BEING a CHRISTIAN in a NEW ERA— it’s a generational thing. Part 1

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“We must become what we seek to create.”— Mohandas Karamchang Ghandi

(Oct 2, 1869 – Jan. 30, 1948  —assassinated on his way to evening prayers.)

     The fact of the matter is that people are different now. Young people find it difficult to relate to the church’s way of doing things. When family structures and society were more stable people did come to church to find answers, to find community, to worship God in a traditional manner. But the breakdown of our society, the dissolution of so many marriages, the Iraq wars, renewed racial conflicts, 9/11, the 2008 financial collapse, and our present political conundrum, have all contributed to the fragmentation of society and isolation of the generations. We have ceased to learn from the older and wiser; this alone constitutes a major fracture in our family cohesion. And thanks to the Baby-Boom of 1946-1964, YOUTH CULTURE (their children) does, in fact, dominate our world.

So when young people ages 14-25 come to church what do they find, generally?[i] They find a shape of Christianity virtually irrelevant to their virtual realities. They find a pyramid power structure contrary to their relationally oriented networked reality. They find generational separation. They find “lecture style” instruction. This is NOT true of every church; but it is true of far too many.

But fear not! Facebook has now has 2.3 billion subscribers, bringing us all back together…, maybe, sorta.  In recent years, more of the Silent Generation is flocking to Facebook to see their grandchildren. So their kids are fleeing for their lives to Instagram and Snapchat. If the Church could do anything to correct this generational drift, it should re-kindle intergenerational relationships; not online, but face to face.

Two American sociologists, Neil Howe and William Strauss, have categorized our generational differences in ways that might also be helpful in our understanding of those differences and in the efforts to bridge the gaps between us… and them. Check out MILLENNIALS RISING: the next great generation, (Randon House; New York, 2000). In essence, generational characteristics must be taken into account when any presentation of the Christian faith is expressed. If they are not considered, both our communication of the faith and its comprehension levels drop into the abyss of vacuity.

The Question for us becomes— How will I express my Christian faith in a way that is appropriate to my culture, to my generation, yet sensitive to other forms of expression, as well as to the world at-large?  In the church context—  how should my worship honor God in the Body of Christ?

Between early 2005 and 2015 NEEDinc conducted a series of interviews with genuine Christians across North America [“Genuine” being defined as a faith whose principles influenced at least 75% of their daily activities]. Each interviewee was drawn from a different generational grouping; each expressed answers to the interview questions in a manner with which they were comfortable.

What we learned from the interviews surprised us a little.

  1. Some saw church as central to their Christian worship while others did not. A common frustration and disappointment in the state of the church crossed all generational lines.
  2. Though all were genuine believers and held a rich faith in Christ, they expressed that faith through worship, music, and societal involvement in different ways and to different extents. This observation followed generational lines and complied with their peer group expressions.
  3. Though younger generations held a respect for their elder’s expressions of faith, it was not reciprocated. Older believers knew little about the formats and subtleties of twenty-somethingexpressions of faith. They judged the younger generation’s faith too emotion-based, too relational, and not grounded enough in a Biblical, comprehensive worldview.
  4. Everyone was willing to consider the other person’s faith expression…, in theory. In practice, well, that didn’t work out so well. “Getting together” at all was the first hurdle to overcome.
  5. ALL considered themselves in process; that is, they understood they were each at different places in their spiritual journey and had much growing yet to come.

Reflection

How would you respond to these five observations? How would you imagine older/younger Christians responding? What commonalities have you observed between different generations of Christians? What issues do you believe still exist between diverse generations? What passions might they share in common? How might different generations of genuine Christians teach each other about their own individual expressions of faith?

NEXT— Being a Christian in a New Era—  Part 2

Gary

[i] I am well aware that to employ the phrase “churches generally,” is impossible. What is at stake here is the general reaction of unchurched youth to traditional Christian worship, whether or not they employ more contemporary worship music.

[Note— If you can find a copy of James O. Gollub’s THE DECADE MATRIX: why the decade you were born into made you what you are today (Addison Wesley Publishing, Reading, MA, 1991), currently out of print, you will learn that the title just about says it all.]

