We Are So Rarely Called On To Be Christians

On Tuesday, fans of Harper Lee finished their 55-year wait for her second novel. I’m among the millions who are diving into the re-adventures of the Family Finch. In fact, to prepare for the release of Go Set A Watchman, I decided to re-read To Kill A Mockingbird last month.

It had been decades since I visited Maycomb County, Alabama. Scout was just as precocious as I remembered her. And Atticus just as wise. But there was also a character I had forgotten, and a quote from her speaks to our current cultural moment. 

Miss Maudie Atkinson is a neighbor to the Finches. Her detached widowhood confounds the town socialites. Her commitment to justice flummoxes racist neighbors. And her azaleas roil the foot washers. I like her. 

In Chapter 22, Miss Maudie delivers a line to 12-year-old Jem Finch that broke through my summer reading bliss. When Jem starts to awaken to the racial injustice of the culture around him, this happens:

“It’s like bein’ a caterpillar in a cocoon, that’s what it is,” he said. “Like somethin’ asleep wrapped up in a warm place. I always thought Macomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that’s what they seemed like."

“We’re the safest folks in the world,” said Miss Maudie. “We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us."

Miss Maudie Atkinson could rise from the pages of a half century ago and proclaim the same to the American church in 2015. We are the safest folks in the world. Around the globe, our brothers and sisters in Christ face poverty, hardship, persecution and even death because of their faith. We look nostalgicly at the waning rays of Christendom and lament the hardship to come. We have long been safe in our school-sponsored prayers and freeway-hedged segregation. We are so rarely called on to be Christians in any more than name. We are so rarely in circumstances where we must love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, or die to ourselves. 

The thing that stuck out to me this time through Maycomb County was the calm, settled faith of Atticus Finch. He’s the literary equivalent of how nine-year-old kids imagine their dads: strong, wise, a bit mysterious, and ever faithful. When the sunset of Christendom ends and we are called upon to be Christians, I hope I'll be one of the men like Atticus to go for us.

I hope you will too.