Today is Ash Wednesday, and while a large number of Christians do not participate in Ash Wednesday (most Anabaptist and Pentecostal churches), some of you might have noticed today that there are people walking amongst us who have a black smudge (actually a cross) on their foreheads. It means they attended an Ash Wednesday service at a liturgical Christian church and went forward to be anointed with ashes, a visible sign of their tacit commitment to repentance for their sins.
I say tacit (implied, inferred, unspoken) because while this is one of the last overtly Christian signs you may see in the general population on any given day, it may have only marginal spiritual reality for a significant number of its wearers.
Why? Because we live in a post-Christian world. Even here in the United States Christianity has largely become an afterthought for most of our population and even among those who participate in the rituals, the reasons are often not personally spiritual.
My personal observation is that the largest number of smudges are on the older portion of our population, which means demographics are eating away at the remainders. That is not to say there isn’t a vibrant Christian youth culture. It merely means that culture is decidedly a minority and most of their peers, if they gravitate towards anything, would be classified as neo-pagan if they are spiritual at all. They live in the World of Warcraft and its familiars, look forward to movies like Twilight, New Moon, or Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, want to be wizards like Harry Potter or Twilight vampires, and gravitate toward any spirituality that is not truly Christian.
Compared to the multimedia presentations that drive much the world for those pre-middle agers, Christianity is “dull” or “boring” and its fundamental tenets do not support the “look at me” attitude so prevalent in our youth dominated culture that is primarily driven by the 18-49 demographic. Being 40 is the new 30 who still think they are 20 as our Peter Pan culture continues to stretch out adolescence until it is impossible to get away with any longer (e.g., The sorta Who geriatricing for the Super Bowl). Most in the youth demographic don’t even know what those smudges mean, more the poorer, and even if they do, it is an irrelevant expression in the vast smorgasbord of ideas and expressions.
Those of us who hold dear to that “irrelevant expression” and the substance beneath hear the calls to pray for revival but while a brush fire may break out here or there, it usually ends up a caricature even if it started as the real thing. It disappears leaving barely a singe on the ground with only the littered broken to mark its failure. As to a real revival, a society-changing event, that would depend on your view of the end–are we in it, buffeted by the wave of judgment just beginning and driving to conclusion, or can we still expect a revival that will turn around this general apostasy before the bus leaves the road and careens down the embankment.
I tend towards the judgment scenario, with little hope for the general population, left with trying to save as many as I can before the lifeboat launches and the doors are shut. At times I feel like Job crossed with Jeremiah, but God is merciful and can do whatever He wants, I just call them as I see them and I see a few smudges that are hardly noted by the passing population.
Grace and peace and mercy be yours today.