Tag Archives: MORALISM
For the first time in over a decade I started work this past week in a non-ministry position. I am currently enrolled in the ADC (Arkansas Department of Corrections) Training Academy and will start work in the Tucker prison unit the end of November (after graduating the six week academy). I will tell you up front that it’s pretty stinking crazy! There is no question that I am a part of what us ministry folks would refer to as a “secular” or “pagan” environment. What that means is that its not a “religious” or “Christian” (as if environments could be Christians, they can’t, environments don’t have souls) environment. Profanity isn’t followed by gasps or cringes; subject matter does not include outright Biblical theology; not one person thus far has struck up a conversation with me about how to better make disciples. But you know what has come up? Generic religious jargon. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not being used in a mocking or even demeaning manner. It is for the most part being used in the exact same way that you would hear it on Sunday.
I’m not joking, one young lady when asked about her three kids responded, “Sh*t, He don’t put no more on me than I can handle.” Another time, at a point in the classroom when a profound humorous point was made, a gentleman in the back hollered out a hearty, “Amen!” I’ve tried hard to grasp why, in a seemingly very unreligious setting, these pockets of religious language pop up, and even more interestingly they aren’t scoffed at. My conclusion (which is only my opinion and I am in no way judging my fellow cadets) is that the religious dialog is culturally normal.
To give an example, there is a distinct culture to the prison world. We’re currently spending a great deal of time learning how to stay alive and how to not end up residing inside via drugs or sexual misconduct. The longer I am at the academy, the more the things I come home to tell Jules are normal parts of my day. Like for instance, when our instructor walks into our room, our former cheer leader class leader calls out “Officer Present” and the whole room stands up to attention until given permission to sit down. This is funny to Jules because the thought of her clean shaven, uniform wearing husband leaping to his feet at the command of a cheerleader is a foreign thought to her. It is however, normal to me because I am entrenched in the culture of the academy. Likewise, the pockets of religious talk are not mocked, nor laughed at because they are part of the culture of the Bible Belt. The “Amen”, and other church cliches are simply normal cultural expressions.
There are several ways to analyze this information but for me, the results seem to indicate that the Bible Belt has failed. It hasn’t failed in the way we would think, it has made Jesus, church and mostly religion household knowledge but where its an utter and complete failure is the picture of these things. What living in the Bible Belt has done is, it’s given us heavy doses of bad theology. It’s convinced us that salvation and more importantly Heaven can be had for as little as a walk down an aisle and dip in a pool. We repeat the preachers prayer, which is nothing more than a type of incantation, stand in the back where the entire congregation comes and shakes your hand, take a dunk in a baptistry a couple weeks later and we’re good. From time to time we’ll appease the God who “we invited into our hearts” by attempting to stay conscious through a Sunday service and dropping a twenty in the offering plate. The Jesus I know doesn’t work like that, and His life, that dwelling in me, isn’t obtained by simply doing that.
I want to give you one more example that I believe will help drive this home for us. Scientists are now finding that the fascination we have with rushing to antibiotics for every sniffle is effectively killing us. What they have discovered is that due to the high amounts of antibiotics we are taking that our bodies are building up an immunity to them. This is happening so much that they are convinced that when some people find themselves in a dire, life threatening situation antibiotics will be of no help due to the previous amount they had taken in the years proceeding, thereby giving their system time to become immune to their healing powers. What our Bible Belt culture has done to us is precisely the same thing it has inoculated us. We have been around religious talk, and moral “church” behavior so long that it’s effectively immunized some people to the power of the Gospel. The potent truth of Jesus has been replaced with a watered down, inaccurate, powerless religion that we’re convinced can help us.
Have any thoughts on this? Were there times that you’ve experienced the effects of our Bible Belt Culture? Please feel free to share them in the comments.
This past May I took my wife for a get away to the exotic hill country of Mena Arkansas (sarcasm galore). We stayed in a cabin, ate bad Chinese, and had a good time laughing all weekend. On the way to the cabin there was a little cemetery out in the sticks, and one time on our way in to town I caught a glimpse, out of the corner of my eye, of one of the headstones as we passed. It simply said “SELF.” Now I’m sure if you’ve been around church long you’ve already begun to guess where you think I’m going. “Oh no! Not another die to yourself rant.” Hang with me, I promise this won’t be your normal just die to yourself spiel.
I’ve been in ministry for awhile now, and to be honest where God has me now is the most exciting time of it, it’s also definitely the hardest in a majority of ways. Perhaps one of the ways its gotten the hardest is the intensity with which I feel compelled to study for messages. Now don’t get me wrong its a good thing, its just a hard, time consuming thing. I think currently the part that is the trickiest for me in this phase of life is trying to bring out the truth in a way that pushes it all back to depending on Jesus. The reason this is tough is that here in the south we’re accustomed to being told what God expects us to do. I think this is a big reason that my generation is leaving the church, and not for the reason that you’d expect. They don’t have a problem being told what “to do” they have a problem with the fact that they tried that and frankly their as empty, hurting and desperate as they were before. So they naturally conclude that being a Christian “doesn’t work”. And you know something? Their right.
It doesn’t work, simply going to church and doing the right things doesn’t work. It only frustrates us more. But get this, if you’ve gotten to this point you are closer than you think to figuring it out. The fact that it doesn’t work is the point. You can’t get your stuff in order well enough to please God and enjoy His presence. You simply can’t. Unfortunately though, what most people hear on Sundays around the country is a version of try harder, rather than give up. What I mean by give up is simply that you have to come to the understanding that without Jesus living through you, you are a selfish, wicked individual. Jesus tells us in Luke 14:27,
“27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:27
In the middle of this passage of discouraging people from following Him, Jesus gives this as one of the reasons. He’s basically saying “You pretty much can’t follow me and live.” It’s the Holy Spirit in us that is the life force that is capable of really living out this Christian life, it’s only when we stop trying to do it ourselves and surrender to the fact that apart from Jesus we have no chance, that we’ll experience the joy that He has designed for us. Only then will we truly live.