The poet said Christian institutions and community needed refreshing. They still do.
This is a season for taking stock of who we are, how we live, and what we are building. It is the best season, perhaps, to ask ourselves the question of poet T. S. Eliot’s choruses from The Rock: “Have you built well?”
In 1934, Eliot penned The Rock to fundraise for 45 church buildings near London. Appropriately, his frequent theme was building—not only churches but also the church as a thick community, an institution, a people seeking knowledge of God, a sanctuary from alienation and futility.
“The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without,” Eliot said. So, how are we building?
When we think of the church community and institutions the church has founded, our workmanship is mixed at best. In society at large, distraction, alienation, and futility seem to have only escalated since Eliot’s day, while the church in the West shows many signs of decay. Religious disaffiliation is rising rapidly, and even we who remain in the faith often can’t escape the inattentive, disintegrating tendencies of modern life.
We too live amid the breakdown of the local relationships, businesses, and civil society analyzed by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America and eulogized by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone. With us, as Eliot saw in his society, a sense of community can be too weak, with people “settled nowhere,”
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbour
Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance.
In this state of communal disrepair, Eliot advised, “The good man is the builder, if he build what is good.” His words echo James 2’s contention that faith without works is dead (v. 26), that it’s …