It's the End of (Some) Worlds, but Do You Feel Fine?
The word "apocalypse" doesn't mean destruction, it means a revealing.
Sing along if you know it…
🎼 Six o'clock, TV hour, don't get caught in foreign tower
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn 🎶
Lock him in uniform and book burning, blood letting
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate
🎶Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down
Watch a heel crush, crush, uh oh, this means no fear
Cavalier, renegade and steer clear 🎶
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies
🎶 Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline
Yes, thank you 90’s rock band, R.E.M, we agree with you… (okay, now THIS is probably the part you know…)
🎶 It’s the end of the world as we know it… 🎶
But I’m not so sure we all “feel fine?”
(quick note: man, lyrics from 90’s songs are just weird…)
HOW CAN WE “FEEL FINE” AT THE END OF THE WORLD?
Actually, I’ll bet for many of us “fine” feels like an over-idealistic aim. Many of us would love to feel “fine,” oh what an improvement that would be on our current state!
This past year we’ve blown through the two year mark of a global pandemic, experienced grotesque inflation, seen women’s rights obliterated by the overturning of Roe, watched from afar as Russia just goes to war like it’s the 20th century all over again… and that’s just a fraction of what comes to mind.
It’s not unreasonable to say “it’s the end of the world as we once knew it.”
Speaking of “end of the world,” did you watch the Netflix film, “Don’t Look Up?” I did. And loved/hated it. It was yet another reminder of just how obsessed Hollywood has become with “end of world” movies. Almost 100 such films came out in the decade between 2010 and 2019, dwarfing totals from previous decades. Often called “apocalyptic” movies, in these films humanity has faced extinction from forces such as climate change, asteroids, nuclear holocausts, resource depletion, pandemics, zombies, revolting robots, and alien invasions.
And yet, I’d like to point out that the word “apocalypse” doesn’t mean catastrophe or total destruction as is often imagined. Rather, it means “to reveal or unveil.”
This term comes from an ancient genre of literature that wasn’t about the end of the world, per se, but about the end of the world as is currently known. Which is to say, something significant happens to pull back a curtain and reveal Truth. “Apocalyptic events” break the chains of illusion, they loose the grip of oppressive power. We thought one thing was true, or, we suffered under certain people in power, but then an apocalyptic event occurs and we see what is really Real and truly True.
APOCALYPSE AS INVASION
Understood in this way, think of apocalyptic events as an Invasion of sorts. An idea or manifestation-of-reality breaks in to our consciousness and pries apart the shackles on our mind.
Daring us to look the other way.
Forcing us to confront new perspectives.
Challenging us to question our previously held answers.
St Paul once wrote about the apocalyptic event of Jesus being understood to be the Messiah, the Christ. In his letter to the churches in Galatia he wrote about the transition from a religion of rituals and laws to a life of liberation and freedom.
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed (apocalyptic), 24 the Law was our spiritual guardian until Christ… 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under such a guardian.
As Paul saw it, we were locked up under the watchful, controlling gaze of a guardian known as Religious Law. We were told what to believe and how to act, all under the misguided notion that it was for our own well-being and that God required it. And yet, according to the first Christians, God breaks in—disguised as Jesus the Rabbi from Nazareth—and sets us free, revealing that there is a better way.
You might say it like this: Invasion events, when they are apocalyptic, unveil the Truth that can set us free.
I’ve been thinking about this during the recent Senate hearings regarding the January 6th invasion of the Capitol last year. What did that invasion unveil and reveal??
INVASION OF the CAPITOL AS AN APOCALYPSE
As I understand it, the January 6 event was not purely a political or economical event, but, according to the signs and banners vigorously waived, the rally cries earnestly shouted, and the sacrilegious prayers vomited from the mouths of those leading the charge, this was a religiously motivated mob.
As such, I suggest that the Jan 6th riot was apocalyptic, in that it revealed how something rotten and foul sits at the root of much of what passes for Christianity in America.
Though it depresses me at the very thought, those who participated in the storming of the Capitol did so because they believed their faith compelled them to. Somehow, the religion built upon an individual committed to the care of the sick, compassion for the poor, justice for the oppressed, and love for our enemies has become the empty caloried diet energizing the disease known as Christian Nationalism. That such a crowd on January 6th was comprised of overwhelmingly white Christians shocked absolutely zero people.
Even still, though most of the world outside the small sliver of evangelical christianity has been smelling this foul stench for years, I believe the Capitol event was apocalyptic in nature. An invasion that unveiled—for what feels like the millionth time—just how far off course American evangelical Christianity has found themselves.
A few days after the riot, the Pope said this, “I thank God that (since) this has broken out one can see well [what happened] because in this way a remedy can be found.”
I don’t know, your Holiness. I don’t know. I want to believe, but most days I’m not sure a “remedy can be found” for this unholy unity of Christianity, white supremacy, misogyny, power, and greed.
Maybe Christianity, at least as we know it, is irredeemable. I know that for many individuals it certainly is. They’ve left the label behind long ago.
But do you know what can’t ever be lost?
What can’t ever be damaged beyond repair or misrepresented beyond recognition?
Kindness. Mercy. Grace. Love. Care for neighbor. Compassion for enemy. Generosity. These will always be with us, as will those who seek it, live it, and say yes to it—come what may.
And this, I believe, is what Jesus lived and dived for. The belief that you and I can, through the power of love, push back the forces of darkness and despair. Whether that happens within the confines of religion or not doesn’t really seem to matter.
OLD WORLDS DIE SO THAT NEW ONES CAN COME
Unlike the ancient Greek worldview where all things spirit and matter are separate, or the Roman worldview where the gods have their realm and we have ours, early Christians insisted that these two spaces live in harmony with one another. For them, wherever love, forgiveness, grace, compassion, or justice occurred, that was heaven come to earth. They insisted that goodness and mercy can and do show up unexpectedly, reminding us to fear not. We call these “epiphanies.”
Epiphanies are like divine surprises, surprises that have the power to pull back the curtain on what is real and true (aka, apocalypse).
Perhaps it is the end of the world as we knew it,
but maybe that version of the world needed to die?
Maybe the massive upheavals happening all around us don’t have to be terrifying signs of chaos and catastrophe, but might instead be invitations to see and imagine and create a whole new kind of world?
A world where we hold our loved ones tight, and our beliefs and prejudices loose?
A world where we forgive offense quickly, and extend grace without question?
A world where we stop trying to convert people to think as we do, and instead ask, “Who sees the world in a different way and can show me something I don’t see? Who brings light and life into the world for the betterment of others? Who is overlooked and under-represented, and how can we change that?”
The ending of things can suck. And be really, really painful.
But we know that is the cycle of everything ever: birth, death, re-birth.
We have yet to see what kinds of worlds will be reborn from so much of the past few years of destruction, but as long as there are some of us out here chasing after love and kindness and mercy and compassion and forgiveness??
Well, my friends, that does make me feel fine.
Good stuff, Colby.
A seminarian has just finished a class in Revelation and has it all figured out. He knows the seals, the 144,000, and everything. He is visiting his grandmother and notices she’s reading Revelation for her devotions. He’s going to help her out! He asks her, “Grandma, I see you’re reading Revelation. How well do you understand it?” She says, “Oh, I think I understand it just fine.” A bit put off since he wanted to explain it to her, he asks, “Oh. Is that so. Could you explain it to me?” She replied, “It’s easy dear, Jesus wins.”