The Current of Culture

I recently read an article that might well provoke some, but I found it very interesting.  It was written by a Catholic priest.  The title of the article caught my attention: “Could what happened in Delphi happen in Rome?”  When I first read it, I thought I might know what it meant, but I was not sure.  So curiosity drove me to begin reading.  The article begins when the author, Peter Daly, talks about traveling to Greece and visiting the historic ruins at Delphi.

Early in the initial paragraph, I figured out where he was going.  Daly wrote, “At one time, it was the spiritual center of the ancient Mediterranean world.  For more than 800 years, people flocked to consult the famed oracle, bathe in the springs and worship in temples of Apollo and Athena.  Today, nobody comes to worship. It is a ruin, an archeological museum.”  I know some early Greek history and could appreciate his observation.  Delphi would have been the destination for worshippers of that period.  It would be tantamount to folks making a pilgrimage to Rome or Jerusalem or Mecca.  It was the spiritual epicenter of the world at the time.

One begins to feel the sting of the analogy that Daly is setting up when he simply says, “Today nobody comes to worship.”  Many people go to Delphi, but not to worship.  It is an archeological museum.  People go to see artifacts.  Artifacts are facts, but lodged in history.  They do not live.  Daly is now ready for his challenge.

“Is the Catholic church going out of business?”  Daly has challenged not only Catholics, but probably Christianity and all the contemporary religious traditions.  Can what happened in Delphi happen in Rome?  It is a fair question.  Given my age, I am sure the church will outlive me.  Even if Rome goes the way of Delphi, it will happen so slowly, it will be hard to document. 

At one level, I don’t care.  Allow me to quote one more line from Daly’s article to explain why, at one level, I don’t care.  He asks whether the Catholic Church is going out of business.  His answer resonates with me.  “I think the answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ ‘Yes’ if you think of the church as an institution in the 1950s model.  ‘No’ if you think of the church as a movement of the followers of Jesus Christ.”

The church as an institution of the 1950s is probably doomed; maybe it does not exist anymore except in the rare instance.  Certainly, the church as a movement---as a group of people with a purpose heading toward the vision of the Kingdom as Jesus envisioned it.  That I find attractive and compelling.  And I think it will continue to attract folks and compel them to their own life and ministry.  The real question is how this will evolve?

The last line I would use from the Daly article gave me an interesting way to think about this evolution.  He asserts,No matter how hard we paddle in the new evangelization, we are carried downstream by the current of culture.”  The current of culture…  That is a great idea and wonderful way to put it.  Every person and, indeed, every organization or group is enmeshed in a culture.  It is impossible to be a-cultural---that is, without culture.

Indeed, most of us are participants in multiple cultures.  I am part of a family culture, college culture, church culture, Midwestern culture, and American culture, to name only some of them.  Some of my cultures, like my college culture, have multiple sub-cultures.  It seems fairly clear that American culture today allows and, it seems, often encourages us not to be authentically spiritual.  It is ok to have beliefs, but don’t take them too seriously!

Our American culture needs us to be as greedy in consuming as possible.  We as asked to continue supporting a significant Defense Department budget to wage war, if necessary.  Probably too many of us are not very involved in the real cause of justice.  Racism is still a problem as we witness too much mayhem and murder in our land.

As I think more about this, the real question for me is not whether Rome (or choose your own denominational equivalent) will become like Delphi.  The real question is whether Christians sign up for what might be called Kingdom work?  We don’t need institutions to work for justice, to labor for peace and to engage love.  These are the real hallmarks of authentic spiritual living.

Where these are found alive and well, I am convinced the Spirit of the Living God is present and supporting our lives and actions.  Ultimately, I don’t care about the institution.  But I do care deeply about our lives in the Spirit.

It is no good for the church to shout, "Women, back to the kitchen! Nuns, back to the cloister! Laity, back to your pews! Gays, back in the closet!" The toothpaste is out of the tube. We can no more bring back the church of the 1950s than we can bring back the Papal States.

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