July 29, 2008 Matthew

The Great City of The World

“If there is a global civilization, it is American. Nor is it just McDonald’s and Hollywood, it is also Microsoft and Harvard. Wealthy Romans used to send their children to Greek universities; today’s Greeks, that is, the Europeans, send their kids to Roman, that is, American, universities.”

Josef Joffe, Die Zeit Editor

“I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields, and boundless forests–and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of higher learning–and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution–and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!”

Alexis de Tocqueville after visiting America in 1831

You stare at some pieces of paper in your hand in bewilderment, but it’s not the first time. For weeks you have wandered in mind in imaginative contemplation over these pieces of paper. “Destination: Great City” it reads. You have heard so much about this place since your youth, and you’ve always heard your neighbors boasting and dreaming about how they will someday go there and everything they would do once they got there. But you’ve got the papers now, and everyone else can only shake their heads in disbelief that you could have won such a highly prized ‘lottery’. It’s so difficult to obtain the necessary documents to enter that city, that most people who try never come close. The requirements are so stringent that those who do make it are considered exceptionally lucky or otherwise very wealthy.

It is a city known for its commerce and innovation. Its people constitute only five percent of the world’s population, yet its influence reaches to the farthest corners of the earth. So much of your own society and lifestyle had its origins in the Great City. It’s hard to imagine how your society would get on without it, for there is quite a bit of established reliance on them. It’s seems that everything takes its example from the Great City—your own politicians mimic policies from theirs; their science and technology is incorporated into your own engineering technology and educational curriculum; their religious leaders tend to be the role models and authoritative figures from which your own religious leaders get their dogma; and so on. So much depends on them. Despite its population, the city has utterly overshadowed the rest of the world in military strength, political prowess, technology, science, and economics. Money flows in a blur; incalculable in amount. Indeed, how great it would be to go there and experience in the flesh the life, the sounds, the wisdom, the superiority, the beauty, and the strength! Of all the cities in the world you could visit, this one makes for a most prized ornament on your wall. A boast for life! During the flight on the airplane which was itself a product of this civilization, you count the hours and anxieties. Your stomach turns with the kind of anticipation of a young child who is going to Disneyland for the first time in his life.

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For a great majority of the people of the world today, that ‘great city’ is known as America. Many times I have found myself sitting next to just such a person on their first visit to America. The world has not seen such a ‘city’ since the days of Rome. No country is more talked about, written about, or watched than America. Much of the world is found to be more informed of its happenings than those who live in it. It is truly a ‘great’ city in every sense of the word. For from here came so much into the world: the car, the personal computer, the Internet, telephones, movies, electricity, and the list goes on. What is even more astounding is that it all came in a just a little more than a century. From the perspective of the outsider, America is a prodigy at the least.

In a sense, Christianity has also largely come from here—that is, in its present day forms. America has sent out the most missionaries in all of history numbering the hundreds of thousands—not to mention the global broadcasting of its Christian television and radio stations. As a result, Christianity with an American ‘taint’ can be seen just about anywhere. I have seen preachers in the dirtiest places deep in the dusty bush of Africa sporting expensive looking outfits similar to what is seen in nice and tidy studios on Gospel television; mini-seminars and conferences held in derelict, metal shacks; youth programs in slums that strive to be ‘relevant’. I have even overheard confused conversations after some American churches were beginning to allow homosexuals into leadership, with some posing the question, “Are we to allow this too?”

It may seem strange that the world could be having a love-hate relationship with America. It definitely appears to be the case. It’s rare to find a foreigner who wouldn’t want to visit it, but it’s not always easy to find a foreigner who loves it. In the light of all this there is much we need to think about, pray over, and learn, whether you are a citizen from this “great city” or not. Our attitudes will affect how we respond to such significant things in the world, and ultimately, all attitudes must be brought and tested by the scriptures and the spirit of love. There is an immeasurable benefit to keeping oneself from being entangled with the affairs of this world. It behooves us therefore to take the utmost care with our attitudes towards America as it seems to be one of the biggest ‘bones of contention’ of our age, and maybe of all time.

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