It is my great pleasure to be living in the US for a couple of years, I am British and love being here, I know I am very blessed. It is fascinating though to observe how different Christian populations practice their faith; surely we should all be pretty similar as Christians but it seems to me that our culture holds far more influence over us than perhaps it should. For example, it troubles me that such a large number of Christians in the US are in favour of guns, which seems abhorrent to most UK citizens, but I know we in the UK have our shortcomings as Christians too. How is it that Christians in different countries come up with such different ways of following Christ?
One overarching theme I have observed among most Christians in the US is that they willingly suffer no hardship, in other words they do not take up their crosses. Of course there are many Christians here that do suffer hardship, but most of that is forced upon them, rather than something they volunteer for. Jesus is pretty clear, we should expect to take up our crosses daily through denying something, otherwise we are not worthy of Him (Matt 10:38, Matt 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)
I had never thought about it before, but the Christians most admired in the UK are those that sacrifice something, whether it be money and status, or time and space perhaps through hospitality. It is not unusual to give until it hurts. In Britain there is a history of monasticism and Celtic Christianity which I think has somehow led to this sacrificial ideal, we do not take kindly to affluent and showy Christians. Conversely I see little evidence of sacrificial Christianity in the US, but I do acknowledge there are many strengths, your esteem for the bible is something we Brits could learn from.
The problem is that so many of the issues that face America and the world today require a sacrificial solution. American Christians need to take up their crosses. The perfect example is action needed to save the environment; the carbon footprints of Americans need to be reduced. Personally I try to help by not using a dryer and driving a smaller car so I consume less petrol (gas!). These actions are commonplace in the UK because people care about the impact they have on the environment, but I am yet to meet an American, Christian or otherwise, who does either.
Similarly, if American society is to be redeemed it will probably require Christians to make friends with some non-Christians. A great place to start would be in public schools that are in desperate need of Christian students and teachers. My eight year old daughter was able to report to a teacher that one of her friends had been watching pornography online – this girl was helped because she had a Christian friend who acted when needed. There are many more children in public schools who are in need of friends with faith. I have heard many Christian friends bemoan that religion can’t be practiced in schools now and have therefore removed their children from them. They forget that the greatest witnesses are people and that if we as Christians carry the Holy Spirit into schools ourselves, no law can stop us. If allowing your children to mix with non-Christians seems like a sacrifice to you, then maybe this is a cross you are being asked to bear.
Poverty, so rampant in the US where inequality is enormous, most likely also requires a sacrificial solution. Those that have more may need to give up something to help those here and abroad who have so much less. It has occurred to me that the bad attitude many American Christians have towards the Federal Government may be sinful. Furthermore, I simply have not got my head around the great patriotism in the US that is not accompanied with solidarity among its citizens. Can anyone explain this?
Finally there is the obvious issue of guns, I firmly believe that many Christians are being called to give up the freedom to own a gun, and to do so would greatly benefit America. No other group of Christians in the world has ever thought guns were a good thing.
The good news is that it is not too late for Americans to take up their crosses. They can start immediately by taking some action to help the environment, there are a myriad resources and ways of doing so. The other issues may take longer to tackle individually, but with collective action, done in solidarity with other Americans, they can be addressed. There is hope and when we take up our crosses and focus on God as the source of everything we need there are great spiritual riches to be found. I encourage American Christians to read about Celtic Christianity, to study the desert Fathers and look into Poustinias. Could they consider if there are distractions in their lives that might be removed in order to find a new level of closeness to God. God meets us and honours us when we give up what is precious to us for Him and maybe, just maybe, if taking up our crosses was practised nationwide this could lead to a great spiritual awakening throughout the country that will bless many in new ways. The cross is good news, make sure you don’t lose yours.