 

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OF PASSION & PROPOSITIONS: growing a non-balanced faith

6874balance_scale     When I was in the final stages of producing my doctoral dissertation I ate out a lot. Escapism, most likely. During one such luncheon at Panda East, a Chinese restaurant in Amherst, MA, I opened a fortune cookie which read— Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without passion. I thought of some of the great names throughout history for whom this proverb has proven true— Hammurabi, Moses, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Christopher Columbus, Albert Einstein, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Thomas Edison, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan— all were driven by passion and tenacity to accomplish something beyond themselves.

     Yet, the church in North America seems driven by balance— balance in life, in our families, in faith, in our behavior— moderation in all things, no rocking the boat. Straight-forward, rational explanations of life should suffice to renew the mind and focus our resolve. It is almost as if being out of balance, or slightly extreme in any way, is viewed as the real threat to the church and to the stability of our individual faith.

     But if Truth is primarily personal (though certainly not exclusively), found in the Person of Jesus Christ, there are some very critical implications for us that impact our Christian lives, balanced or otherwise, and how we exhibit our faith to others. This will probably flip me from the frying pan into the fire, but it is time we examined belief and emotion in light of Scripture. After a great deal of scrutiny, I must admit that I do not find a lot of only believe-ism in the Bible.

     In many churches across America, there are large banners running across the front or the back of the sanctuary— TO KNOW CHRIST AND TO MAKE HIM KNOWN. Now hear me out on this one. I find no fault with this banner. But I do find it curious that it seems to be all about the knowing. It is assumed that everything else will flow out of that, even the “making him known” part. There are many churches that excel in fulfilling the first part: teaching their members to know a great deal about their faith.  But I find very few exerting much effort in training their members to fulfill the second part: making Him known (to those outside the church). Most sorrowfully, our interface with those outside the church has become solely an effort to pass on the information about Christ, rather than any genuine immersion in the lives of normal people.

     Why is this? I fear it might be due to our fear of the outside, or, much worse, a simple desire to remain in control. If we learn anything in our walks of faith it must be that God is in control…, not us. I’ve often wondered if the failure of our evangelical culture in the West to be part of our culture is that we fear being out of control.

     We need to learn to grow a nonbalanced faith: one where God is in control, where we don’t have all the answers, in which our passion for people, and for our Lord, takes over our whole being. For reference, I point you to an account of the revival of religion in Northampton in 1740-1742 as was reported in “The State of Religion at Northampton in the County of Hampshire, About 100 Miles Westward of Boston.” The letter was published in The Christian History, January 14, 21, and 28, 1743, written by Rev. Jonathan Edwards, [ http://www.jonathanedwards.com/text/jeaccnt.htm ].

NEXT— Being a Christian in a New Era:  it’s a generational thing.

Balancing my faith on one foot…, now the other one; whoops,

  Gary

Ready, Fire, Aim!

merida_disney The rate of change during the twentieth century had a greater velocity than any century before. The certainty of how things worked was based on the assumption of continuous change— that is, that things change, but they have some connection to what has gone before.

     We are now in a transition of discontinuous change— that is, too much has changed, so rapidly, that it has little to NO connection to what has gone before. We have been in a paradigm shift from what was to whatever is to become.

     If you feel like you can’t seem to keep up, well, you’re right. You can’t. In industry, technology, communication, and nations it is no longer READY, AIM, FIRE. From here on out it’s READY…, FIRE…, AIM. 

     Let’s take a look at some of the sign posts that mark this present time period. Most scholars deem this era a postChristian era.

  1. postChristians trust in their own judgment rather than in traditional authority or group consensus.

            People no longer trust in BIG— organizations, traditional institutions (read the church), or business. Judgment starts and stops with ME.

  1. Young people conform to their generational peer values.

            The TV show FRIENDS was a fair representation of this. (Binge watch them all on NETFLIX.) Or, NEW GIRL, with Zoe Deschanel. Amidst the convolution of individualism and personal values there remains this hunger to be accepted. They are upbeat, positive, and do not like to be compared with older generations. Actually, they do not like to be labeled at all.

