By José Humphreys | March 18, 2016
I was raised in the eighties, the decade that brought us name belt buckles, Casio mini keyboards, and, for many, the welcome death of the disco era. Among the many hits of the symphonic-pop era I most remember is “The End of the World as We Know It (But I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M. The song was less social commentary and more stream of consciousness. Recently I have found comfort in appropriating this title. It’s given me a way to make sense of the troubled times we live in, in light of Scripture.
Many people today are experiencing cumulative trauma. With the shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, our country is feeling helpless against the backdrop of an unreasonable gun lobby. Instead of offering calm and reason, politicians tend to capitalize by spreading more fear, which is causing America to turn in on itself. And Christians are not exempt.
None of us is inoculated against the effects of this fear. In the midst of a lively debate with my wife about school security, I declared that we need armored doors and armed security in our schools. It was one of those moments I found myself saying things out loud that were inconsistent with the ethics of my faith—in the name of beating those “bad guys” to the proverbial punch, or bullet. I was surprised at how far my fear had taken me.
With fear tainting our collective viewfinder, is the world as we know it really ending? Scripture that refers to seasons or epochs like this are part of a genre of apocalyptic writings. Early Christians experienced grave instability under Roman persecution. The church desperately sought encouragement, looking for God’s activity in the midst of despair. While the church in North America is largely disconnected from such a reality, churches in the barrios and the inner city—and many across the globe—face violence and economic insecurity daily.
Fear is causing America to turn in on itself. And Christians are not exempt.
An apocalyptic reading of culture can actually benefit the church. For one, false symbols of our collective security are dismantled. We see how American Christianity has falsely draped its flag over the cross of Christ. We see images that are anti-Christ, images of burning crosses, calls from Christian university presidents for students to bear arms against the so-called threat of their Muslim neighbors.
An apocalyptic reading of culture makes us more attuned to prophets in our midst, voices speaking against those who induce fear. In response to the call for students to carry weapons into their
classrooms, author and activist Shane Claiborne said, “It’s hard to imagine Jesus enrolling for the
concealed–weapons class.” In another response, Efrem Smith of World Impact tweeted, “I’m still looking for the Scripture where Christ calls his followers to take up arms as a way to advance his kingdom.” His statement exposed guns as a false symbol of security, tapping into our living memory as children of Christ’s peaceable kingdom.
Times like these require the church to recover its memory and the tools of its trade. In practice, we can use our collective helplessness to participate in lament. Through the work of the artists and poets among us, Spirit-filled words and images of hope can subvert dominant symbols of fear. Through prayer walks, we can reach out to Muslim business owners in our neighborhoods, to share the peace.
What’s more, in a society biased toward reactiveness, we can use seasons like Lent to teach people to wait patiently amid the temporary barrenness of inaction. We can learn that we don’t just “fix” things. We can learn to discern our world as it is, and respond from a prayerful place.
Whenever the church faces trials, it has the opportunity to know Christ more fully. Our society needs a church that can help us interpret our times and remind people of a living hope. cc