I’ve just finished reading Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”. I was mesmerized by it. I couldn’t put it down. I can see why it caused such an uproar nearly 104 years ago. It shows capitalism at its worst, exposing the brutal working conditions of turn-of-the-century laborers and the horrors of the meat industry (you’ll think twice about buying your next package of hot dogs… well, I won’t, but you might).
Hidden in the middle of this classic is a scene where the main character, Jurgis, is out on the street in the dead of a brutal Chicago winter. Trying everything to stay warm, Jurgis hears of a revival taking place down the street. The revivals were known for attracting the poor and homeless simply because they were indoors and provided warmth. Look at Sinclair’s words, now over a century old, as he describes Jurgis’ experience (emphasis mine):
The evangelist was preaching “sin and redemption,” the infinite grace of God and His pardon for human frailty. He was very much in earnest, and he meant well, but Jurgis, as he listened, found his soul filled with hatred. What did he know about sin and suffering–with his smooth, black coat and his neatly starched collar, his body warm, and his belly full, and money in his pocket–and lecturing men who were struggling for their lives, men at the death-grapple with the demon powers of hunger and cold!–This, of course, was unfair; but Jurgis felt that these men were out of touch with the life they discussed, that they were unfitted to solve its problems; nay they themselves were part of the problem–they were part of the order established that was crushing men down and beating them! They were of the triumphant and insolent possessors; they had a hall, and a fire, and food and clothing and money, and so they might preach to hungry men, and the hungry men must be humble and listen! They were trying to save their souls–and who but a fool could fail to see that all that was the matter with their souls was that they had not been able to get a decent existence for their bodies?
How might this century-old scene apply to the church here in American culture? How should it affect our perspective on “outreach’? Is it possible for us to really put ourselves in the shoes of others if we haven’t experienced what they have?
In any case, modern CGI-infested movies and the current Billboard Top 100 charts aren’t the only places to find relevant links between Scripture and culture. Long story short: maybe we should read something other than the latest “how-to” church book. Do yourself a favor and read some of the “classics.”