  1. Today’s generation seeks meaning in service, doing, living-life vs. becoming couch potatoes.

            They want to be part of a thriving, working society.  They want to make a difference in our world, they want to have an impact, leave a mark. They are not as rebellious as Boomers or later Busters (GenX). With no internal guidelines to provide perimeters for behavior, most perceive life as a challenge to be figured out, conquered, and shaped.

  1. Postmoderns are more visual than linear-sequential. They “think” in music. They visualize life more than they analyze it.

The emerging generation in this early twenty-first century have grown up with TV, DVDs (now passe), YouTube, Gaming, Smartphones, Snapchat; and 3D movies with special FX. All has evolved to produce a truly visually-connected generation. “Imaging” a reality makes more sense than stating that reality in a logical, linear form. Words have lost their reference points for most of this generation; unless they represent a visual image in their mental milieu.

  1. Twentysomethings create personal truth-value systems to make sense of life.

Having witnessed moral failures in the church and the ethical failures of our government and sports figures, most have lost all their confidence in external institutions to provide them with a basis for making sense of life. So they look within themselves to create truth-value systems that need only work for one individual, myself. They bond with other like-minded individuals intimately. Oh, you believe in a god/God?  That’s great; I’m glad it works for you.  My personal truths/beliefs work for me too. ‘Nough said.

  1. Emerging leaders value experience-based truth over propositionally proclaimed truth.

One of the byproducts of an exclusive reliance on personal truth-value systems is an eventual abhorrence for anything nailed down, especially written. Writing something down makes it binding, authoritative, final. They want to move with the flow, the immediate, the next, and the synthesis of the experiences and insights of life. Propositionally stated truth usually flows out of institutional conclaves; they are not to be trusted. Personal experience is the producer of truth and Truth (if there really is the latter).

  1. They seek a spirituality within as a Life-Reference point, rather than outside of their inner world.

In a conversation with one of my 20-something friends I was taken back by his surprise that I “needed a god” to support my spiritual self. He responded,“I don’t feel any need for an external reference point for my spirituality. It comes from within.” postChristians hold little confidence in historical religions, especially Christianity. Not only do religions write everything down, they are insistent on the supremacy of words over life. Thus the church makes little sense to them. “Christians don’t seem capable of living life.

  1. Our emerging culture resonates with transparent, caring people whose lives reflect an inner integrity.

Well, frankly, who doesn’t like these kinds of people? They have a lightness about them that is infectious. Whether it is from some inner urge to escape and play or a zest for experiences that radiate with life they inspire those around them. But they don’t put up with any crap; they don’t play the games of social niceties. They expect those they meet to be up front with them, honest about life, open with their ideas, even when it might elicit disagreement. They resonate with positive, upbeat, transparent people in any age category. (Informing them that they are sinners before a Holy God is NOT an understandable starting point. So, what would be?)

  1. PostChristians are very picky about how and with whom they spend their free time.

Got any free time with nothing to do? Right, neither do I. So also with the postmodern set. Life is f-u-l-l, VERY FULL! Every given chunk of time is packed with work, play, and appointments; going, going, going more and more and gone. The work-force set has very little time: take a number. The college/grad school set can’t pack any more into their lives. And the junior/senior high school crew should really use the calendar sections on their cell-phones. Get the picture? If not…“have a good-one.

So… !? How can the Christian message ever make it into the lives of people who don’t trust traditional institutions, especially the church, don’t relate to linear/sequential propositional Truth, who construct value systems based on their own experiences (exclusively), who don’t like the arrogant authority of written codes and beliefs, and who find a spirituality within themselves with no sense of a need for any external reference point? AND they don’t have any time for you. Does the word conundrum come to mind? Hummm.

            Well, please forgive me, but this conundrum excites me! What a great time to be a Christian in western society! We are truly living in a postChristian era— a culture that thinks of institutional Christianity as having already been tried— and found wanting. So much has changed. If you are a Christian, and you are alive, you have an opportunity to make one of the greatest contributions to human history— to participate in reshaping the interface between the Christian world and our postChristian culture.  You’ve gotta love it!

So, again, now what?!? READY! FIRE! AIM! Absolutely!

