I spent part of the day yesterday walking around the woods in a neighborhood in Marietta, Georgia with my father and two Civil War buffs. We were looking for old battlefield fortifications in an area where developers are talking of putting in a shopping center and more homes.
It’s a complicated issue. There is a landowner who wants to sell a large tract of land in a subdivision and there is a developer looking to make it commercial land. The neighboring homeowners are opposed to this (as many homeowners are when commercial land is proposed in their–literal–backyard). And there are some serious questions about the blasting down of a mountain (I’d call it a “hill”) and what the increased traffic would do to an already congested area. All big concerns, particularly for residents.
We were tromping around in the woods, trying to only stay on property we were given permission to be on, and were looking for Civil War trenches or other fortification that might, if the development goes through, be lost. That’s an important point in this history-rich area.
To be fair, much of the area around Marietta had Civil War trenches and artifacts. Right down the road is the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park which preserves this important battleground from the Atlanta Campaign of the Civil War. There was a lot of activity here from June 19, 1864 to July 2, 1864. As we walked around, the Civil War buffs said at one time there were over 200 miles of trenches OUTSIDE of the national park. But as development came as Atlanta spread north, neighborhoods and schools and shopping areas and churches were built and developers often just bulldozed everything on the property, losing history in the process. Now, instead of 200 miles of trenches, you can find 50 yards here and there with most sections much smaller.
As we walked we saw some “known” trenches and the two buffs told tale of which troops were fighting and which Generals were leading. But what really surprised them is when we came upon some Rifle Pits (see picture above), what we would call “fox holes” today. There were four small rock structures down hill from the larger trench system. Four to six infantrymen would head down from the bulk of the army to serve as a sentry post at each of the Rifle Pits. And, when the opposing forces came they would fire their rifles, warning the others above and being the first to engage the attacking enemy. They were often the first ones overtaken by the enemy as well. This was exciting because, unlike the trenches, these rifle pits were just loose arrangements of rocks which, in many cases, have been torn down over the years. And they saw four of them (with a potential fifth one if they could do more looking). They were excited.
So, the question remained, how could this old, exciting stuff be preserved in the face of the seemingly endless march of construction. It’s tough to weigh the value of the past with the value of the present.
This got me thinking about church life as well. We have a seemingly endless march upon the church too. People are trying to save their traditional music as persons listen to Christian Contemporary Music. Churches want to keep their formal buildings as our culture becomes more casual. And, from a missional theology standpoint, churches are being asked to think of their engagement with the surrounding community in far different ways than they had before.
I think there are some good questions here:
- How much of the old can we can hold onto as we strive to be a church in the future?
- Will the “old ways” be preserved like a national park or incorporated into how we do things today?
- As these Civil War buffs lamented the loss of trenches, what will our churches lament losing?
I don’t really have any answers here. I’m just posing some questions. But it has got me thinking.