I didn’t get a chance to tune into “My Hope for America” with Billy Graham on Thursday evening. I didn’t see as much activity about it on Facebook during the presentation that I had imagined would’ve been there. Billy Graham is a colossal figure in American Church history, one who acted courageously for the cause of Christ in the 20th century. He helped pull evangelical Christianity out of the Fundamentalist/Liberal Controversy and gave Americans a fresh way to consider life with God. If his “My Hope” message was congruent with his “bread and butter” message throughout his career, I imagine he implored Americans to seek eternal life/security after death that one finds in Christ.
I imagine that his message could have been shaped by a dismal outlook of contemporary Christianity in general and evangelical Christianity in particular. Christine Wicker suggests that American evangelicalism has plummeted from 42 percent of the American population in 1900 to 15 percent today, some of which represents the life and ministry era of Billy Graham. Wicker also suggests that 1200 evangelicals leave the faith, each day. As in today and tomorrow and the one after that. The fastest growing faith in American History are “nonbelievers.” Some have called these folks the “Nones.” (Those who choose to selection “None” as their religion option on demographic entries) Some refer to these “Nones” as “religious independents” or the “spiritual, but not religious.” Wicker suggests that, alongside these growing numbers of individuals leaving faith communities or choosing not to participate, 20 million Christian believers are experiencing their faith in small groups or collectives, rather than organized churches.
This would present a grave concern for Billy Graham and those who find affinity with his message.
I couldn’t watch “My Hope” because I was at a local Pecha Kucha event. (Pecha Kucha is a unique and fun form of presentation where one has 20 powerpoint slides that change automatically every 20 seconds, allowing the presentation to last only 6:40) This particular meeting was with a collective of people from creative occupations in Wichita. The setting was a sweet art gallery on Commerce street. (Which I did not know existed until this event) The 7 speakers were from an array of creative settings.
The evening had a palpable electricity. Each speaker was humorous and insightful. What I noticed from nearly every presentation, however, was how each speaker was working out something deep within their own soul in the context of art and design, whether it was overcoming fear, developing confidence as a young artist, or retrieving the beauty of architectural material to be used properly and meaningfully. Each had an immanent, visceral, and soulful theme. As the only preacher in the room I nearly anticipated an offering to be taken up after it was over because I felt something profound stir within me.
Billy Graham is hoping for a retrieval of awareness of the Ultimate that has something to say above all and after all. So am I.
But, I also have hope now. To get a good look at the spiritual activity in America we might have to switch to different camera angles. People will still ponder the mystery of what happens after we die, but there seems to be a ravenous hunger to find meaning in the concrete, immanent, and lived moments. Faith communities have an amazing opportunity to articulate the Christian faith among and from below.
After all, aren’t we the tribe who not only believes in the God who spoke the cosmos into being, but also believes in the God who dwelled among us, took on human form, who lived in an insignificant (embarrassing) village, who worked an honest job through his twenties, who was acutely aware of the common human plight, who engaged in vibrant political/religious discourse, who used common elements of our world to call attention to the kingdom of God, who craved good food and healthy community, who was crucified by a cruel world and was risen back into it?
This form of Christian thought, theology, and confession is not secondary, or a resignation. It has been a part of who we are for centuries. It may have atrophied during the past few centuries while Church enjoyed the center of culture and transcendence was emphasized, but now that Church has gone from center to fringe, in spite of Billy Graham’s sterling ministry and career, we now have a new moment among us to use those immanent, incarnational muscles again.
My hope is that we have the courage and imagination to give witness to the God from above and among us.