Yesterday was one of the longest days I have ever had. Traveling westward across time zones made for a 33 hour Wednesday; however, 33 hours provides ample opportunity for reading and reflection! Of all of the mission trips I have led over the years, something like 60 or 70, I had a first yesterday. On the drive from Houston to Shreveport, those in my car picked apart the trip, the good parts and the things we will change next time. I posed the question, “What will you say to those who ask, ‘How was your trip?’” For the first time, there was no boast of accomplishment. Instead, there was a revelation of relationship. One by one, we told our favorite parts of the trip, and each of us spoke about a person we had connected with. Granted, this trip was unlike others, in that it did not have a specific project, but instead of answering the question of “how was your trip” with a list of tangible things we did, they answered it by telling of a relationship they made or how the trip changed them personally and spiritually.
Something happened last week. We created community. Even with the cultural and communication barriers, I witnessed the dynamics of true “fellowship of believers” established through authentic relationships. My relationship with Olga Lazareva is priceless. Watching God continue to create a true sisterhood between us was a joy and delight. I have learned that having Christ as the common denominator, even with miles between two people, can build spiritual bridges that I believe have far greater implications than we have not begun to explore within the Body of Christ.
In the context of Charles Taylor’s book, A Secular Age, the Russian community of faith with whom I spent last week was in no way in “immanent frame,” as described by Taylor. The individuals comprising this community came together through their simple Christianity. Whether from hardship, family influences or other needs or motivations, they have come together wholeheartedly and without reservation for simple and deeply spiritual worship. Taylor describes a world where each of us, whether through science, access to information, or other “cross pressures,” has created our own silo in which we live and from which we filter ideas and beliefs according to our own understanding. In the secular world described by Taylor, individuals no longer simply believe.
In this age, people are called to greater activism, to engage in more reform. Religious faith or non-faith becomes more a matter of personal choice as part of a quest for personal development. This shift in consciousness leads to some serious downsides. When faith is a matter of personal choice, even believers experience much more doubt. We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. Individuals don’t live embedded in tight social orders; they live in buffered worlds of private choices. Common action, Taylor writes, gives way to mutual display. Many people suffer from a discontent. They remember that many people used to feel connected to an enchanted, transcendent order, but they feel trapped in a flat landscape, with diminished dignity and ask the question, “Is this all there is?”
Is the simple faith of my Russian friends more or less genuine than that of believers who have navigated the cross pressures and arrived at their own unique belief system? Were Christians more or less fulfilled prior to the secularization of our society? While much of his book might give the impression that our society has suffered by the changes of the past 200 years, Taylor also injects hope back into the picture. Later in the book, the concept is introduced that it is possible for an individual who no longer blindly accepts the religious faith of his forebears to thoughtfully handle the cross pressures and arrive at a belief system that is genuine to that person.
People are now able to pursue fullness in an amazing diversity of different ways. But Taylor observes a general pattern. They tend not to want to live in a world closed off from the transcendent, reliant exclusively on the material world. We are not, Taylor suggests, sliding toward pure materialism. We are, instead, moving toward what he calls a galloping spiritual pluralism. People in search of fullness are able to harvest the intellectual, cultural and spiritual gains of the past 500 years.
I will continue to struggle through this book. Nothing about the concepts came easy to me. Perhaps it was because I am tired. Perhaps it was because I read it while in the Far East. Whatever the case, this may be a book I come back to from time to time and gain greater understanding to the world and time in which we live.