When I was a kid, the world was ending.
The last days were upon us, our eyes were set upon that ancient city of Jerusalem, we watched, and we wondered, when will the Anti-Christ come?
9/11. The floods in Haiti. The war in the middle east. These were signs that the end was on its way. We knew the stories, we reminded ourselves constantly, we will hear of wars and rumors of wars, the whole world will groan in anticipation, there will be natural disasters and floods, all these things would precede the end. And so, we waited, for the peace in Jerusalem that would signal the beginning of the end of peace, for the United Nations to galvanize the nations, bringing the world under their One World regime, for the Mark of the Beast, the tool of the Anti-Christ. We didn’t know what the Mark would be (a microchip inserted into our skin was our best bet), but whatever it was, it would be synonymous with allegiance to the Anti-Christ. Those that took the Mark would have to deny their allegiance to Jesus, they would have to bow down, kiss the ring, follow the One who would unmake the world.
And many would. They would take the Mark, 666 (whatever that means), because without it you wouldn’t be able to buy, or trade, or function in society at all. They would take it because it would be the easy decision, the popular decision, because it would be convenient. Easier to go with the crowd to avoid persecution, to avoid suffering. And there would be suffering. For the faithful at least. Because, when this time came, they would come for us. The faithful, the Christians. We would be persecuted, those of us who were left. The remnant.
And so, we waited. We watched. And we wondered.
Watching as current events constantly unfolded this grand narrative before us.
Bush was the Anti-Christ, no wait it was Obama, the Pope? The war in the middle east would soon come to an end, no, it’d go a little longer, and then America would facilitate a peace treaty with Israel and the surrounding Arab nations. Every event was interpreted and understood through the lens of this grand narrative.
We Christians knew the truth. And if we weren’t already, we very soon would be under attack. It might all seem far-fetched, a One World Government seeking world domination. Maybe you’d think that’d be impossible to pull off. A conspiracy that size. But, there was more going on then what human eyes could see. The Enemy, the real Enemy, Satan, his demonic forces, the Principalities and Powers of this world, they were at work. Pulling the strings, directing world event’s, leading humanity to our long-anticipated demise. To the end.
This was the world I grew up in. The meta-narrative that shaped my life through my formative years.
I believed I was living in the last days. That I would see the rise of the Anti-Christ, and even, perhaps, the return of Christ.
I remember once chatting about all of this with my grandmother in her kitchen, as she, with her famous Italian hospitality stirred the chicken broth (once chicken soup) that had been marinating on her stove for days now (just in case a guest arrived in need of feeding). I remember the twinkle in her eyes as she chuckled in response to my sincere claim that we were living in the last days. “Yes dear,” she smiled, “so were we”.
I didn’t take to much stock in at the time. I was young, sincere, the story, this grand story, as scary as it could all be, was exciting. The idea of living in the last days, of seeing the return of Christ, of expierencing the end of the world, there was something dramatic, inspiring, exciting about it all. I chose to ignore her message, that her generation, just like ours, had interpreted the wars, floods, and disasters of their day as portents of the end. That they to had believed they’d seen the rise of the Anti-Christ. That they to had thought they had been the chosen generation. The ones who would have the privilege of seeing the end.
And yet, the end never came.
And now, here we are. With current event’s looking, sounding, feeling, so much like those last day’s we used to talk about. Looked at through this lens, you’d be forgiven for imagining that time was a upon us. And though I won’t go into it all now, Revelation, the end times, the signs and prophecies of the end (watch this space for an upcoming series from my good friend the Rev. Grant Ridout), I wanted to share this with you because if anything, I want you to understand. To see the people, you may disagree with. If this was your narrative, the story you lived out of, can you imagine how you might feel right now? Can you feel the fear? The anxiety? Perhaps the deep conviction and need to stand up, speak out, to resist what you view as an oppressive Government, moving us towards this Global agenda? Can you understand why some Christian’s might interpret vaccine mandates, and vaccine passports as portents predicting the coming Mark of the Beast? Why some might see a more sinister plot behind this global pandemic and imagine there is another agenda lurking behind all this talk of the vulnerable, and a health response. Within this narrative the Government, no matter how good the people may be, no matter how sincere, are being manipulated and – in some cases – deceived by spiritual forces which are moving us to a far darker, far more sinister end.
