It's October again, so time to write on the same topic daily for 30 days. This year, my mom is with me and I wanted to kind of process this year, as she's been in and out of hospitals and nursing facilities since March! It's been tough. It's been hilarious. It's been glorious.
The alphabet seemed a way of focusing me:
26 letters + vowels used twice = 31 Days.
I'm open to guest posts if you have tips you want to share on caregiving. Contact me.
So here we go! I'll be compiling posts on this page. And you can get here by clicking the ABCs icon in the sidebar. Thanks for reading.
That Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was making some tea when a friend called and asked, "What is going on in this world?"
I said, "I don't know, man -- what's up?"
He was distressed that I had not heard. "We're under attack," he said, "Turn on the TV. Two planes have been flown into the Sears Tower -- no wait, the World Trade Center -- and it looks like we're at war." My hands were shaking as I put away the tea and found the remote. The news was replaying all the events from the preceding hours: the first plane, the second, then the first tower falling and the second, all shown in rapid succession. It was horrifying.
Over the next few days we all tried to figure out where we were as a country. And I had a Friday that has stayed with me. It made Sundays tough. One Sunday, a woman in church said to me with great glee. "It's God's job to judge Osama bin Laden. It's ours to set up the appointment"! That's a great war-time American sentiment, but something about where I heard it was disturbing. God had allowed that awful day to happen for some reason -- what was He saying to us? Could we even stop to ask the question?
Miles away in New York City, my future pastor was overlooking the still-smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center. I didn't go to his church yet but he was already articulating my own 9/11 crossroads -- would my response be whatever the government does, or would I watch what God could do? Overlooking Ground Zero, Buddy put it this way, "We have to decide right now: are Muslims the enemy, or are they the prize?" It was a dangerous time to ask such things! I barely mentioned my hopes for the world at large to an adult Sunday School class back then, and I thought they were going to hang me. Seriously.
Buddy was different. When Buddy was a kid, he would hear his mom praying with other women for the end of communism. "That'll NEVER happen!" he thought. And then he grew up to see the Berlin wall destroyed. And Russia opened. He saw the power of prayer as something tangible, earth-shaking.
In the years right before 9/11, I'd gotten to be in a prayer group like that, praying for those who were persecuting Christians overseas. It's unnerving to pray that way. It's not natural. We weren't praying against them, but praying for the terrorist, that their hearts would change, that their circumstances would change, and that they would no longer pursue the destruction of others. Paul in the Bible had changed that way. It was possible these terrorists could, too.
These days I'm not sure we believe that. It seems that at the same 9/11 crossroads, most American Christians chose "strength". The kind of strength that can say "America first!" The strength that can write off entire people groups as "The Enemy". The kind of strength that looks more like fear. We still fear another 9/11 and are doing all we can to stop it.
Or are we? Are we praying for terrorists, though they might kill us? Are we open to receiving people exiled by terrorists from other lands? Do we know how to love and bless our enemies like the Bible says? Can we lift up the oppressed, even when it looks dangerous to do so? Or are we more like what Ezekiel says of Sodom:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. -- Ezekiel 16:49
Who gives us the answer to what is going on in this world? Is it God or our political parties?
On another Sunday, more recently, I went to my mom's church and the pastor threw out a question, "In one word, describe the 2016 election". The answers came back:
Mess. Nasty. Embarrassing. Cruel. Sad.
But one of the first answers was a guy near us who yelled, "EXCITING!"
Okay, it's kind of funny because it so clearly gives away who he's voting for. I guess it IS enthralling to watch two criminals thug it out for a year. But I'm tired.
For me, this election is more than the last 12 months. We've been leading to this for 15 years. We decided in 2001 who we would be today, and how we would treat the rest of this small, connected marble of a world. We did not choose wisely, particularly as a church, and we are paying for that.
But we can change. We can ask better questions, have a broader view. We can honestly look at ourselves in the mirror the world is holding up to us and decide: are we their lord? Or their neighbor?
Are they the enemy? Or the prize?
It was September 14, 2001, 3 days after the attacks in New York and DC. We still didn't know – would we be attacked again? What exactly were we up against? It was frightening.
On that day, we had a conference call scheduled for work. We were supposed to discuss our 6-month ministry plan, which now seemed crazy in the context of global chaos. But I was looking forward to hearing how everyone was doing and just reconnecting.
Amazingly, we actually did begin talking about our 6-month plan. In excruciating detail. I hesitated, being the new kid, but finally asked if they had...uh...gotten any news out their way? And if in light of that, maybe we might spend some time asking God's direction? Well, of course they knew our new context. “All the more reason to push on,” one said, “our work is more important than ever!” I got quiet and stayed that way.
Later than night, I got a group email from the CEO of a ministry I followed and he said, “If you haven't read Revelation 18 in light of recent events, you should”. It was indeed creepy.
The chapter is about the fall of Babylon, and how when she falls (sometime in the future), the merchants of the world would “weep at the smoke of her burning” because they'd made so much money off of her. Her fall would only take an hour. The chapter sounds like a chilling depiction of 9/11, particularly the events in New York.
I'm not saying New York is THE Babylon discussed there, but she is certainly a type. You can still say about New York City the things which are said about Babylon. And that thought alone shook me. The passage says heaven rejoices when she falls. Like "ding dong the witch is dead" kind of rejoicing. She's bad. And eternal beings are glad she's gone. It's a glimpse into the end of the world.
So I wanted to talk about this with my thinking friends. I had recently graduated with people who challenged each other's ideas all the time, so I threw this idea out and was amazed what I heard back.
My friends fell into two camps – the missionary/global worker/expat types said New York could not be Babylon because we as Christians had not yet completed the Great Commission. (The Commission is Jesus' command to go and tell all the world about Him, and after that, the end will come.) Well, the end can't come, they reasoned, because not everyone knew Him yet.
And the pastor/American church/ministry types said New York could not be Babylon because Revelation 1-17 hadn't happened yet. The end can't come, they reasoned, because we know what that's gonna look like and it doesn't look like that yet.
That same week, the news – which is to say all of TV on every channel, constantly – was more patriotic and unifying than it had ever been. Sometimes in odd ways. A local channel was stopping people in downtown Atlanta traffic asking why they didn't have a flag sticker on their car. Drivers looked dumbfounded. I would have, too – I'm a Christian but I don't have a fish on my car. It was weird. An awkward, forced patriotism.
Rudy Guiliani, the mayor of New York City at the time, was treated like a savior, or at least a unifying figure, by all news outlets, even those that had been his political enemy. Another forced allegiance. What was going on?
Guiliani made me think this was how the end could be. That the antichrist would not be someone who was clearly evil and anti-Christian, but someone who was loved. Revered. Someone who, if you opposed them, would make you look unpatriotic. Or unchristian. I don't think Guiliani is that person, but he and the media showed me how even believers could be led astray by a strong national leader. And I don't think NYC is Babylon, but New York showed me how easily we could dismiss it if she were.
That Friday stayed with me. It alarmed me. It uncovered an arrogance I had held myself.
Arrogance that we can proclaim how important our work will be over the next six months (the Bible warns against that).
Arrogance that we can know when Jesus is coming back (the Bible warns against that).
Arrogance that we are the greatest and have all the answers (again, warnings). It's the same arrogance we are seeing in this election.
Part 2: What is going on in this world?