The Myth of the Apocalypse
Dear Lord Jesus, preacher said you are coming real soon.
Now would be a good time.
—The pre-math test prayer of all Evangelical children
Like all children raised under the apocalyptic cloud of Dispensationalism, I spent a great deal of my childhood alternately fearing and hoping for the end of the world. I was a bad child raised by good parents, so the Rapture was particularly troubling, as I knew they would go and I would not.
Later in life, I turned the fear into a standard Chicago-based joke. “People say that no one can predict when the Lord will return. This is not quite true: I know exactly the place and quite a bit about the timing. It will be at Wrigley Field. The Cubbies will be about to win it all – top of the ninth, two outs, two strikes against the batter. Then the trump will sound, and Jesus Christ will land on second base. Because the Universe cannot allow the Cubs to win the World Series.” The repeated telling of that joke, added a special layer to the terror-joy I experience on November 2, 2016 when the Cubs won it ALL. When Anthony Rizzo caught the final throw and tucked that ball safely in his pocket – I was liberated from several curses
In my previous career as a semi-pro religionist, I sometimes encountered Apocalypse rooters. These folks bill themselves as proponents of glory. In my experience, they are often a bitter and shrinking remnant of a narrow theology of judgment. When they see that the world is not only failing to embrace their world-view but rapidly leaving it in the dust, they hunker down into an attitude: “Just you wait and see. Jesus is going to return, and then you will find out how wrong you are!” Sometimes they pine so much for Armageddon that they actually do things to try to make it come. They say “Come Lord Jesus!” but what they mean is, “Come and prove me right!”
Then I discovered that Christians do not have a lock on Apocalypse-rooting. I have met environmentalists so frustrated that they rooting for Global Warming or some other enormous disaster to prove them right, to bring dismay and destruction to the deniers. Their Fundamental judgment and ire can match any fire-and-brimstone preacher. They predict and pray for a new heaven and a new Earth, where the remnant will survive and return to an imagined peaceful, joyful, agrarian way of a past - that never existed.
What all world-enders miss is the fact that apocalypses are as common as dirt. When Jesus wept over Jerusalem and predicted its doom, He wasn’t being especially prophetic. Anyone with eyes could see that Roman train wreck coming. Foreseeing the apocalypse of Jerusalem wasn’t exactly hard.
Homo sapiens seems to be good at wiping things out. Met a Neanderthal recently? A Javan tiger? A West African black rhino? A member the Yuki Tribe in California? We have seen the Rwandan apocalypse; our parents saw the Nazi apocalypse. Maybe we learned this from Mother Nature – she did a pretty good job on the dinosaurs. And now we are given a special lesson in viral Pandemic. Tiny things you can’t see can wipe out communities. Name an epoch, century, or continent that is apocalypse-free. Can’t.
The other thing that the doom-sayers miss is that life so often finds a way through. Have you ever witnessed a personal apocalypse – that of a serious addict who completely flames out, then finds recovery, sobriety, and life? I have; it is a glorious thing. Flattened cities build on the rubble. Ozzy Osbourne is walking around today with Neanderthal DNA. We are told that the birds we feed in the park are descendants of dinosaurs. Destroyed matter turns to energy and back again. Stars and planets die and are born again. On some cosmic level, nothing is lost. God built this into the universe so we would understand, and have hope. Hope even beyond death.
Existence is hard. It is so tempting when facing the apocalyptic to pray for escape, to pray for the judgment of the stupid and mean. We all do it. But this isn’t Life’s way. Life works through the stupid and the mean (including you and I) to find a way forward. There is no escape from the tribulations of the hard work of progress.
Quakers have made a theological suggestion about this: the idea of Christ, come and coming. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was The Christ. But you do not have to believe that to see the Christ spirit in Him. The Christ spirit is simply Love, given place and breath. This Spirit pops up everywhere, often in the most unlikely places. It is most crystalline and transcendent in the ugliest of surroundings. This Spirit is so strong that it cannot be put down. It is so pervasive that it permeates all that is. The Anti-Christ is the futile attempt to kill Love. We all have the choice to express Christ or anti-Christ with every breath and every deed. When we cooperate with Christ and express that Spirit, we incarnate it. Again. Perpetual Christmas Day. There is and will be no second coming of Christ. What there is and will be are the infinite comings of Christ.
