Lively highways

I had a stark revelation in February as I drove across the Mojave Desert on day three of “Fresh Day on the Road,” my 30-day pilgrimage across the U.S. in search of fresh ideas, fresh words, fresh faith.

I had gotten onto Route 66, the fabled gateway west from Chicago to Los Angeles. It’s different in every state, I’m sure, but in the Mojave Desert, Route 66 seemed to be a dead relic littered with abandoned service stations and drive-in restaurants and a roadway so rough and pitted that I thought it would shake my car apart.

No one has the money to take a bulldozer to those abandoned buildings. The desert keeps them standing. That’s all.

And with heavily traveled Interstate 40 nearby, the state of California won’t spend anything to repave a two-lane road on which I was the only driver.

Meanwhile, on the radio I listened briefly to a smooth-talking preacher who was condemning “unbelievers and liberals” for not buying his narrow brand of biblical literalism and doctrinal superiority.

This strange interlude had meaning on many levels. But on the church wellness level, it reminded me of dead churches I have visited where no one has the heart to close the doors, the money to “repave” or the conviction to try living again. They just stand there as relics, like a dusty small-town museum that someone long ago thought would draw visitors to a dying town.

These are bleak scenarios, and they don’t seem bleak in a way that is waiting for God to fill. Just bleak, like the landscape of a lifeless planet.

I mention this because I think too many churches are trying to be memorials to yesterday. Leaders keep the past alive and hope that others will find it engaging. When they don’t, some leaders let the past go, but others double-down on memorializing history.

I’m sure there was a moment after the interstate first opened, when Route 66 began the transition from lively highway to failing venue. Smart businesses moved to interstate off-ramps. Reality deniers stayed put and waited for yesterday’s traffic to start up again. It never did. Route 66 was decommissioned and left to the elements.

I know it is difficult for people who love something and believe in it to see that life is moving on and that what they value has no viable future. It matters to them, so surely it will matter some day to someone else.

But we should realize that, if we do nothing different and life-giving, our fortunes will follow the same trajectory as Route 66: up for decades as the only road west, peaking in the 1960s when interstate sections were opened, starting downward as new expectations of the driving experience settled in and now abandoned.

My point isn’t to be bleak, but to encourage a lively pursuit of today and tomorrow. For that is the only place where God and life will be found.

Tom Ehrich newTOM EHRICH is a publisher, writer, church consultant and president of Morning Walk Media, based in New York. His new Fresh Day online magazine offers fresh words about faith and life, fresh voices, fresh ideas.  For a free trial go to