Joy once asked her mother’s mother, Grandma Price, how in the world she had raised 6 children, one not yet four years old, in a converted garage in Chicago during the Great Depression? Her husband had died in 1934, leaving her to manage all on her own. Even as we type this it occurs to us, in light of the current state of public education, that there may be some young people who do not even know what the Great Depression was. It wasn’t a state of mind, although many who lived through that period may indeed have felt greatly depressed. It was a national and global economic melt-down beginning with a catastrophic stock market collapse in 1929 and lasting for about a decade. Unemployment stood at approximately 25%, and even working people endured the struggle of getting by on severely depressed wages.
Grandma’s response to Joy’s question has been one we have reflected on from time to time down through the years. She said they (she and most of her acquaintances) didn’t have much before the Depression and so, although very difficult, it didn’t represent a radical change from their pre-Depression lives. She and her own 10 siblings had been raised in a household of tenant farmers in Kansas, and they were extremely poor. Grandma opined that most folks today (that would have been early 1970’s) would not have fared nearly as well in the Depression as she did because people are quite used to living in fantastic prosperity compared to the meagre income most earned earlier in the 20th century. In truth, the wealthy of that day – not in Grandma’s circle – did not fare well either, because they had so much more to lose. During the Great Depression, suicide increased by 23% over the years from 1929-1934.1The Link Between the State of the Economy and Suicide Rates
Could it be the difference between Joy’s grandmother, and those who took their own lives, was their diverse expectations and focus they held? As Grandma herself said, life was already a struggle before the Depression and so her sense of loss was not even close to as great as the wealthier folks of the era. And Grandma was a single parent with 6 kids to somehow provide for, which likely did not leave much time to reflect on her poverty or the unfairness of life. She had to remain focused on finding ways to feed and care for her children. She was far more practical than sentimental, and she retained much of her tough resilience throughout her life, even when her circumstances vastly improved in her later years.
There is a sort of a spiritual parallel with the early church. The early believers lived with the expectation of hardship and persecution. They were monotheists living in a culture of polytheists. They had strict moral codes on sexuality in a culture where sex was a recreational pastime. They followed the One Who claimed He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life in a culture where truth was relative. At the dawning era of our faith, it is said that the average person believed all truth claims were equally true, Philosophers believed all truth claims were equally false, while Politicians believed all truth claims were equally useful. Life was cheap and death extremely brutal, before large numbers of people were transformed by faith and motivated by Christian love to care for their fellow man. They had been told by Jesus Christ what their lot in life would be:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:18-20)
They proclaimed the gospel, lived simply, walked closely with God and one another. Many were slaves or of lowly station. Not many were wealthy. They did not expect much of this world’s goods and did not look for acceptance or respect – and did not find much of any. Yet, these early Christians changed the world over the next 300 years and shaped the Western world into what it has been until very recently. However, the world has been turning back to a First Century culture for over a century now, and perhaps we have arrived.
In many ways, we as a nation are facing uncertain financial and political times and many are in great mourning for what they perceive they have lost, in personal freedom, in finances and in cultural influence. Unlike the early church, most Americans living today (and most citizens of “first world” nations as well) have lived in times of peace and plenty. Adding to that for Christians, most have only lived in a time when the Judeo/Christian worldview was respected and even guided culture, but today it is in the process of being rejected and Christians are finding themselves scorned. It is a great loss for all of society, not only Christians, but the world does not realize that.
It has been pointed out that this is the first time in our nation’s history that we have had one ideology ruling in the House, Senate, Presidency as well as the mainstream media. Thinking independently, in disagreement with this ruling ideology is strongly discouraged, and dissent is punishable through “cancel culture.” Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech has almost become a quaint notion of the past. There isn’t even a need to change the Constitution, it seems, because it is simply being ignored by both politicians and the newly empowered Tech Oligarchs, and popular media of course, who monitor and simply silence speech they don’t like. How we as Christians respond to this very disconcerting change will largely depend on what we are focused on and invested in.
