“Sometimes the difference between good news and bad news is where one happens to be when one gets the good news. The good news for us pastors who are teachers is that we live in a time of moral chaos, social breakdown, and inhumane institutions, that is, a marvelous time to teach the world that God has another way. When people give up hope for the present order, when people have all the world has to offer and it is still not enough, what a marvelous moment to offer them Christ and his church.”
–Bishop Will Willimon
“The world is going to hell in a hand basket.”
“Our future is bleak.”
“Surely the end is near.”
Here in these penultimate days of a particularly volatile election, I’ve heard phrases like these more and more in everyday conversation. I’d be willing to bet you’ve heard them too, unless you’ve been living under a rock – and let’s face it; I could hardly blame you if you were living under a rock. If you’re anything like me, you have been absolutely inundated with the venom and vitriol that has saturated our media and our everyday conversations.
It is easy to dismiss all of this negativity as rhetoric, as an unfortunate and maybe even unavoidable result of all the horrible events that have happened in our nation and around the world this year. It seems to me and no doubt to many that 2016 has been a particularly violent and chaotic year.
As the child of two people who have worked their entire lives in various forms of journalistic media, I understand on a deeply personal level just how hard it is to break out of the ‘if-it-bleeds-it-leads’ mindset, especially when those are the stories that garner the most attention on both the national and the local level. [Side note: It can be done! My mom is an exceptional example.]
This kind of pervasive pessimism is not something that happens overnight. I would posit that this mentality has culminated over at least the last fifteen years, if not more. Fear, perhaps initially produced by isolated violent events, has turned into xenophobia, hatred, and a general decline in the nature of interpersonal communication. This is reflected at every level of our society.
As a life-long Christian, I have always had a romanticized view of the Church. As a young child, in my eyes, the Church was perfect. Given the lofty place where my opinion of the Church started, I have naturally become a little disillusioned.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Amanda has gone to ‘cemetery’ (a sarcastic nickname for seminary), the place where strong faith goes to die. They’ve done it; they’ve successfully smothered her faith. How sad.
No. I have found seminary to be the exact opposite. My faith has been enhanced here in ways I never could have anticipated. Just a short two months in, my horizons have been broadened in the best ways. Don’t worry; seminary for me is not ‘cemetery’ but ‘seed-bed,’ the place where seeds are planted and nourished, which, by the way, is the literal translation of the Latin seminarium.
My disillusionment with the Church is unlike that of many of my peers, who have given up on the institution altogether. True, the Church is imperfect, but it is made up of imperfect people, and to expect it to be otherwise is unfair. I have been injured by the Church before, but I recognize the fact that the Church is not God. Unlike God, the Church does make mistakes. I’m willing to forgive its sins if it can forgive mine. Mostly, though, I’m just disappointed with the way the Church has conformed to this world in recent months.
Some of the most negative conversations I’ve heard regarding our current state of affairs have been among Christian people. From politics to the economy, from the older generations and the younger ones, I have heard those who are the people of hope express hopelessness. The light of the world is hiding under a bushel (no!).
In an attempt to be transparent, I’ll be the first to admit that I too am shocked with what has been happening. This is a challenging time to be alive, Christian or not. I can hardly watch the news anymore without despairing. There is a pretty significant part of me that is tempted to put my hands over my ears and sing until its all over. Brokenness abounds here. Our world is full of fear, hatred and disbelief. Our world leaves us disappointed, dejected, and depressed. Our world tells us that its going to hell in a hand basket, that its future is bleak, that its end is surely near.
However, despite my own despair in the reality of our broken world, I am a person committed to good news, to Good News. Yes, our world is not enough but, God willing, I will soon make a profession out of offering you a different world.
This world that I offer you is a one in which everything is upside down. In this world, the last will be first and the first will be last. In this world, money is of no value since love of money makes it impossible to live there. In this world, there is a politics not of antagonism and condemnation but of love and grace. In this world, the king rules not as a despot or even a president but as a parent.
Interestingly, this world’s king was a homeless man. He was a social, political and religious outcast. He told stories about lost coins, lost sheep, and lost children. He was a rule-breaker, a risk-taker, someone who caused massive amounts of social unrest in a very short period of time. His disruption in our world was so great that he was arrested, condemned to death, and executed in public by those very people he intended to be the citizens in his new world.
At first glance, this other world I describe doesn’t sound much better than the one we are living in now. The difference between good news and bad news is our location, right? Take a second glance.
See, for the outcast king, death was not the final word. In fact, death was just the beginning of this new world. This wanderer, this nobody from Nazareth rose from his grave. As surely as he was dead, he is now alive again. This world, in which death has no power, is the one I offer to you.
This is indeed a challenging time to be alive, but I have transferred my citizenship to a different world. That makes me sort of like the king, something of a social, political and even religious outcast in our broken world. This whole “stranger in a foreign land” thing is hard.
But here’s the thing: the world I offer to you is breaking into our broken one. The king tells us, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” At every moment, this new world is gaining more and more ground in the old, broken one. Many days, this new world is very hard to see. But know this: I have with utter confidence waged my entire life on the little bits of the new world that I have been privileged to see. Friends, it is a beautiful sight, very much worthy of my complete devotion, and yours too.
This doesn’t mean that we can stop living in our current world. These news stories we can’t bear to watch are real problems attached to real people, who need desperately to hear about this new world. This world is going to hell in a hand basket in many ways, but even hell isn’t exempt from this coming kingdom.
While my eyes see the brokenness of this world, my heart feels the perfection of the new world, and I hear the words of the King just before his defeat of death: “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
We are scattered. We have tribulation. But we can rest in the knowledge that this world has been overcome, and we can hope in the promise of the world to come, the world where death will be no more, and where there will be no mourning, or crying, or pain anymore, for the old order of things will have passed away.
Grace and peace,