“‘The West’ . . . was born from the telling of one sacred story — a garden, an apple, a fall, a redemption — which shaped every aspect of life: the organisation of the working week; the cycle of annual feast and rest days; the payment of taxes; the moral duties of individuals; the attitude to neighbours and strangers; the obligations of charity; the structure of families; and most of all, the wide picture of the universe — its structure and meaning, and our place within it.
The West, in short, was Christendom. But Christendom died. If you live in the West now, you are living among its ruins. Many of them are still beautiful — intact cathedrals, Bach concertos — but they are ruins nonetheless. And when an old culture built around a sacred order dies, there will be lasting upheaval at every level of society, from the level of politics to the level of the soul. The shape of everything — family, work, moral attitudes, the very existence of morals at all, notions of good and evil, sexual mores, perspectives on everything from money to rest to work to nature to the body to kin to duty — all of it will be up for grabs. Welcome to 2021.” Paul Kingsnorth~
It might be hard to find a portion of work that better sums up our part of the world at this place in time than the above two paragraphs. Kingsnorth hits a bullseye as he sums up what the West was, and what we are today.
We wonder how we got here, how we got here so fast, but the decline was subtle and slow. From my childhood, I remember dressing a certain way for church or school, having no trouble finding movies that reinforced the ideas of good and evil, watching evening newscasts that rejected ugly, slanted, or illogical discourse, hearing political commentary capable of reaching an audience of broad perspectives. Our milk cartons advised us to attend our church or synagogue this weekend.
We point to moments. It was that election. It was this event. But the starting point of decline is impossible to pinpoint. History moves from moment to moment as we plan what’s for dinner, what to do on Saturday evening, and where to go on vacation next summer.
Yet, here we are among the ruins of our previously Christian culture.
Where to begin to rebuild?
We begin by feeding souls.
The Gospel is the obvious place to start. But the foundations that once helped Americans easily comprehend God’s truth have crumbled away. That bridge needs rebuilding, restoring.
To begin that rebuilding, churches and individuals can help families, single parents, kids struggling to find their way, perhaps with no one showing them a functional way forward.
That way requires some training–us showing others how to do things. I don’t mean an education that leads to specific employment later on. But learning leading to a satisfying life of doing, of action.
Cultivating relationships, developing skills like cooking, playing a sport or a musical instrument–work of a sort that someone can point to and say: “I can do that.”
Some people can’t say that very often today. Being able to say that is important.
And what can we do to enhance literacy around us? And why does literacy matter?
John Wesley opined that “A reading people will always be a knowing people.” Henry Peter Brougham said, “Education makes people easy to lead but difficult to drive.”
Knowing where we’ve come from helps us understand where our place and time will lead us. The past shows us how we got to our place today and how to get to a new place, a better one.
What can we do?
We can ask God to show us whom we can help, who wants to learn, who is searching for help. His answer may call me to help a neighbor and you to volunteer. He may call us both to donate books to a ministry that reaches out to those in need of soul-feeding–to donate food–to feed soul and body.
It’s up to us to show people “the wide picture of the universe — its structure and meaning, and our place within it.”
Civilizations build bridges–and rebuild them–one stone at a time.
Where will you place your piece of rock to rebuild the ruins around us?