I hear the dread hoof beats of horsemen as often as I am tempted to sin. I find Jesus at my side, sliding off his white charger as often as I need Him. Together we root out the anti-Christ in my soul and then move the lines forward. I find Christ everywhere. I take the process of Christ-finding as far afield as I can, to the places and people that the fear-peddlers judge. I hear the trumpet sound a dozen times a day. Daring me to explore the depths of the Divine. Challenging me to make God real to the very edges of my world.
Calling me to glory.
The Good Shepherds
We should not have to, but sometimes we must state the plain.
There is one Good Shepherd, and many lesser shepherds. And there are wolves who wear a murdered sheep's skin as their clothing as an attempt to fool other sheep.
Sheep can be very stupid.
But to tell the shepherd from the wolf is not hard.
And the examples of each are plentiful.
This Easter morning the sheep should all be safely in their folds with their lambs.
Good shepherds have encouraged this, and stand at the gate protecting.
Wolves have called them out into a dangerous field.
Wolves have no patience, wolves don't like to be challenged.
They howl. A lot.
"You are not the boss of me!"
"God is my special buddy and will contradict all the rules of God's very own natural world for me!"
"Anyone who doesn't agree with me - doesn't listen to me - is obviously not a buddy of God."
What they really want, of course is to skin some more sheep. Because too much is never enough. And Easter Sunday is their biggest day of the year. Biggest crowds, fullest offering plates. The most people looking at them, and listening to them, while they howl their heads off.
The good shepherds are standing by bedsides and in doorways, and are quietly talking on phones. Their patience is long. They do not yell. They do not lie, but they do comfort.
In Italy, many dozens of priests have died, and more will die.
Hundreds have come out of retirement to do the hardest work in the wards of contagion.
When they know it will very likely kill them.
This is a shepherd's testimony.
“I blessed him and absolved him from sins, he squeezed my hand tightly and I stayed there with him until his eyes closed,” the Priest said. “And then I said the prayer for the dead, and then I changed my gloves and continued my rounds.” (NYT)
Multiply by thousands.
The Priest knows, what I know, and what you know; that God, if God works like this, will receive their souls to God's breast with love and care - with or without the Priest. But the Shepherd knows his flock, and when they were born the church was there. And when they married the church was there. And they have always believed that when they died, the church would be there. And to deny them that would be a betrayal of the worst order.
So the shepherd makes the round of his dying sheep. And lays down his own life.
It is so easy to tell them apart.
The Myth of Isolation
From 2007 (with updates)
So There I was...
Lying in my childhood bed, terrified. I awoke with the sense that something was very, very wrong. The light was wrong. It was way too late in the morning for me to be in bed on a school day. The normal sounds of our household were absent. The teakettle had not whistled. That is the sound that usually ended my dreams. The sound of my parents sitting at the kitchen table reading the scripture and praying for each of us children by name had not occurred, that was my normal ten-minute warning for getting up. I listened carefully; there was not a sound in the house. Then I listened for the sounds of the city. I was, after all, in Chicago, there were millions of people out there. Then I realized that the whole world had gone silent. There were no cars or trucks rumbling down Harlem Avenue a block away. There were no sounds from the neighbors. There were no airplanes in the sky. A city of millions was silent.
I came swiftly to the only solution that a child of Evangelical dispensationalists (Darbyism) could come to. Jesus had come like a thief in the night and had taken away every good person from the world and I was alone in my family, unraptured. I was scared but not really surprised. I wasn’t all that good of a kid. But then I thought about it some more and wondered if my little brother might not still be sleeping in his bed. He was kind of a pain in the neck, he might still be here. I thought about how a couple of kids might try and survive the apocalypse. I knew we were in for at least seven years of tribulation. I wondered if I forged a note would they let me get the folks’ money out of the bank before it was too late. I wondered if we could get to our cousins, those people were Elvis worshippers and had just found out how wrong they were – but it seemed like taking up with heathens might be a bad idea just at the moment. I eventually decided to go and see if my brother was present. I left my room and saw the silent empty kitchen. The clock confirmed that it was past time to leave for school. No doubt now. I crept into the living room and to my utter shock and amazement, there sat my dad.
