I live in the gently crumbling northeast, in one of those small time towns that used to be a big deal. I like to use the word ‘gently’ because it makes me feel better about the urban blight. It is a way of me saying to myself that what is happening here isn’t malign, it’s just what happens in the usual way of humanity. We start out with vision and energy, and eventually we crumble and die. It’s kind of a depressing reality, but I need some benevolent frame to put around this gray and distressed picture.
The trouble is, some of the decay isn’t just a gentle crumbling. This town, like so many across this vast land, is slipping into the grip of the same ‘tolerant’ totalitarianism that is worming itself in everywhere. The absolute value of everybody being able to identity the self, not by some external objective reality that is verifiably known, but by the inner feelings and whims of the fleeting, changeable, emotions, has come to live here also. Most people don’t think in those terms as they trudge back and forth through the greying snow to Weiss, or the bus stop. Most people are just trying to get through this day into the next one without thinking too much about anything. They have fallen prey to an unjust economic system that robs them of a genuinely built, properly robust self identity. So when someone comes along to say something grossly untrue, they have no way of appealing to anything substantially honest to combat what is so obviously wrong.
Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed, and I probably shouldn’t say this on the Internet, is that upper class white people, with a world view that is untethered to humility, charity, kindness and reality, are allowed to work out their self identities with cash and therapy, while all the time venting their guilt on the poor by voting for more federal money, for more sexual freedom, but never for systems that might imbue the human person with actual dignity.
So every day the poor, the tired, the hassled minorities have to cope with schools that are increasingly violent and underperforming, so much so that practically everybody, of every economic level, is homeschooling or dreaming of homeschooling, while people like the former male rector of an episcopal church can, to a quiet and reservedly approving nodding of the head, decide to be known as a woman.
This is a smallish community and so I’m not going to link the news letter, or the picture, or say the name of the church, because I imagine people are creeping around in there, sure something is wrong and upsetting, but unwilling or unable to say anything about it.
The former rector–and by the grace of God, when he made this most culturally appropriate discovery about himself, was removed–is nearing retirement age. He should have been soon entering a settled rest with his wife, for indeed he is married. He is a friendly looking older man, the kind you’d be happy to shake hands with on the way out of church, nodding and smiling and promising to have him round to supper some time soon. If you had sat in his pew, you probably would have enjoyed how he prayed the Eucharistic prayer, you probably wouldn’t have hated his homily, you would have thought he was someone you could go talk to about the trouble you’re having at work, or with your grandchildren.
But here’s the thing. All the time that you were sitting there thinking about yourself, he would have been wandering around the chancel thinking about himself. And God? Well, who cares about him? Not the rector. It should have been his job to care, to draw you into a full, life saving understanding of the bible, to show you visions and dreams of a heavenly reality where sorrow and sighing and sin are no more, where the gray broken asphalt will be replaced with gold, where the burden of the self is swept up into such a great, loving forgiveness, a forgiveness purchased by the death of God himself, to give you hope in the one who is perfectly just, perfectly merciful, perfectly real, but instead of that, he sold it for the fleeting, ridiculous thrill of getting to be called Becky.
Without God, we cannot be known as we really are. Without Jesus, we cannot properly identify the self. Without the outside measure of God’s own righteousness, we cannot look inside our own selves and see what is really there. When a whole town refuses for God to be anywhere at all, and then when the church follows suit, there cannot be anything but confusion, selfishness, blight, and violence.
Fortunately for us, in every space and in every town, no human confusion and sin is beyond the merciful grace of Jesus. When all is broken and ruined, his glory can only be the more obvious, more true and real, than anything or anyone that we might once have thought we were.