They call Fort Worth, Texas the city where “the West begins.” I’m not sure who designated it as such nor what earned it that title. Maybe having Dallas as a sister city limited their choices. I do know that the city hosts rodeos, heavy Southwestern influence, and authentic Mexican fare. Joe T. Garcia’s just north of downtown Fort Worth has always been one of my favorite memories.
And there are trains. Lots and lots of trains. The train yard there is huge and the city is crisscrossed by tracks–a testimony to the crossroads that Fort Worth had been for decades. But most people never pay much attention to them. That is, until they get in the way.
Running up one side of the campus where I attended seminary was one of those tracks. It served as a western boundary to the campus and a speed bump if you were exiting towards that side of town. Otherwise, you seldom noticed it was there. Until one of those days when you were running late for class or work and one of the long trains came chugging through town. The arms would lower, the lights would flash, the horn would sound and I would sit at the crossing flashing my eyes between my watch and the illusive tail of the train (they don’t really have cabooses any more).
The other night, Lisa and I were watching a movie with a train in it. I thought back to Fort Worth and the “inconvenient reality” of that train. I thought about how much its presence resembles the church in our culture.
If you ride through the streets of most any community in America, there are the “tracks” of many, many churches. They criss-cross our communities, a testimony of what used to be an important part of our culture. Now…no one notices until we get in the way. Some issue will arise and the church appears–flashing our lights, blowing our horn. The world seldom seems to care. They just want us out of the way.
Who can blame them?
You see, the problem for churches–just like for trains–is that we have forgotten what their value is. We see them as inconveniences until we understand the role they could (should?) play. Churches are seen as large tributes to empty religion. They are sweet and nice for those who really need them. But mostly, they just get in the way of a world that wants to live life on its terms.
But the church could and should be more. Faith provides the moral underpinnings by which a society exists. Without morality, communities fail and end in chaos. Churches provide hope, healing, ministry, education and, most important of all, love for a lonely world. We should be far more than “horn blowers” on certain issues. We shouldn’t just be seen when we are inconvenient. The church should lead the way on reform…on relationships…on art…on education. For almost 1900 years it was the church who helped guide politics (read our Founding Documents), who established the first hospitals and universities in our country, who provided social welfare, and protected the moral foundations of our nation. I’m afraid we’ve become nothing more than a side note, an empty track across our communities who is seldom noticed for its value. My prayer is that our churches find the favor of God again so that we are more than an “inconvenient reality” and become an indispensable asset to our country.