For Whom the Bell Tolls

I remember being outside last winter peacefully, yet ironically as you will read, flooding our backyard hockey rink. It was a Sunday and, having already fulfilled my Mass obligation, I was intent on getting a quick flood in before lunch. Off in the distance I heard the unmistakable ringing of a church bell. It was the first time in five years I had heard such a sound in my town. It was also the last time. The bell echoed gallantly through the chilled air and rested undoubtedly on very few ears. For the majority of people were re-creating themselves at the usual Sunday morning chapel known as the hockey rink.

The bell relinquished its one purpose in life, gave up the ghost, and fell silent. The local church for whom it tolled had just finished one final service. No doubt the usual story. Dwindling numbers. Expensive repairs. Lack of interest in church. Financial and faith woes are often inseparable. This was a protestant church, though but for the grace of God there goes the local Catholic church in another dozen years. The only difference is the Catholic church does not have an actual bell to toll.

For Sale. Church on Mainstreet. Needs some TLC.
Culture has not abandoned religion. True culture and religion are inseparable. Rather society has abandoned culture, and with it religion. The town that gathers as one on a Sunday morning to partake in the ritual of yelling at a 12 year old referee, running statistical analysis in favour of one's 8 year old child as most deserving to make the elite spring team, and working oneself to the bone to pay for this privilege, is a town that has lost not just God and culture, but it's collective mind.

Consider: culture is to cultivate. As writer Anthony Esolen would say, a family can cultivate a field each year, make it yield harvest, and even plant fruit trees for future generations to enjoy and be better off by. This is both a literal and metaphorical take on culture. The tilling and cultivating enrich not just the now, but quite clearly the future. The family, or even community, that takes no interest in the field, or God, but rather spends its days in ultimately meaningless recreation is one that will have only thorns and weeds to pass on to the future. It is a lazy and lukewarm family. A family which neither sowed nor will reap.

A church does not fade into disrepair over night. It takes years of neglect. Years of watering down truth. Years of replacing beauty and art with pop-culture fancies. A garden that is not met with daily care, wisdom for knowing what does and does not work, and get-your-hands-dirty effort, is a garden that is uncultivated. While our town may ask when is the proper time to get a second hockey rink, the real question to be asked is: which church is next to go? Perhaps one day someone will stop, during some intermission at the hockey game, and wonder why. Why there is a life and death competitiveness over whose child makes the spring team. Why it really matters who got credit with that last goal. Why that we leave 12 year old refs to the jeers of stressed out parents. Why... why no one is truly happy.

The arena is a poor substitute as a place of worship. And as a place of culture. We need more backyard rinks being made, after attending Mass that is. We need more church bells to ring vibrancy and life, and not death tolls of what could have been. We need to cultivate the God of creation, and not the god of recreation.

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