  Gary

How Christians Got a Bad Rap

abbey-939529_1920So…, when you’re lost how do you find your way again?  Ask directions. You don’t want to get THAT lost again! But it also helps to look back, to see where we went wrong.

            It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map, or today a GPS. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go “HUH?” You’re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

            Let’s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians become culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

The Bad News: how Christianity marginalized itselfSo much changed in the 20th century it was virtually impossible to keep up. An acceleration in population expansion and mass migration (and immigration) had a tremendous impact on all areas of life. Technology and communication grew to the point of vertical take-off.  For some people, namely North American Christian conservatives, the rate of change was simply too much. So many of us isolate ourselves, and our families, into protective cocoons from a culture that we perceived as increasingly complex, a bad influence, and even an evil influence.  As unbelievable as it may sound, Christians in North America started the 20th century skeptical of such things as electricity, artificial light, mechanized forms of transportation, and, later, radio and TV. We ALL finished the 20th century with reservations about the Internet, and skeptical view of e-lationships  “Come on, how can you feel close to someone you’ve only met on a computer!?”  (Ever hear that one?)

The conservative withdrawal was driven by the need to feel safe again, secure within our church walls, our small groups, and our Bible studies. Though it appeared that the conservative Christian community was assimilating into society in reality it was merely running parallel with society, along its own track. Not surprisingly, the result of these actions, was that the rest of the world simply moved on. We were set aside by the western world; but in a real sense we sidelined ourselves. We positioned ourselves in opposition to the rest of society and developed our own Christian kingdom, safely confined within church walls. Secular society took the upper cultural hand, but not without criticism or commentary from the religious right.  In the end, the conservative tongue was clipped, her voice was stifled, and her philosophical position silenced.

A Whiplash Effect

A number of cultural factors contributed to the marginalizing (setting aside) of conservative Christians. It is not so much that Western society turned its back on the veracity of the Christian faith. It was society’s response to Christianity’s ill-mannered activities around the world. To list a few of the earlier historical events that even now drive people from the church—

  • The Crusades (1095-1291). Though these wars date back a thousand years, they nevertheless laid the groundwork for an attitude of us vs. them that has continued in the collective consciousness to this day. The search for the Holy Grail, the liberation of the Promised Land, and the annihilation of the heathen Muslims in Jerusalem all seemed to our Christian forebears to be of honorable intent. This was perceived by the unbelieving world as something quite different, something aggressive and egregiously evil.
  • The Inquisition (1291-1522)   (primarily Spanish, but throughout Europe) An example of Christianity at its worst. In the name of theological purity the Holy Roman Catholic Church tortured, maimed, and executed many who did not tow the party line. Branded heretic, many genuine Christians were burned at the stake in the name of Christ. The effects of The Inquisition rippled throughout all Europe and the East. The Christian Faith was perceived to be an unforgiving violent faith, and often a treacherous religion.
  • The Protestant Reformation (1564+). In the beginning the Reformation appeared hopeful to the populations of Europe, offering a richer, deeper faith. Those within the Roman Catholic Church protested the sale of salvation (a.k.a. Indulgences) via monetary dues paid to the Church. They protested the abuses of the clergy, the secularizing of the church and its acquisition of wealth and political power. One protesting priest, Martin Luther, was held in contempt, put on trial, and defrocked.

Jumping ahead to the 20th century we find more recent, memorable events that the world interpreted as Christian stupidity. The highlights are:

