One of the familiar Christmas hymns contains the lyric: “Snow had fallen — snow on snow, snow on snow…” Well, New York City doesn’t typically see the “bleak midwinter” of, say, northern Vermont or central Alberta where the days are so much shorter than the days here. But our city has seen multiple snows this winter, though interspersed with periods of sunshine. We had somewhat of a thaw this weekend, but one of our vehicles is still blocked in with literally “snow on snow, snow on snow”— four snows at least and piled high by the plows.
Standing on an icy knoll in front of the church, we said our goodbyes to temporary staff member Ryan Hurd Wednesday as he left to continue his seminary education in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thursday we received a donation of two commercial pallet-loads of bananas (roughly a cargo-van full). Even so, our donating supermarkets are at least two days behind in receiving their shipments, due to the weather.
On Sunday afternoons over the past few months, Pastor Bill has been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount. He preached a very stirring sermon today regarding the Narrow Gate as opposed to the Broad Way of this world. I marvel to see how many ethnic groups and people of various cultural backgrounds were gathered in our service today—all of them having one thing in common: the need, as sheep, to be shepherded by a Good and Wise King. (I cannot help but use this terminology, though not original to me. I was once told that a man in North Carolina, an unbeliever, had stated that sometimes he believes the best thing for our nation would be “a good and wise king.”)
Editorial – A Tale of Two Terminals, or Three Eras
As I walked the streets this evening, I thought about how a century ago, famous pulpits in this city were prophesying mankind’s coming to maturity as a race. Mankind was coming of age, and a perfect society would soon emerge from the long tunnels of evolution. World War I quieted this rhetoric to a good degree, but during the decade of the 1920’s, Harry Emerson Fosdick of Riverside Church, Manhattan became “America’s favorite pastor,” preaching “Modernism” to 30 million radio-listeners weekly. Dr. Fosdick preached “Christ for the modern man” and what the example of Christ could do for mankind today. Even so, Dr. Fosdick was not preaching the Christ of the Bible, who performed miracles and died for our sins and was raised again. This was a different "Christ" for the "modern Christian." The term “Modernism” though, was not to be confined to the realm of theology.
Victorian ideals, and the underlying concept of man’s ascension to a perfect society, had produced two beautiful railway terminals in Manhattan during the early twentieth century. Grand Central Terminal, on Park Avenue, is a beautiful and awe-inspiring polished stone building with marble floors and arched ceilings. It is today the world’s largest railway station by number of tracks. Grand Central, to some small degree, makes me think of the beauties of what Heaven’s architecture may look like. Similarly, Pennsylvania Station on Manhattan’s west side near our church, was a strikingly beautiful massive beaux-arts structure of granite and marble, iron and glass, resembling the old Roman baths with massive columns and vaulted ceilings while flooding expansive waiting and boarding areas with natural sunlight. Penn Station was a destination in itself.
Following World War II, the terms “Modern” and “Modernism” became envelopes for an entire set of cultural phenomena accentuating the merits of human pragmatism. As Modernism replaced the Victorian mindset and flowed over all its banks, it became a culturally-immersive movement. American life was forever changed for the pragmatic and merely-functional. Mankind was still to attain to the perfect society, but now this society would come through means and function, not the ideals, strength, and beauty of the Victorian Era. The “War to end all Wars” had come and gone and produced another World War. The Nuclear Era had dawned, and society now evolved under the constant threat of self-inflicted annihilation. Traditional worldviews, art, architecture, and ideals considered humane, beautiful, and awe-inspiring must give way to that which is convenient and immediately gratifying. Manhattan’s stately Pennsylvania Station was claimed by Modern urban renewal, torn down and replaced with a more Modern terminal boasting “all the modern conveniences,” but now widely disliked for its narrowness. Grand Central Terminal was spared, thankfully.
When the threat of nuclear annihilation settled somewhat toward the end of the last century, the Modernism of the 1940’s-1980’s was finally recognized as a reckless force, unable to deliver the promised “world of tomorrow” it had touted. Victorian beauty and ideals had crumbled under the oppressive hand of Modernism, and now Modernistic pragmatism was seen to be a vain thing under the sun. Western culture slipped into Postmodernism with its utter contempt for anything perceived as “absolute.” Postmodernism utterly rebelled against the pragmatism of Modernism, throwing out the “absolutes” of the “perfect society” altogether. But, oddly enough, it seeks not after beauty either. Postmodernism is neither pragmatic nor pretty. It replaces both with dreary, aimless hopelessness and seems to revel in it.
Why am I saying all this to the readers of a New York missionary weblog? Because this is the progression of how the general culture of New York City, to whose people we minister, has arrived at the prevailing worldview it holds today. Not the aspiring of humanity through ideals, strength, and beauty; not the building of a great society (now under duress) through the machinery of pragmatism; but now we see Postmodern hopelessness and loss of faith in every direction and desperate grasping for the wind. This seems to be the overarching spiritual driver among the youth of New York City today, as if cold and dark clouds were not merely absorbing available heat and light but actually being pro-active in quelling it. Postmodernism’s accents show up in shapeless architecture, in darkly sensual advertisements on the sides of city buses, in subway poetry, in the arts. A sense of wandering appears on many faces. The day may fast be approaching when “because lawlessness shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”
There is a cure though for the inflation of human merit seen a century ago, for the trampling down of ideals and beauty by pragmatic vanities, and for the hopelessness of the loss of all things. He stands in the rubble when all things earthly are shown to be vain, saying “Come unto me, all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” He holds a pierced hand forward, while we hear the prophets and apostles say, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.” “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. To them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is dawned.” “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see seed; he shall prolong days; and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand.” “As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple.”
Dr. Bill Jones
Dr. Bill Jones has helped in the establishment of two churches in otherparts of the country and served as Pastor for 14 years. The past few summers, Bill has...