Friday, November 12, 2010

Last Things…

       Prompted by a text message, I wrote a letter recently about the soul. And I so enjoyed writing that, I decided to wash/rinse/repeat. Except I didn’t get a text message this time; it was an email. And it wasn’t about the soul; this one pondered the End Times. I promise this won’t be too scary…

       First, a memory. In high school, my youth group once attended a weekend event called, “Choir of the Fire.” It offered loud music, ‘Christian Cool’ t-shirts for purchase and all the fun we could handle. But my strongest memory is of the keynote speaker and his theory about the End of the World, which according to (his interpretation of) Revelation would occur soon. So Revelation’s Ten-Horned Beast was the European Union (which had 10 member states then …coincidence?…he thought not). A resurrected Soviet Union would invade Israel. Armageddon would ensue, literally.  In retrospect, I find the idea rather disgusting; gathering hundreds of impressionable youth, exciting them with pleasing sights and sounds, and then, at just the right time, scaring Hell into them so they’d support your ideology.  I’m sure he’d describe it differently; that he was encouraging us, telling us important stuff others weren’t.  At the time, though, I was freaked out, and years later, I’m deeply skeptical of fear-based theology, and especially anyone claiming to know the future through Biblical Interpretation.

      And yet, one of my favorite seminary books was The Writings of Joachim di Fiore.  This 12th Century monk/mystic was all the rage in his day, although the Catholic Church hierarchy thought him quite insane.  He predicted that in 1260 CE, the Church would cease, because history-as-we-know-it would end.  All humans (not just clergy) would connect directly with God.  So-called heathens and Christians would reconcile.  He even drew sweeping, detailed (and yes, perhaps a bit insane) pictures of dragons and angels and the Trinity, all metaphorical depictions of his theories, based on- you guessed it- interpretations of Revelation.  I loved the book’s imagination, inclusive spirit and poetic boldness (not its End Times theology or Biblical interpretation)!

      Ever notice how some Christians dream up vast, detailed theories about the End of Days, Heaven and Hell, yet spend almost no energy dreaming about a better life in this life for more people?  I find that unfortunate, even contrary to the point of Revelation (and all Biblical Prophecy).  Revelation, after all, was written (late 1st/early 2nd Century CE) for small Christian Communities experiencing much pressure and oppression.  One of their leaders (the text’s author) was in exile; local authorities had changed from tolerating this weird obsession with a crucified carpenter, to actively targeting and hurting Jesus’ Disciples.  So John writes to his oppressed minority communities, imaginatively proclaiming that even if the violent, unjust Roman Empire (aka, the Beast) wants to do them harm, the One Who Really Matters- Christ Triumphant- is on their side.  And Jesus will reign at the End, he contends, but mostly he wants to help them live more courageously today.

      Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25 about God’s question for us in the End?  It wasn’t, “Did you hold the ‘right’ beliefs- about Me or the End Times?"  But rather, "What have you done to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner?"  I.e. Love your neighbor?  Basically, I think Paul’s right that, "The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night."  So we shouldn't waste time worrying about when it’ll end, in what ways, etc.  God's got that covered.  Rather, we all should live our lives now as if (another Jesus quote), "The Kingdom of God is at hand," is alive in our midst already!  So we treat neighbors with love and compassion like Jesus were standing next to us.  We act humbly, with respect and forgiveness, like the darkness that still permeates life isn't the most important thing.  Because it isn't!  God's loving presence is, and is always around us, prepared to connect directly with us, and so inspire us to be better and love more than we would otherwise.  I guess Joachim got that one right.

      Then again, we do live post-1260…eerie…

Grace and Peace,

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