The American Fortress

The American Fortress House.

The American Fortress House.

Modern American architecture reflects our priorities as people:

  • Minimal front porch. Nobody spends time in the front of the house, where they might be seen. The big “porch” is the elaborate multi-level deck, on the back of the house, away from people, overlooking a backyard completely surrounded by fencing and trees.
  • Electric garage door, with no external handle. It’s like a drawbridge. You have to know the secret password to give to the castle guards in order for them to let you in.
  • No sidewalk (typically). Most suburban neighborhoods are designed solely for automobile travel, humans riding in fully-enclosed protective hermetically-sealed  glass carriages.

This American cultural phenomenon, the fortress home, made a strong impression on me after my return from eighteen months in India. In India things are, well, different. (Not always better, just different.) You can’t avoid other people. The whole landscape is other people. I suppose some very rich Indians might build and inhabit fortress-style homes, and maybe in two hundred years that will be the trend there also.

One of my favorite parables speaks to this:

Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.

Luke 14:31-32

We all have our personal fortresses. Americans are probably more prone to this mentality than most other people. Whether it is a physical home arranged so as to repel intruders, or a psyche constructed to keep others at a distance, we all build these fortresses, these little kingdoms of our own devising. But God is coming, invading the life of every human being. We fancy ourselves to be safe in our fortresses, insulated from harm and the elements. We find ourselves to be self-sufficient, content, having laid up goods for ourselves.

The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.

Luke 12:16-21

This is the American fortress-dweller, self-satisfied and fat. But God is coming, invading the life of every human being. The invasion cannot be avoided or postponed or prevented. It can, however, be resisted. Like the king in the first parable, we are all faced with a simple choice when confronted with the  overwhelming invasion force of God:

  1. Resist. Fight to the death. Defend the fortress.
  2. Surrender. Accept His terms.

Jesus coyly says “and if not,” suggesting to his hearers the wisdom of the king who carefully considers the situation and concludes (correctly) that resistance is a foolish strategy that will be the end of him and his kingdom.

God is coming, invading the life of every human being. Our pathetic little kingdoms – our pride and self-centeredness, the miniature decorated universes in which we portray ourselves as kings – are about to be uprooted by a greater force. We can try to preserve our kingdoms by fighting to the death, a strategy which will end with our own destruction and the certain end of our kingdoms.

Much better then, to accept the terms of peace: Reconciliation to God, a full surrender to Him, trusting thereafter in His benevolence. In the end, we survive, and we will enjoy a life of peace and safety and freedom in a far larger and more wondrous kingdom than the one we were once so reluctant to leave behind.

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