  • The rejection of technological innovation in the early 1900s: the automobile, the electric light, flight, and radio were all seen as instruments of the Devil, presaging the End Times.
  • The First World War fought between “Christian nations” did little for our spiritual persona worldwide.
  • The abuses and extremes of the early Pentecostal movement. (Personality cults, snakes, anti-intellectualism.)
  • The Scopes Trials (1923), with its confrontation between Darwinism and the Bible. [We lost.]
  • The Second World War; the remnants of Christendom at war with each other again. And yet a new manifestation of the centuries old war between East and West (Japan).
  • The Holocaust and the public Christian silence concerning its atrocities. Some, even denying it ever happened.
  • Equating the American dream and a conservative life-style with evangelical Christian theology.
  • Jonestown Massacre. Beginning as a social justice movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, and claiming to be Christian in nature, the People’s Temple soon declined to the demigod worship of one man—the Rev. Jim Jones. The November 18, 1978 mass suicide of 913 members of The People’s Temple, embedded itself in the minds of North Americans as a prime example of Christian fundamentalist-right extremism.
  • The Televangelist financial scandals of 1987.
  • The Moral Majority. Founded by Rev Jerry Falwell in 1979 as a movement to return America to its “Christian roots.” Many Americans saw the MM as a ploy to re-Christianize our country, thus eliminating pluralism.
  •  “Sexual misconduct” by numerous evangelical leaders in the early 21st century (Ted Haggard, John Edwards, etc.).
  • Sex scandals of Roman Catholic Priests in Boston. Reaching back 25 years earlier, Investigators uncovered hetero/homosexual misbehavior and assault by Catholic priests on altar boys and school girls. All covered over in secrecy ‘till the early twenty-first century revelations by Cardinal Bernard Law, who tried to set things straight, but was eventually swept up in the scandal as a sympathizer.

The last half of the 20th Century saw the church in the West succumb to real scrutiny and definitive loss of influence due to both its isolationist stance and public blunders; a condition not seen infrequently throughout our history. In short, we really blew it— internally and externally! We ruined so much of our public image and influence.

So now what?!? NEW MAPS…, er, I mean— GPS?!? Read on!

  Gary

Chapter 1. New Maps-Old Roads

51nopdewa5l-_sx326_bo1204203200_      My last few months as a senior in college I worked as the Athletic Director for the local YMCA. Since it was a somewhat smaller Y, I was responsible for just about everything. But it did have one perk I had not quite counted upon—the summer tour! So, the summer between college days and my first year of grad school found me working as a swimming coach for the YMCA on tour throughout North America. Our team hit national and local parks and swimming clubs across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  We competed with local outcroppings of the Y and anybody else who wanted to swim against us. One of the places we toured was Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Now, growing up as an inner-city kid in Baltimore, MD, I could never have imagined a place so majestic, so alive, so grand. Jackson Hole got to me. I fell in love with the town, the people, and, of course, Grand Teton National Park. I vowed that I would return yearly!

      For the most part I was able to do so, until the onslaught of kids eight years into our marriage. But in our early marriage Starr (my dangerous wife) and I made the 2,400 mile trek from the East Coast to the Tetons an annual pilgrimage. For a couple of years we tried to see if we could find our way to Wyoming without ever opening a road map. I was guided by my heart, by my passion for the West, by my memory, and by a small piece of paper with route numbers. Yup, you got it, never missed a turn; well, okay, maybe a few where we had to back track.

      Until, one day, the Wyoming Department of Roads put in a NEW road, then redirected and renamed the old ones. I was forced into unfamiliar territory. You guessed it; we got totally lost. Old roads now had new route numbers; and there were now new roads where before there had been only buffalo and antelope. Now I‘m not one of these guys who is afraid to ask directions. By humorist Dave Barry‘s standards I may not be a real guy, but at least I don‘t stay lost long, either. I ask for help.  Saves time and frustration.

     You need to do the same.  When you‘re lost…, ask directions.

     The point of this chapter is this— unless you are consciously living your life continually immersed within contemporary culture, you need help finding your way. It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go ―HUH? You‘re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

      Let‘s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians get culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

Getting lost to find our way again,

  Gary

Closing Door #3 The year 1000

dr gary Davis, clueless, crusades, church history, closed doors

The year 1000 was a pivotal year in both society and Church. Our world was in juxtaposition to itself: Europe was just entering the Middle Ages, when agricultural technology took a great step forward; by contrast, sub-Saharan Africa was still in the darkness of the pre-historical era.

     The entire world population hovered between 250 & 300 million people.

     Within the Church, the authority of the Papacy was in decline. It was the period of saeculum obscurum, the Dark Ages. The church in Europe retreated from “the world” for safety and seclusion. This left an open door for Islam to invade southern Europe and occupy the Iberian Peninsula.

