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Do We Need Bigger Engines, or Better Wings?

Do We Need Bigger Engines, or Better Wings?
Flying makes me a little bit nervous. I know it’s irrational. I know you’re more likely to die on the drive to the airport than you are on the flight itself. Still, there’s something about the feeling of takeoff and landing that puts me in an especially prayerful state. The roar of the engines, the awareness of tons of steel and jet fuel surrounding me – it can all be a little much.

On one flight that I took some years ago, a fellow passenger shared a reassuring thought with me. He told me that even if all the engines were to cut out, our airplane wouldn’t just fall out of the sky. Even without functional engines, the aircraft would glide for a long time. We’d have a good chance of making a safe landing. “The airplane wants to stay in the air.”

It was comforting to realize that not everything depended on the perfect functioning of the aircraft. A lot of things could go very wrong, and we’d still have a chance to survive. In the years since I received this little bit of wisdom, I’ve realized that I can survive – and even thrive – despite the reality that things fall apart.

I think especially about the church, the fellowship of modern-day disciples who are trying to find. I consider the fact that the great engines of 20th-century American Christianity are sputtering and dying. So many of the supports that the church has relied on for generations to keep us flying have been stripped away. The money, social prestige, political influence, and a whole set of cultural assumptions that once reinforced Christianity’s predominance in Western society – all those engines are burning out.

Without a doubt, there are millions of Christians who are scrambling to preserve what’s left of those old engines. In the face of this profound crisis of values and institutions that is transforming our world, there are many whose imagination only extends to seeking more horsepower for the dying motors of 1950’s Christianity.

But what gets me excited is to think about all the possibilities waiting for us in the wings of this ancient-yet-awakening community. Can we feel the presence in the air that is just waiting to buoy us, carrying us to destinations that our man-made engines could never have reached? What if this airplane of faith wants to stay in the air? Are we ready to fly?

I am convinced that the future of our fellowship, of our movement as friends of Jesus, will not rely on the false security that for so long has smothered western Christianity. There is a life and power at work in our time and place, one that flies on the winds of the Spirit rather than the jet fuel of human ambition and egotism. Despite all appearances, there is a hope and future for the church in the developing world. This plane wants to stay in the air, if we’re willing to allow ourselves to be guided wherever the Wind takes us.

Related Posts:

The Difference Between Doubt and Despair

Are We Living in the End Times?

  • Jeffrey Miles

    Micah, I really enjoy your posts. I don’t agree with you in a whole bunch of things, but I really honor and respect your willingness to put yourself out there. Well done!

    One of the themes I read in your work is the question of the viability of the Church in general and of the Friend’s groups in particular.As you may (or may not) know, my doctorate is in Organization and Management. One of my academic lines of thought is that at the heart of every organization there is a primary purpose – to survive. That drive is much, much more important than any mission, in terms of organizational behavior, and whenever you see the two conflict, count on the drive to survive to trump (a word I find I may have to stop using) any other factor.

    So I will posit to you the question I pose to organizations I consult with: Why should the organization survive? Why should the plane stay in the air? I’m not presupposing the answer in the negative – that’s a question for those of your faith to determine. But do the benefits of the organization remaining in existence outweigh the cost of that organization’s continued life? If we woke up tomorrow and the church as it is currently configured disappeared, what would happen? What would be lost? What would be gained?

    From a purely societal perspective (leaving all those pesky questions of eternal truth aside), I would argue the church contributes to the passing on of society’s general ethical constraints and teachings (the whole “Thou shall not” view), as a repository of cultural history (you can’t understand Western Civilization without understanding the function of the Church and Christianity), and as a place for spiritual and emotional comfort. I would argue the costs of the Church are in the diminution of rationality it promotes (frequent opposition to science being an example), the buttressing of society’s problems (in particular compliance and support for racial divides, policies that objectively hurt the poor, and (in this country) rather unabashed support for “My country right or wrong” – that is, a lack of any real check on activities of the government that are contrary to the teachings of the church. That, coupled with the societal monetary costs of the church – the tax-free status of church property, and the tax deductibility of charitable contributions without any concurrent evidence that those deductions provide a furthering of the charitable mission.

    I truly am not trying to start a flame-war here with you or your readers, and I hope my observations don’t seem unduly critical, because I don’t mean them to be. I am unable to measure, or really understand, the value that people of Christian beliefs hold relative to the the whole equation of the value of the continued existence of the Church. That is for you of faith to decide. But I did think I would pass on my thoughts about what I see as a (very solid and intellectually honest) question you seem to be asking.