Looking out the window at the two feet of snow that had fallen unexpectedly in the night. No work, no school today. No trucks, no airplanes. A city silenced by God, but not robbed by God. I crawled into my dad’s lap and breathed in the relief of the pardoned sinner. I was not alone.
The fear of being alone, temporarily or permanently, is not just an irrational fear of religious children. The fear of being alone is one of the most pervasive and destructive fears in our world. It touches almost everyone eventually. It causes suicides. It fuels addictions. It provokes people into crazy behaviors that increase rather than decrease their chances of loneliness. And it is a groundless fear. Because true isolation is a myth, an impossibility.
Every major religion teaches this. Christendom in its right mind teaches this. Jesus said “I will never leave you or forsake you, not until the end of time.” The Apostle told us that we are surrounded by a host of witnesses cheering us on to finish our footrace. Angels manifest at the oddest moments speaking the inevitable “fear not.”
Science teaches this. We are all really connected. The wings of a butterfly can start a hurricane. There are resonances between particles at a distance. Nothing corner of the material world is or can be isolated from the rest.
The mistake comes when we use feelings to predict fact. Now I am all for feelings. Get the full 96-crayon box of them and use them as often as you can, but as predictors of fact, they are notoriously fallible. Sometimes we feel lonely. This is the feeling that defines a craving for more or better relationship. It hurts. It is supposed to. But if we sit in the lonely feeling and use it to predict an isolated future, and let that fear escalate, we will do nutty things. We will forsake our integrity. We will medicate our loneliness. We attempt to latch onto anything that seems to offer relief.
Loneliness is a feeling given to us by God to cause us to seek community. You may be unlucky in love, but community does not rely on luck. It relies on initiative. You have to get outside of yourself and your feelings and do something to connect. You have to give, and be vulnerable enough to let others give to you. It is hard work, but it works every time.
You commune with the past by living up to the investment that those who have loved you have made in you, and listening for their cheers from the stands. You commune with the future by investing in others and by tilling the soil and planting the seeds that will feed and shade those who will come after you. You live in anticipation of their gratitude, knowing that you will take your place in the spiritual mezzanine to watch their performances. You choose, by will, to live in the truth that you are a valued piece of a great company of saints. You take responsibility for your feelings and your life.
The fear mongers of this world and the spiritual realm would like you to live in the fear of isolation. They want you to predict, and then live in, the lie that you are likely to end up alone and scared. This will prevent you from making those healthy connections with the past present and future that foil the fear-based plans they have for controlling your present.
Let us reject this lie.
We are not alone. We were not born alone. We were not alone before we were born and we will not be alone in our lives or our deaths and we will not be alone after our deaths. God is as close as your breath. The saints are as close as the ear of your soul. Community is as close as your outstretched hand. (or your keyboard)
The Myth of Scarcity
So There I was...Twenty years (thirty four) ago this weekend, great with child. I was awaiting the birth of my second, and what would turn out to be my last, child. I was 28 and we had an almost five-year-old daughter named Emily. Five years of undiluted parental devotion had allowed this child to become confident, precocious and fun to be around. We were confident of our parenting skills. I was not worried about birthing this new life. My husband had gotten a decent job with health benefits just in the nick of time. It seemed that all was well.
Never the less I was terrified. And it was a fear that I did not think I could say out loud. I did not know that anyone else had ever had this fear. I was afraid that it was impossible to love another child as much as I loved Emily.
Then Laura Joy arrived. I took one look at her and my maternal love instantaneously and miraculously doubled – just like that. Emily suffered no loss of love and baby Laura received all that she needed.
I have since found out that this is a very common fear of second time parents, but rarely a fear of third time parents. It is a miracle that sticks.
However, I think that this is an example of a larger and more pervasive fear-based belief system – the myth of scarcity. This myth says that there is never enough of anything to go around and you better get yours while you can and hoard it as long as you are able. This toxic belief creeps into every area of human existence and relationship. It shapes government policy, haunts people’s dreams and fuels competition in every arena. It says “There is not enough love, money, happiness, fame, health, time, space, work, … for everybody – so protect what you have, and watch out for those other guys.” It is the absolute proximate cause of all jealousy, envy, and most strife. It is the ranchers vs. the farmers. It is old immigrants vs. new immigrants.