     The dominance of Islam in the Holy Land initiated Pope Urban’s call to all Christians to lead a Holy Crusade against the Muslims who had overrun Jerusalem as well as the Holy City of Constantinople. The Millennium had gotten off to a cataclysmic start. True believers were, once again, confronted with the choice to enter the fray in the Holy Land to defend the faith, or to retreat to walled cities and monasteries for safety, food, and seclusion from the world outside.

     Another notable event was the Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in 1095. The Eastern Church did not believe that Christianity needed one central authority, in one man, as the final arbiter of all matters of faith. The Orthodox Church operated more as a fraternity of churches, rather than a hierarchy of churches that traced papal authority in direct lineage to the Apostle Peter. The Church closed its doors on itself, splitting East and West.

     During the European Plagues, one ending in 750, and another, emerging in Central Asia, to hit Europe in 1346. The second plague became known as The Black Death; nearly 25 million people perished during this pandemic.

     Once again, the Church opened its doors to the poor, weak, and dying; she then swallowed them within; holding tight rein over their actions, land, and purse-strings.

     Too often it takes a devastating event to motivate Christians to reach into the lives of the lost to care for them, feed them, and journey alongside them. We dare not allow the models of our faith in the past determine our present interface with the world around us.

     I know I’ve quoted G.K. Chesterton [1874-1936] before; but it seems apropos to do so again.

What our world needs now is a new kind of Prophet.
Not one like the Prophets of old who told men they were going to die;
But one who would tell them they are not dead yet.

 Not dead yet,

  Gary

Closing Doors 2-Changing Arenas

jean-lc3a9on_gc3a9rc3b4me_-_the_christian_martyrs_last_prayer_-_walters_37113     Images of Christians being eaten by lions or slaughtered by gladiators in Rome’s Colosseum can be found in many of the West’s museums of art. Oddly, many of these paintings were commissioned by the Church to recall our less than auspicious beginnings.

     From the crucifixion of Jesus to the stoning of Stephen, to the persecution of Saul, the Church got off to a precarious start. In its attempt to squash this new, blasphemous religion the Roman Empire did more to coalesce early Christian resolve than they could have imagined.

     By the early 3rd century thousands of “Christ followers” had been tortured, crucified, and ripped apart by lions. Because of their sacrifices, many people saw the principles of the Christian faith as a viable alternative to the gods of Rome. One such martyr was a young convert to Christ named Perpetua. Her death in the arena served to solidify the faith in a myriad of Christians who followed, including Augustine.

     In the early 4th century, Roman Emperor Constantine (272-337 CE) declared Christianity the official religion of the empire, leaving Christians alone to believe what they wanted. This act (some say on Constantine’s deathbed) changed the lot of the Church forever. The Roman government had cleared the way for the early Christians to spread their beliefs freely; and spread they did.

     “Missionaries” ventured forth into the unknown to tell people of the salvation found in Christ. From China in the East to Gaul and Britannia in the West, individuals with godly passion and personal dedication spread the message of Jesus wherever they went. Roman roads, designed to move Rome’s troops rapidly throughout the Empire, now carried the Gospel to the ends of the known world. The Church grew and expanded. And it also became enormously wealthy, possessing lands and holdings funded by her adherents, sometimes willingly, other times, not so much. Eventually, this wealth resulted in a vicious rivalry between Church leaders and Feudal Lords; both vying for political power and possessions.

     Many Monastic orders grew out of the perceived divisions and commercializing of the church. Men and women would cloister themselves in monasteries for scripture study, service, and escape. These movements, and others like them, began the separation of the church from society. However, some sets their minds to preserve the codex of Scripture, provide “monastic escapes” for those who required silence, secrecy, and protection. And they provided basic life sustenance for their surrounding communities.

     However, they never understood the importance of being IN the community, rather than an evasion from it.

     A story— One of the men I mentor is teaching a course on 21st Century Evangelism. When two of the students learned that we were actually going to talk with a realnonChristian” they dropped out of the class. What have we come to? Should we build more walls and defend ourselves against the onslaught of our “evil” society?

     Jesus didn’t.

What will it cost you to engage your world?

  Gary