The daily barrage of culture wars has me thinking recently about the proper role of a Christian family in America in 2017. One common theme I’m seeing in social media really concerns me: threatening to further disengage and entrench.
We live in a socially fractured time. Digital life has inflamed centuries old tribalism driven by economics, geography and human nature to new and uncharted levels. Technology is actively and strategically segregating us based on our “likes,” preferences and internet habits. Many Americans are quite happy living in their bubbles – their news feeds mostly full of people who agree with them. Christians may be the worst offenders. Now people are threatening to take even more steps, in the real, physical world, to detach from organizations and communities of people because they disagree – even when they have far more agreement than disagreement.
By and large, Christians in America in the last 30 years have been inclined to stay in our bubbles. We may have engaged in limited ways, taking culture wars public on abortion and sexuality, for example. And of course there are notable exceptions. But socially we retreat and seek comfort. I can’t help but see the irony in this for those of us whose namesake, Jesus, literally left all comfort and holy security to enter a broken and uncomfortable world, dying a brutal and painful death to give us freedom and life.
I’ve lived the struggle on this. I get it. Let me give you a few examples that may sound familiar.
When our kids were coming to school age my wife and I prayed and talked a lot about the best approach for our family. Should we homeschool? Put them in private school? If so, Christian or not? Put them in public school?
Or how about trying to decide what movies and youtube channels to let our kids watch? Or whether or not to expose them to the news of the day, and when? Conversations about sexuality? Should we have close family friends whose values don’t align with ours and how much time should we spend with them? The list goes on and on when you’re trying to figure out how to live as a Christian family in America.
As we’ve wrestled with these decisions there has been one word that has guided me: salt.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
Salt did a lot of things around the time Jesus made this statement. Primarily it flavored and preserved food. One thing about salt really strikes me: it cannot do its work unless it is touching the thing it is supposed to flavor or preserve. In fact, it is most effective when it is worked in really well. As someone who believes the words of Jesus were careful, intentional and divine, I put a lot of weight not only on what He said but how He said it and in what context.
“Losing your saltiness” is a curious phrase for Jesus to use as salt is a very stable chemical and it is very difficult for it to “lose its saltiness.” Instead, it seems what Jesus is saying when you see the full context of his sermon here, is, “don’t be pointless.” Don’t be a lamp hidden under a bowl. Don’t be innocent of murder but guilty of slander. Don’t be innocent of extramarital sex but guilty of unbridled lust. So for this salty business, said another way it might be, “don’t stop being salt and doing what salt does. If so, you might as well be sand, thrown in with the other sand and trampled. You’re no different than ordinary sand.”
Our family has sought to be the salt of the earth in all we do. We have failed on many fronts, no doubt. But we have taken seriously our call to be the salt of the earth and the warning not to lose our saltiness. Being salty for our family has meant staying engaged, mixing in, being fully present in our culture. We must always be aware of the risks. We must be thoughtful and wise about how we engage. Most importantly, we must abide in the Vine every day and be full of the Spirit if we want to bear good fruit – to stay salty.
On school, we decided to put our kids in public school and there were several reasons. We thought to ourselves, “if every Christian family pulls out of public schools, what will that leave? How will that serve the lost in those schools?” And closely behind that was the fact that we wanted to disciple our kids in a way that equipped them to engage the world and make disciples. After all – the very definition of a disciple of Jesus includes being one who makes more disciples (Matthew 28.) If our kids didn’t even know how to interact with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, we thought, how will they be the most effective disciples possible? I have a lot of respect and love for families who choose differently. But this was our thought process.
It didn’t take long for this to be confirmed when, in the first few months of school while driving with a friend of my kids from school in the car with us we were talking about Jesus and he asked, “who is jeebus?” The chance right then and there to not only tell this precious kid about Jesus for the very first time but also to have my kids be a part of it was something I will never forget and am very thankful for. Not more than a few weeks later a weeping mother came out of my daughter’s kindergarten classroom during drop-off and I got a chance to pray with her. The stories go on.
My son is in Cub Scouts. In recent years lots of Christians have pulled out of Scouting because of its relaxation on gay leaders serving. That happened before my son started, so we went in knowing that policy was in place. You know what I’ve found? Many of the families in Scouts are there looking for values and experiences for their boys that reflect about 90% of what Christians believe and yet many, at least in our area, are not Christians. I’m glad they’re there. I love spending time with them. I consider them friends. Our pack is a crazy, fun mix of different types of people from different backgrounds and it’s great.
Within our Christian circles we segregate too. Perhaps even worse. They say, after all, that Sunday is the most segregated day in America. It’s not just race though. Increasingly, Christians are seeking churches that match their political and cultural values instead of trying to find a church that is faithful to the gospel where they can grow as disciples. I’m so thankful to be a part of church that allows room for a lot of complexity and diversity. The small group that meets at our house every week includes not only racial diversity but perhaps even more importantly, political diversity. We have staunch Trump supporters and people who knocked doors for Obama. We have independents, Republicans and Democrats. We have homeschoolers, private schoolers, and public schoolers. We have plumbers and teachers and doctors and consultants. It’s not always neat and tidy. But I wouldn’t want it any other way and I’m so thankful for each and every one of them, united as we are by a larger calling, a bigger purpose, a divine love – united in Christ.
So as you’re wrestling with how to navigate the American cultural waters in 2017 as a Christian family I’d like to make one plea: be salty. Don’t be a pointless pile of religious sand. I’m not sure what this will look like for you and your family, but get out there and get into the mess and brokenness that so badly needs the flavoring, preserving love of Jesus.