And it is absolutely, refutably, experientially FALSE.
I will give three examples; resources, time and love.
There are enough resources in this world. Sure, we will run out of oil at some point. But until old Sol quits on us eons and eons from now there will be sources of energy; sun, wind, tides, hydrogen, fusion, etc. We will need to change. There is enough food in this world – there is no excuse for a hungry child anywhere. There is enough work to do in this world. The reason that some do not have enough, and hear me -- people all over the world are truly deprived -- is not because there is not enough to go around, it is because what there is, has been criminally distributed, and shamefully wasted. Communism is an attempt to address this criminal distribution. It has failed – not because it is a bad idea – but because the implementers, time after time, have been seduced by criminal greed. Capitalism says that if you rely on individual initiative and a free market that the distribution will be corrected by opportunity and philanthropy. Capitalism has also failed because its implementers have been seduced by criminal greed. And criminal greed is almost always based in the myth of scarcity.
We hoard because we fear.
Hoarding is not God’s way. The Hebrew children in the desert were given one day’s manna in the desert – the stuff rotted if you tried to keep it over night. Jesus prayed for “daily bread”; reinforcing this concept again and again. Don’t worry about next week’s bread, trust and work and it will come. God’s way is to use what you need and share anything extra with someone else. There is enough.
One of the most nefarious incursions of the myth of scarcity into most of our lives is the belief that there is not enough time. That life itself is too short. We run at a frenetic pace and wail at the lack of the 25th hour and the eighth day. This belief rules many a life, and ruins the quality of life. It is impossible to simultaneously savor and rush something.
The truth is that time is darn near infinite, at least from our perspective. Almost every faith teaches that you, or at least some part of you is infinite, immortal. There is something else after this. We don’t know or agree on what that something is, but most of us believe in it. And since this life includes the possibility of quality and meaning, there is no reason to believe that the something out there will not be at least as productive, and meaningful. Our sensation of rushing time comes from bodies that age, and our propensity to chop time up into tiny bits, so that they seem to fly by.
What we do not have is the ability to do two things at once in any really qualitative fashion -- This from a woman who can multi-task with the best of them. The truth is I don’t drive as well when using the phone, and drinking coffee, and listening to music. I don’t pay as close attention to my loved ones when I am preoccupied. I do not have infinite choices. I have many choices, but I must choose how to spend my time, and the responsibility flipside to the freedom of this choice is that I need to relax about the things that I do not choose, and trust that the universe will take care of them. When I do this, when I concentrate on one good choice at a time, when I trust, then time slows down. I savor things, enjoy them, and remember them better too. There is enough time to do everything that I really need to do – because I do not need to do everything. I’m just not that important.
The most relationship-wrecking, and hence human-wrecking, application of the myth of scarcity is that there is not enough love to go around. We believe that if the object of our desire does not love us, that no one ever will, so we get pathetic or controlling. We believe that our friend shouldn’t really have other friends because that will in some way impoverish us. We believe that God is a worse parent than we are, and cannot love all of us equally. We buy into the lie that God has favorites – us, if we are arrogant in our fear – or them if we are victimized in our fear.
The truth is that love is the most obviously infinite resource in this reality. It is renewable. It is multiplicative. It easily trumps death. People who lose a loved one grieve, but love again, without losing the love they had for the one who has gone on to another expression of life. Mothers and fathers love each of their children completely without robbing the others. If we believe that love is unlimited and time is unlimited then there is no reason for jealousy. We are given these miracles to teach us about the truth of God’s love. God’s love is infinite and so is ours if we let it be. There is enough.
(this post is printed in Le Flambeau School of Driving - 2016 - on Amazon)
News from the Front
There is nothing about social distancing
or even shelter-in-place
that can stop you from talking to strangers.
I made one last trip in to the office today
I arrived at the almost empty college parking lot.
Watched a car seem to drive around the lot as if lost.
It was driven by a young woman, with another riding shotgun.
They drove to the edge,
then did a slow three point turn and came towards me,
only to pull into a parking space a little ways off.
