Wednesday, January 17, 2007

USA: 2075

I've been saying for a long time that I want Josh McDowell to be wrong. His book The Last Christian Generation has as its premise that Christian education is failing, and if we're not careful, there won't be any Christians at all left in the US. (disclaimer: this is just back-of-the-book-jacket info; I've only just ordered my copy from Amazon, as the library here won't ILL it for me... Anyway, I could be wrong in my understanding of his point, but this is how his people are pitching it).

I've said many times that I simply cannot let that happen. The idea is kind of scary. What's even scarier, though--and, in my opinion, equally likely--is a world, or even a nation, where no one believes in much of anything. While I'm partial to Christianity, as religions go, I'm not blind to the powerful societal impact of people who have strong, demanding faith. I'm not talking about people who are "culturally" Jewish, or ex-Catholics who go to church only for funerals. The people I am thinking of are those whose faith shapes every moment of their lives. Those are people without whom a society can't exist for long. People who believe in something only when they need comfort or ceremony are not people of faith. People who believe in something, even when that believe is decidedly inconvenient, are.

I work for a technology company that was founded by Mennonites (yes, I know that sounds weird, and no, we don't have a hitching post in the parking lot). When I first started working there, about a year and a half ago, the founding family still owned the company. Most of the people who worked there were Mennonites, to the extent that people assumed I was one, simply because I worked there. One of the first things I fell in love with about that company was the overwhelming devotion to a life of faith, practiced by almost everyone. I worked with people who were not just Christians, but who were exemplary Christians, the kind of Christian I wanted to be. Going to work and spending time with these Christians was inspirational.

Many of my co-workers were not Mennonite. Some were Jewish, some were Ba'hai, some were Hindu. The wonderful people at my office were not all Christian, but they were people of deep and abiding faith, people whose love and faith guided them.

One day, in a break from a long meeting, one of my Jewish coworkers asked some of us to listen to the talk he was going to give at his synagogue for Yom Kippur. He talked about the story of Jonah, and how when he decides to stop running, the word used means essentially, "returned to himself." It was beautiful, and afterward a number of the Christians in the room talked with him about the prodigal son, who "returns to himself," as well. I'm sure if any of us thought about it, our Jewish friend probably, in a theological sense, must regard us as heretics, while we Christians have to feel that he's missing something major--but that's not what was going on in that room, only loving diaogue.

In the intervening year and a half, the company has grown, hiring almost one person per day in 2006. There's a lot of money flowing through the place, the original family sold the business to some venture capitalists, and every few weeks, we have to reshuffle our desks to make room for new hires. Being part of a business that is growing too fast and making too much money is exciting--but it can also be frustrating and disappointing. Many of my friends from those earlier days, the ones whose faith I admired so greatly, are still around. They're just diluted in a sea of people--who are good people, who are smart and hardworking and loving and funny--who don't believe in much of anything. If they are members of one religion or another, it's not something they share with anyone else. They do their jobs quite well--as co-workers, I can find very little fault with them. However, there is a certain quality that they lack, and I'm convinced that it's a quality that people of deep faith have.

Working with people whose faith is practically non-existant is disorienting. Recently I discovered that someone who has been acting weird around me for months was convinced that I was still mad at her for something that happened in July. I had forgotten about it entirely. My co-worker, though, lacked any serious understanding of forgiveness; she simply couldn't imagine that I had forgiven her so thoroughly that I had not even thought about the incident in months.

Most religions have a mandate that says that we should be good to each other, even when we don't feel like it (Christianity goes that little bit further and says that we should even be good to each other inside our own minds, which is rough). People who live this way are just easier to be around, and they inspire this kind of behavior in others. I'm ashamed to admit that, with those faithful people making up a smaller and smaller percentage of my colleagues, I'm doing less and less well being a loving Christian at work. I'm working on that, I'm aware of it. I'm just not sure I'm getting anywhere.

This is what I am afraid of for the future: a country where no one believes in much of anything, except the cult of Apple. I have experienced for myself what it is like to live in the kind of world that Jesus had in mind for us. It's really good. I want my children to have that. At the present rate, though, I half-way agree with Josh McDowell. He doesn't go far enough. It's not Christianity that's at stake. It's the underpinnings of a good and decent society.

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