Have you noticed that reality just isn’t what it used to be? Some sixty years ago or so, we Christians in the United States occupied a very privileged space. Most everyone around us accepted the very same reality that we championed. The Judeo-Christian worldview and perspective dominated the landscape. In fact, the sociologist Will Herberg wrote a book in 1960 entitled Protestant, Catholic, Jew in which he concluded that, if you weren’t Protestant, Catholic or Jewish in America then you just weren’t really an American. The ceiling over us was the Judeo-Christian ceiling. Most everyone accepted it, lived their lives by it, and anticipated that what it said about this life and the next life was quite accurate.
To put it succinctly, we lived in a massive Cathedral. Perhaps you’ve visited one before. You enter the front doors and look up at an expansive ceiling that pulls your gaze ever upward toward the soaring gothic spires with its beautiful paintings and arches. At the front is a massive altar and along the sides are various chapels. For US society in the 1950s and 1960s, those chapels represented all of the various denominations—Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Pentecostals and, yes, even the Jewish faith.
Most everyone went to church (or to their particular chapel) or was expected to even if they didn’t. We all pulled out of our driveways together on Sunday morning, went to Sunday School and enjoyed Sunday dinner after church.
Then, suddenly and somewhat without warning, the Cathedral ceiling crumbled. We entered the tumultuous decade of the 1960s that challenged so much about that old Judeo-Christian reality. The Civil Rights movement shook us to the core as it became clear that many churches in the United States had turned blind eyes toward the oppression and injustice that our black brothers and sisters were experiencing. The Vietnam War caused us to question our global responsibility as a nation and to realize that our political leaders were not as trustworthy as we once assumed. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy lead to intense and collective introspection about the violence in our culture. The Immigration Act of 1964 opened our borders up to the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America for the first time since the 1920s.
We woke up one day and the Cathedral was gone! We found ourselves in an entirely different reality, one in which the sky was our ceiling and the dirt was our floor. We were living at the Fair instead of at the Cathedral. No single reality dominated the culture. People suddenly could find meaning and purpose in a variety of religions or outside religious institutions completely. Suddenly, to live inside the Judeo-Christian worldview was to live in a different reality than the rest of the culture embraced. A different sort of spiritual vitality was demanded of us that needed to be much more vital and meaningful than the spirituality that characterized us in the Cathedral.
Indeed, reality isn’t what it used to be! And I’m wondering if that isn’t something that we should embrace rather than fear. It is good, after all, that our faith, the Story that gives meaning and purpose to our lives, should be a faith that we choose for ourselves and that is powerful enough and meaningful enough to help us make sense of every decision that we make and every experience of our lives.
We now live at the Fair. We now live together with others who embrace the Story that we have embraced and seek to live life out of that Story. It truly is a good place to be—a place in which our faith is our own and not something that is simply handed down to us or contained within the culture that surrounds us. It is our faith. Each day demands of us an individual decision to enter into the Story we ourselves have chosen to embrace and to allow that Story to determine everything about who we are, what we do, and why we do it. And, of course, to embrace it in such a way that it makes enough difference in our lives to compel our friends and neighbors into it as well and to find the same meaning that we have found.