Then the driver got out and changed places with the passenger.
"Driving Lessons!" she called to me.
"Hell of a time to learn to drive" said I,
"But major bonus points for that three-point-turn
and for your general hopefulness!"
The smiled and waved, and left.
On the way home I stopped to top off Rosie's tank
Pump boy says "What do you want in her?"
A full face helmet is also good for virus control.
So I shout.
"Its the end of the world, Son - Fill'er with Premium!"
"Damn Straight! Ma'am"
From my front porch.
Three young adult men on bicycles
cruising the neighborhood.
One is wearing a plastic Joker Mask
(Heath Ledger version)
"Nice outfit for the Apocalypse, Dude!"
He laughs his best Joker laugh and as he rides by
I catch the sight of his Scooby Doo backpack.
"The touch of Scooby Doo, brings the whole thing together!"
He lets go and gives me two thumbs up.
It is dusk now, and a couple of blocks over
Someone is lighting some hoarded fireworks
Here, halfway between New Years Eve and the Fourth of July
What Weird and Precious times we live in.
Sunday Morning Heresies - the freeway
This is a report on my present circumstances.
I continue to chase Jesus.
It is my contention that the presence of Christ is paradoxical. He is both immediate and intimate for any who wishes this. And he is always ahead of us. Working in the world, asking us to join Him in his work. There are no Godless places, only places forsaken by God's people. That is where you will find Jesus most incisive. But He is fast, and there is much to do, and you have to chase Him, and I hardly ever catch up.
From 1994 - 2012 I chased Him as a semipro Quaker.
In 1995 I caught up to Him in Scotts Mills for a while.
In 1997-2000 I chased Him around the Northwest doing family violence education.
In 2003,7 and 10 I chased Him around Central Africa.
In 2004 He slowed down enough lead us into a project in
Christ-centered inclusivity called Freedom Friends.
In 2008 I started teaching marginalized young people.
In 2012 He whistled and pulled me into a deeper role working with 250-500 teens, many of whom were not only god-people-forsaken, but actively oppressed by evil.
In 2014 and 16 I tried to describe The Chase.
This description was mostly read by Q's and Xtians.
When you chase Jesus you have to travel light.
You have to be willing to throw the sand bags out of the balloon-basket.
In 2004 I left my yearly meeting and the recording certificate they had given me.
In 2008 I slowed down my travel in ministry.
In 2011 I gave up pastoral ministry
In 2012 I limited public ministry among Quakers to one gig a year.
In 2017 FFC lightened up significantly
In 2019 FFC lightened up some more and
I turned in my recording (again) and resigned membership
At this time last year I sat down with the Jesus imminent, and asked Him what things looked like to Him. He gave me a very vivid picture which looked something like this:
A freeway exchange with on ramps and not so many off ramps, where it was entirely possible just to go around in circles.
I said "Is this me? or bigger than me?"
"It's where you spend a lot of time."
"Am I going in circles?"
"You do spend a lot of time talking to each other."
"Is this message for me, or for others as well."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Wanna go Off-Road?"
Almost immediately I had an invitation to spend time with incarcerated men.
Days - I still watch for Jesus in a hoodie shuffling out of math class.
Nights - I teach men who society has given up on.
And then I got an invitation from a group of these men to talk about bigger things than psychology.
And there was Jesus, leaning over a table, with a group of criminals, drawing plans on butcher paper.
The Goal? "Fuck rehab - we want transformation."
See God may be omnipresent. But the devil isn't.
And it took its eyes off some humans it though it had.
Sunday Morning Heresies: The Dog Wins
Jesus was in the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon, pretty diverse country.
And because he was beyond beat, he entered a house and tried to hide, for a day of rest.
But the people were not having it, and found Him.
And a Greek lady, with a very messed up daughter, came and begged Him for help.
And because He was annoyed, He sent her away on a lame excuse.
And because He could be kind of a jerk sometimes,
He referred to her as a dog which was almost the worst insult He had.
And she owned it, and shamed Him by saying even dogs get fed.
And because He could be pretty amazing sometimes,
He let her words stand, as she had won the battle of words, His best game,
And healed her daughter from where He sat.