You may feel tempted to ridicule people for believing or living out of such a narrative, but if we’re honest, we all have a narrative of one kind or another. We all have stories that we live out of, that guide and govern our lives. These narratives can create meaning, a sense of identity, structure and in some cases feelings of safety. When I believed this version of the Christian story, I felt belonging, a clear sense that I was part of something bigger, that even though current events were scary and intense, I knew where history was going, and understood my place in it.
It gave me purpose.
I no longer hold to this view of the world; I’m not waiting for the world to end in some fiery and dramatic display of violence and glory. And to be honest, I hold very loosely any ideas about what we Christian’s call the “End Times”.
Yet I still have a story. A grand narrative.
I believe that the Divine became human, that They identified so completely with the poor and oppressed in this world, becoming One with them, in order to work towards humanities Liberation. I believe the Divine Dream is breaking into our reality, that humans, regardless of whether they are religious or not, are being called to learn to Love one another, to serve each other, and in doing so to rediscover our shared humanity. I believe that those of us who follow the Way of Love are invited to inaugurate this Divine Dream, Dreaming with the Divine about what this world could look like, to imagine what it might look like if Love was the Way, if we sought the healing and restoration of our people and planet. I believe that one day the Dream will be realized that Love will win, and that our world will be healed.
The narrative we live out of shapes the way that we live. In my old story I was afraid. Afraid for the salvation and souls of individuals. Anxious that so many people didn’t believe the right thoughts about God, hadn’t said the right words, that in The End, they’d be left behind. When I came face to face with the reality of the suffering and oppression that exists within this world, I found this narrative unhelpful and ineffective for living out the primary value of Love that my Savior has invited me into. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it does not transform, it does not restore, it does not heal.
The narrative I live out of now (though it might seem equally crazy to you if you do not share my faith) sustains me, give’s me hope, and allows me to continue the work and service I’ve been invited to participate in.
Over the next few week’s I’m going to be writing about the church. This community of people that have been invited into Dreaming with the Divine about a world shaped by Love, a world healed and transformed. I share this whakaaro as a prelude because I want us to start this conversation from a place of understanding. I do not believe that people who disagree with me are bad people. They are not necessarily crazy or selfish, simply because they may view the world, and interpret the times in a different way than I do. And I understand that the questions my faith community are wrestling with are big ones. Some of us feel persecuted. Some of us are afraid that our ability to be church is being compromised. Some of us have no idea how we’re going to navigate the world with these new restrictions in place. As I’ve reflected on this over the last week I’ve wondered again if what we need is a fresh narrative, a fresh imagination for what it means for us to be the church in this time. This is what I’m interested in exploring with you all.
I realize for our regular When Lambs Are Silent reader’s, we are talking a lot about faith at the moment. I also recognize that many of you don’t share my faith or view of the world. We will be aiming to have other content featured alongside this kōrero, so if this isn’t a conversation you’re interested in, that’s cool and hold tight. We will continue to have other content discussing issues of justice, liberation and other social issues, alongside this kōrero. But, there is something about this moment that feels important to discuss. And as we explore this question of what it means to be the church in these times, I also hope to explore alongside that what it means for us to be human, to be community, in our world today.
Whether you share my faith or not, I hope this conversation will be helpful and timely for the conversations you are having within your own communities.
As we close, let us remember, regardless of our differences, we all have value. We all matter. Let us not dehumanize or otherize each other in this moment. Let us remember to Love.
For in the end, when all is said and done, only #LoveIsTheWay.
A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.
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