The other morning I read about two commuter trains that collided head-on in the Italian countryside. For obvious reasons the cause is, so far, thought to be human error. But that initial failure of coordination, or navigation, or scheduling, had no immediate effect. The consequence for such an error was far-off. If only some kind of warning could have sounded as soon as they began down that fatal track.
I can’t help to wish the same – to sound some alarm – as I think about recent events in America. I wish that some collective alarm bells would resound all at once – in every town, in every city, in every parish across the nation. And I suspect that many, if not most of us, have a sense that there is indeed an inner warning resonating as we wrestle with the current issues dominating our culture today. It is a collective moment of anxiety, similar to the rapid changes of the 1960’s. It’s a watershed moment – a point of departure – a call to wake up. But where are we headed?
Both hope and fear are high in these times, and because it is at a collective level we will continue to experience the social tremors, quakes and rifts that feed off the clash of these two extremes. As various national events bring to the surface ‘subterranean’ forces that are rooted in personal and communal struggles – we must take more time for deeper reflection and avoid the temptation to be driven along, continually reacting. Awareness from a higher, or maybe deeper, vantage point of what is actually happening around us is critical for these times.
I have a number of friends who think the world or the nation is close to coming to an end (or it is at least the end of the world as we know it) – and I too ponder these things. There is a sense from many different groups that we are in an apocalyptic moment – whether it is related to politics, or the environment, or economics, or society overall. Many people feel the stability of their world is coming to an end. They are environmentalists desperate over climate chaos. They are patriots preparing for the next big fight (whether against terrorists or the State). They are disillusioned political party members (whether on the Right or Left) who feel they have lost their voice. They are Christians trying desperately to match current events to Biblical prophecy (quite a tricky business though I am not thoroughly against it). More importantly there are many Christians intentionally reorienting themselves as we descend into the late stages of post-Christian Modernity – seeking to regain the purpose of the Body of Christ amidst the entropy of the American empire. But while this idea of an apocalypse is most often looked at as something fearful and disastrous, the ancient concept of the ‘apocalypse’ described in Scripture is not just a final cataclysm but of an “unveiling, or revealing” and I believe this is truly where we find ourselves. Are we ready for an increasing revelation of the true nature of things?
While I do not believe we are yet on the heels of a grand climax of history I do believe we are in an increasingly dystopian time and in a moment when we must choose our track personally and collectively. We are at a critical turning point – choosing our direction, making choices now that will be impossible to un-choose later. It was the German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who has been quoted as saying: “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” As someone who was murdered by the Nazi’s – he stands as a prophetic witness to our time when we are struggling to see how the seeds we plant today will bear fruit in generations to come.
I have been speaking in very broad terms but I am genuinely and deeply concerned for the Body of Christ in America and for America as a nation. I see us desperately grasping for answers and solutions. I see us clinging to idols. I see us blinded by hate. I see us distracted by the inane. I see us failing to discern the true state of things. I see us driven by fear. I see us unwilling to look in the mirror. I see, as Jesus explained it: “the blind leading the blind”. I see us striving to bring our glory back (insert church or nation here). I have fear and I have hope as I see us speeding towards a revelation of who we have become as a people. I have fear as I anticipate the pain and trauma of this unveiling. But I have hope that God is at work – planting His coming kingdom in the midst of the ruins. Jesus said his unshakeable kingdom is not of this world – if we are wise we will not place our hope in what can be shaken.
But all is not doom and gloom even in our day. On a hillside through the woods, at the edge of the farm we live on, there is a small country church building. It has always sat silent all the years we have lived here – until now. In recent months it began ringing bells at the hours of prayer throughout the day – every day. I can’t help but see this as a sign from God. A sign that the alarm bells are sounding – but these alarm bells are not just a wake up call but a call to prayer and intercession. And most importantly it is a sign of hope in the midst of turbulent times. Jesus told us to pray: “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven…”
I say ring them bells.
What are your hopes and fears? Where do you see God working in the midst of it all?
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