If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together – African proverb
I was listening to Greg Thornbury, President of King’s College in New York, the other day. He was commenting on our society and the role of the church and our Christian schools in it, and I thought what he said was so thoughtful that I wanted to share it with you. So, I’m going to intersperse his thoughts with mine. The ones that are insightful and meaningful are his; the others are mine.
We are created for community, image bearers of God, made like the God who has always lived and continues to live in community- as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No matter how independent, or how atomized a life we live, a part of our being will always crave community. As the Church, and as this school community, we are called by God to be a community, but a redemptive community: one that gives glory to God, one that loves each other, and one in which learning thrives.
We are building this community in a time of exile. Things aren’t the same in this land that we live as they once were. Our faith isn’t well regarded as it once was. We are moving, or have moved from respectable to marginalized. As Thornbury says, we’ve moved from a post-Christian, or post-post Christian world, to a post-reality one, where things that are happening hardly seem real.
But, this is hardly the first time God’s people have been here. In Ezra 3, the Jews were called to leave Babylon and go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. Here’s the thing: they didn’t want to go. Ezra himself took three decades after Persian King Cyrus issued the Jerusalem repopulation order to leave. They were leaving the wonders of the world, even though that place was no longer welcoming for them, to head to a land most of them didn’t know.
We’re the same way, aren’t we? We’ve liked being respectable. We’ve appreciated our place of privilege. But, the fact is, that’s no longer our place. It’s possible that it may never have been. The gospel is a worldview of what author Wendell Berry called “Boomers”- wanderers. God calls us to go into the world and bring His power of salvation and redemption. And, we’re not called to do it alone. We’re called to do it together, as a Body, to be for each other, and about each other. As Thornbury says, what is forward and future in the Kingdom of God is better, and we are enough for one another. Christ put us together, and intended to put solidarity among us.
The 20th century political essayist Hannah Arendt posed this question, “How is it possible that, throughout the centuries, the Jewish people have flourished so significantly in societies in which they are outcasts?” How do they, even now, make a green, fertile land out of a desert? She suggests that there are two kinds of Jews: the “parvenus”- those who try to look like the rest of the world, who try to fit in. They are the least culturally relevant. The more powerful, the more culturally relevant and expressive, are the “conscious pariahs”- those who are outside, who know they are outsiders looking in, and accept and embrace the power associated in that.
See, if you love and follow Jesus, you don’t have to get yourself on the outside. These days, you’re already there. For two thousand years in virtually every part of the world, that’s been true. And, just like for the Jewish people, there’s great power in that. We don’t have to play by the rules of the inside. We are a community of believers, lovers of Jesus Christ who play by our own rules, the rules of our Lord.
The prevailing culture is becoming increasingly toxic, and what we do is becoming increasingly important not only to our local culture, but to the national one. But, our efforts will only be as good as the richness of our solidarity in the Kingdom of God in our schools. In other words, to what degree are we for God and for each other?
So, what does all of this mean? First, we have to be not only with each other, but for each other. We have to support each other, love each other, forgive each other, seek forgiveness from each other, build up, encourage and strengthen each other, and create that redemptive community we talk about around here.
Second, we need to stop pining for Babylon, for the America that was or maybe never really was, and live as “conscious pariahs”- loving our Lord, playing by His rules, seeing life through His lenses, and stop looking to be assimilated by our culture. That way, as the toxicity level of our culture rises, we can be a refuge and strength, and a cultural source of healing to our world. That’s how Christianity once became the prevailing worldview of the West; but, more importantly, that’s the mission to which our Lord calls us. That’s the rich inheritance we can leave our children.