LATE LAST YEAR THE THUMPING NEAR MY CHIMNEY came not from Santa Claus but from roofers pulling off our old shingles and putting a new cover on our sharply pitched, tall house. On a windy day we asked the fellow in charge of the work crew if it was safe up there. He said a greater danger than winds was sleepiness, the kind that comes in Texas when temperatures are close to 100 and attention lags. Cool air and winds provoke attention, the best preventative of accidents.
What is a Christian life in 21st-century America? If it's not lived on a steep roof amid high winds, we're doing something wrong. If we fall asleep because we're driving on a flat freeway, it's our own fault: We should be on the curvy mountain road. If we are following Christ we should not be SOSPers, praying that God will Save Our Swimming Pools. Instead, we should realize that we are part of a mighty adventure in a great country, an adventure that is not a matter for a day but one that will last for decades, as God gives us time.
Maybe Christian life in America seemed more settled two generations ago. Our educators in public schools and media taught biblically moral values: They were forgetting or ignoring the basis of those values, but they weren't attacking them. Many of us bemoan the change that has taken place, and some of us wish we were living at an earlier time, but discontent with where God has providentially placed us is a form of coveting. Besides, haven't we all heard the anecdote about the frog in the pot slowly being boiled to death? It's much better that we're hopping mad.
The generation of Americans after the Revolution sometimes pined for adventure: Why should the great battles already have been fought, the great documents written? Young men and women 200 years ago yearned for the opportunity to be heroic, and many of them found it, not so much in full-scale war (the War of 1812 was a blip in a generally peaceful half-century in America) but in starting foreign and urban missions, in working to free slaves, in starting enterprises and turning wilderness into farmland.
Today we have similar opportunities for heroism, but it's not primarily the heroism of the movie military leader, with Aragorn or William Wallace riding before the front line of his troops, calling for battle. That's necessary at times, just as it's necessary at times for the political leader to be calling for an uprising. And yet, outside the movies we need to be wary of such moments.
This column begins a series that will run roughly every other week. It's based on the idea that a descent into post-modern society as it is often depicted-post-Christian, post-ethical, post-decent-is not inevitable. As Thomas Oden notes in his new book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, some signs even suggest that we are headed in another direction, toward what I'd call a re-Christianized or at least a re-religioned culture.
My guess is that secular liberalism is unlikely to persist as America's established religion. Which way the United States turns will depend on God's providence, including our reaction as we look out on a scene like the one faced by the Pilgrims in William Bradford's classic description: "Which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to the heavens) they could have little solace or content in respect of any outward objects. For summer being done, all things stand upon them with a weather-beaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hue."
The Pilgrims became heroes not because of glorious speeches and military stands but because they endured hardship and faced the wilderness with Christian determination. Year after year they persevered in turning woods and thickets into farms and villages. Our heroism must be similar. Future columns will offer specific suggestions.
NOTE: Throughout the week I'll be posting new stories and perspective on www.worldmagblog.com. Stories during the past two weeks included: coverage of the "gay marriage" controversy, Howard Dean and other candidates, bisexual chic, Muslim threats, Christian weakness, Sunday sports, pagan holidays, de-Christmasing culture, faith-based prisons, public-school secularism, protecting unborn children, President Bush's theology, salvation by works, Christ and cash registers, Iraq and Iran, uses of war and abuses of government, and The Lord of the Rings and other movies.