PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Hollow Saints-Hollow Church”
By: Ron Woodrum
Things are not always as they appear. No one has hammered that message home with more impact than the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, in his poem Richard Cory. He tells the story of a model citizen who was the envy of his entire town. Then he pulls the rug out from under us with his conclusion! He wrote:
Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
‘Good-morning’ and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich-yes, richer than a king-
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything!
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head!
Model citizens are not always models. Christians are not always the saints that we portray. We often fool ourselves and fool others about our walk with God. We live for years on decisions of yesteryear. We are often like sinkholes that form when underground rivers dry up, and the weight above ground becomes too much for the vacancy below can bear up, and there is a major sinkhole collapse. That is why the Christian life must be “so daily”. We must fill each day with worship of God-that includes talking with Him, (prayer) and hearing from Him, (Bible Study). We must fill each day with witness for God-where we share our faith-which keeps it real to ourselves; and relevant to our world, that is in truth hungering for Him; We must exercise our faith daily as we engage in spiritual warfare so that we can walk in victory instead of waving the white flag of surrender to the world, the flesh, and the devil. A Christian that fails to keep his faith alive in those ways may convince himself that all is well, by going through the motions, but in reality is becoming hollow inside spiritually. T. S. Eliot epitomized this condition in his poem The Hollow Men. He wrote:
“We are hollow men
We are stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our voices…quiet and meaningless
shape without form, shade without color
paralyzed force, gesture without motion.
…a fading star…
such deliberate disguises
Behaving as the wind behaves
In the twilight kingdom
valley of dying stars
this is the hollow valley…
His context was England after WWI-the emptiness after the War to End All Wars. But he also was talking about the loss of real character and underpinning faith that sustains us for the difficulties in life. Life becomes empty and hollow activity without, as he says, “Thine is the Kingdom”…we need to keep alive in our “kingdom”.
If you take a tour on the Hudson River you will pass Pollepel Island, a 6.5 acre island in the middle of the river, fifty miles north of New York City. It is a famous island that was prominent in the Revolutionary War. George Washington wanted to use it for a prison during the war, but that never materialized. But it you look closely this island is home to an intriguing Robin-hood type Castle. It is the Bannerman Castle. In the late 1800’s Francis Bannerman VI, an immigrant from Northern Ireland, living in Brooklyn, started a military surplus business. He purchased military equipment from the Civil War; from the Spanish-American War. In November of 1900 he purchased Pollepel Island, and moved his military arsenal to the safety of the Island, after building this Castle to house it. It became named “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” and from there catalog orders provided guns, weapons, military clothing world-wide for many years. In 1920 an explosion destroyed part of the castle. A severe storm and Bannerman’s death left the Arsenal and island essentially vacant. The state of New York bought the Castle and Island, and removed the military merchandise. Tours of the Island were given in 1968. But a fire in 1969 damaged the Arsenal even more. The roofs and floors were destroyed. The castle and island became off-limits to the public. If you pass by it today…you see the hollow shell of a once mighty business empire and arsenal. It is empty and hollow, and on the verge of collapse. Yet commuters on the Metro-North Hudson Line and the Amtrak Empire Service can see clearly the title “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” on the side of the Castle, it is nothing but an empty, hollow, ruin of what it once was! The Church of Jesus Christ has been for years an Arsenal of Spiritual power in a world that is in desperate need of such power. But due to many Christians stumbling in spiritual maintenance, and becoming shadows of the vibrant Christians that our Lord intends us to be, the Church is in danger of becoming a hollow shell of a has-been spiritual arsenal. Revival is the only thing that can change that! Most leading Christian leaders will tell us that we are at a cross roads in these last days. The cross road is REVIVAL OR RUIN. CONQUEST OR COLLAPSE. STRONGHOLD OR SURRENDER.
As T.S. Eliot concludes his Hollow Men poem… he says, “This is the way the world ends…this is the way the world ends…this is the way the world ends…Not with a bang…but a whimper!” Only you and I can see to it that the Church’s impact in these last days end with more than a whimper and a collapse of a hollow shell of hollow men…making the Church an empty Arsenal of Spiritual Power…still bearing the name…but far from the reality of the bang the Lord intends us to have as we end this Church age! Revival or Ruin! Let’s choose revival. We need it. The world needs us to experience it even more than we do! Jesus said, “They that worship God must worship Him in Spirit and Truth”. (John 4:4). He was talking about a spirituality that is possessed more than professed! Francis Schaeffer wrote of this in his book True Spirituality! A book written well ahead of its time. The time has come.