Little Known Fact: Journalist H.L. Mencken coined the term “Bible Belt,” and popularized it during the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, right here in Dayton. (You’re welcome, future Jeopardy contestants.)
This fact alone should qualify Dayton as the Belt’s official “buckle,” but if you’re not yet convinced, consider Rhea County’s 250 churches, thriving Christian college campus, weekly McDonald’s gospel sing, and solidly Southern location halfway between the Mason Dixon line to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south.
As I’ve mentioned before, this is a strange place to struggle with doubt, a strange place to deconstruct and reconstruct faith, a strange place to launch yet another church, and a strange place to experiment with missional living. I’ve written frequently about the first two, but as I look ahead, I expect we will be chatting more and more about the second two.
“Missional" is a bit of a buzzword these days, and can mean different things to different people. For me, it is simply a commitment to living like Jesus in order to serve as an imperfect participant in the Kingdom of God that is among us now and an incomplete picture of the fully restored and redeemed Kingdom of God that is to come. Missional living is basically redemptive living...within a community and for the community.
On good days, this would mean pursuing justice, celebrating beauty, loving neighbors, loving enemies, and sharing the Gospel. On bad days, it would mean feeling like a complete hypocrite because I don’t really like people that much to begin with.
The missional approach is different than modern evangelicalism, particularly in this region, because “the work of salvation, in its full sense, is 1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; 2) about the present, not simply the future; and 3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.” (I borrowed that from NT Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 200).
[On Monday, I’ll share a post about how this is approach is different from the so-called “social gospel.”]
So how does one live missionally in the buckle of the Bible Belt, where just about everyone knows the name of Jesus? How do you do “church” in a way that is different? And if Jesus lived in Dayton, how might he spend his time?
These are questions I’ll be thinking about and addressing over the next few weeks and months, and I’m going to need your input and help. Potential blog topics include:
- Rural poverty
- Racial reconciliation in the South
- Reaching out to migrant workers and their families
- Celebrating local artists and musicians
- Working in harmony with folks who are politically and theologically more conservative than myself
- Needs in rural education – both in public schools and adult education programs
- Becoming a friend and refuge for the religiously disenfranchised
- Living with less in order to give more
- Southern religious culture
- Understanding industrial communities
- Understanding farming communities
- Integration of nature and worship
What else? What do you think are some of the challenges/issues specifically related to missional living in the Bible Belt culture? Do you know of any ideas that have worked? Experts to consult? Links to share?
I’d especially love to hear from my fellow rural Southerners…but Yankees and city slickers are welcome to chime in as well! :-)