Where do we begin? First and foremost, for those who through faith belong to Christ, our main focus should be the person Who was always supposed to be the focus of our lives, Jesus Christ. Life’s difficulties and challenges can easily distract us from the peace He gives in the midst of difficulties, unless we are ever more diligent to emphasize spiritual issues over material things. Also, like Grandma, we should make ourselves busy praying and caring for others, materially where we are able, and spiritually. In good times, it is easy to forget what is most important. Like Grandma, one of our largest priorities should be spiritually providing for the young – protecting, guiding, praying for, and spiritually feeding our children and grandchildren. This would extend to other youths, training them to diligently care for the spiritual welfare of others as well. There is nothing inherently wrong with iPhones and other possessions, but the eternal destiny of those around us is far more important than things.
A renewed spiritual emphasis will work itself out differently for each one of us. It is not that we necessarily give up on our nation’s (or other nation’s) welfare either. Our nation is vastly in need of God and His righteousness, whether people recognize this or not. And yes, we should pray, pray, and pray some more, but Christian responsibility does not exclude pointing out the steep cliff we seem collectively to be heading over, declaring right from wrong and spotlighting the evil around us. As long as we are able, we must not remain silent – as did most “good Germans” in WW2 – on issues of great moral and spiritual import. Our generation of Christians have been taught to be “nice,” and “nice” is, well, nice. But sometimes Christian character must involve peaceably confronting evil actions and hypocrisy, and even defending the faith from those who seek to destroy it, not with bullets but with persuasion. We are blessed in that we, as of now, still have freedom to speak. Christians are to shine light in and on the darkness and address the issues we see before us according to our various gifts.
We are perhaps beginning to see the birthing of a parallel economy and there is a shift in progress to reclaim the education of our children and grandchildren. Rod Dreher in his book, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, interviews many who grew up in totalitarian nations and describes what their families did to care for them – to protect them spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. One of the themes he returns to repeatedly is:
Refuse to let the media and institutions propagandize your children. Teach them how to identify lies and to refuse them.2Dreher, Rod. Live Not by Lies; p 108. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Most of us have lived in a nation which historically was friendly to faith – not just Christian faith – but freedom of religion and “the free exercise thereof.” We tend to forget Christianity was birthed in an adversarial culture. It was an illegal religion in the Roman Empire, but it not only thrived but transformed that civilization and much of the world. It did so because they did not allow themselves or those they cared to be “propagandized” or brainwashed away from their faith. Instead, they held tightly to their faith and taught others to identify and refuse lies. In the Apostle’s discussion of how the Body of Christ is to operate he writes:
so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Ephesians 4:14-15)
Identify and reject lies. Speak the truth to one another – protect and persuade. The Apostle Peter weighs in on how to live in an adversarial culture:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)
Chapter 6 of Rod Dreher’s book is titled, “Cultivate Cultural Memory.” Recounting who we are and where we came from is important. One can hardly read the Scriptures without realizing that it is a history of the people of God, and the various ways God interacted with His people in times of struggle and times of peace. For those of us who were blessed to grow up in America, knowing our true history and passing it on to our offspring provides a stabilizing influence.
Some people surely prefer to continue their way and “hope things get better” or back to “normal,” and that does seem to have been our most prominent Christian battle plan for the last 40-50 years or so. But the “normal” we got used to may not return, no matter how we might desire it to happen. Can we erase the decades of damage done to our nation by the young being lied to and our faith and history misrepresented in schools and literally all of popular culture? And we know it is not only the young that have been captured by the lies of popular culture. This is not a call to arms or to violence, of course. It is, however, a call for the church of Christ Jesus to shake the rust off, take a spiritual inventory and sharpen the tools He has given to us to weather difficult times. Walk closely with our God. Protect and persuade the people in our lives, and especially our children, to the best of our ability. Stay very close to the family of God. Be filled with the Spirit. Tell the old, old story often. Pray, pray, and pray some more. We cannot know the immediate future of our nation and world, but current events are a wake-up call for spiritual renewal among Christians.Ω
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|↑1||The Link Between the State of the Economy and Suicide Rates|
|↑2||Dreher, Rod. Live Not by Lies; p 108. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.|