from Chicago. The picture to the left of downtown is looking west to the courthouse. I spent many a nights as a teenager “cruising” that road. Besides the local farming, a lot of people worked in factories and Union trade jobs. There was a time when, for the most part, those jobs provided a livable wage and a good pension for retirement. But over the last thirty years, those jobs have disappeared. In LaPorte, it arguably started with the closing of the Allis-Chalmers plant. Then the steel industry began shrinking while other factories closed up. All the while, LaPorte is one of many towns in which illegal drug-use and trade has increased.
There are any number of reasons that might explain the change of fortune. Fortunately LaPorte is close enough to Chicago that the economic hardships may not be as severe as they are in other small and midsize towns. But then again, I don’t exactly know because I haven’t lived in LaPorte since the summer of 1998. What I do know is that I understand why people from my hometown and many other small working class towns like LaPorte are fearful of the future and angry about the circumstances they find themselves in.
The Coming Storm
I’m not a fan of Donald Trump at all but after reading A Message From Trump’s America, I can understand why many of the white working-class folks support him. I don’t agree with them but I can understand them. The politicians who have been elected in the past are, by and large, failing at their jobs (though many of those elected officials are still reeling in the wealth themselves). Sadly, people believe the only solution is more politics. I emphasize sadly because I believe that people are going to be disappointed no matter who becomes the next President because the real issue is not just a matter of politics. But the fact that people don’t even consider Christianity as having any possibility says something about the way of life, or lack of it, that Christians live as the church of Jesus Christ.
At the heart of the matter, there is a storm coming and a significant part of it is fueled by socio-economical issues that impact real life. The more frustration and loss of vitality, the more people blame others… particularly those of different ethnicities and nationalities. And any politician attempting to exploit these issue, exasperating divisions, will only fail in the end and take a lot of people down along the way. Remember, a divided house cannot stand.
While the particular circumstances are different, churches still have the answer if they can reimagine a way of life rooted in the gospel rather than institutional life that has come to define church. You see, many churches are organized around a few hours on Sunday. Church is something Christians go to rather than who we are and this seems true even for churches that have small groups. The focal point of the church is a large worship gathering and not a way of life we are always a part of as followers of Jesus. And because of this, so much of life is isolated from church and pursued dependent upon individual selves and/or upon government. I’m not against the large worship gathering or suggesting that such gatherings must be done away with but it is only a fraction of what life as church was meant to be.
Jesus and A New Way of Life
When Jesus began his ministry, he did so among a hostile world with plenty of angry Jews under Roman rule. Among this hostile world existed some significant socio-economic disparities and ethnic divisions, though for different reasons than our own day. So Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s inbreaking kingdom and then called people to follow him. What was Jesus doing? Jesus wasn’t just proclaiming a new religious belief for people to accept and then affirm every Sunday morning at 9:30 in a “sanctuary.” Jesus was declaring, teaching, and calling people into an entirely new way of life.
This way of life was lived as a community with each other. As a community, the people learned, among other things, to share with each other and care for each other. In a world of great socio-economic disparities, this community living the way of life Jesus taught made sure that nobody among them was left in need. This was of such a value that these followers of Jesus sold goods in order to give the proceeds to others in need. In the second-century there is written accounts of these followers sometimes fasting for several days so that when they ate, all could eat together. As the community of Jesus followers expanded throughout the Roman Empire and began including Gentiles, the ethnic hostilities between Jews and Gentiles became an issue that threatened the community. However, these communities were reminded of the gospel and challenged to reject their hostility. The gospel meant they were to regard each other as brothers and sisters, knowing that Jesus gave his life on the cross so that they − both Jews and Gentiles − could equally share in this new life as a new creation in Christ. This was church!
A Final Word About Being Church
This new life is, in part, what being church could be and must be again if the church in America is to be God’s voice of hope. In a society that is increasingly filled with economic hardships and racial/ethnic divisions, the church is called to be a living testimony of the good news that Jesus proclaimed with his very own life. Sure, there is more to this church life than just economic justice and racial/ethnic equality but given the context of America, the church dare not ignore this point. The church must be a living demonstration of why the gospel is good news and when this happens, perhaps others within society see the life they seek and come follow Jesus too.
So maybe, just maybe, it’s time that we Christians stop preoccupying ourselves so much with who becomes the next President and concern ourselves more with just being the church. After all, we’ve tried doing both for sometime now and it’s increasingly clear that we’re not doing either one so well. So maybe its time to concentrate on simply living as a community following the teaching of Jesus in all of life as our way of life!