It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel FAR FROM fine

The worst thing I did this past summer was watch the movie Requiem for a Dream. What was I thinking? This Darren Afronsky film is a frightening, disturbing, graphic look at different forms of addictions and how our cravings and obsessions can end up devastating us.

Somewhere near the end of it where a guy’s arm is being sawed off (yeah, bet you want to know why, ugh!), I had a chill come over me unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  I will tell you what happened to me: I had my first realization ever of the reality of death.  At the age of 27, it finally hit me just how real and potentially terrifying death is.

As a Christian, I think and talk a lot about death.  Realizing the reality of sin in my life and what it was doing to my soul, I thought about how sin leads to death.  Being baptized, I joined Jesus in death so that I could also join Him in new life.  Death is of course a radically more hopeful event for people of deep faith because they know it is not the end.  And our little Easter holiday, so innocent with its pastel-colored eggs and giant bunny at the mall, is the most powerful F-U to death ever.  Death has lost all its power thanks to Jesus.  Death is nothing.  It’s only the letting go of all that is temporary.  Death, in fact, is more a beginning… the start of what’s really real.  (I always loved that quote, “Death is simply blowing out a candle… because morning has come.”  Still gets me even now.)

So this is my background and I believe all this as much as I can (“I believe, Lord help my unbelief!”).

Yet at the end of Requiem for a Dream, I finally realized at a very personal level that my body… this body that sleeps in my bed every night, and kisses my husband… this body whose teeth I brush, that I haul to the gym, that’s captured in so many digital images and known as me… THIS body WILL experience death!  It is a shocking and unfathomable truth.  (Or of course, Jesus may return in some way first… almost more shocking. lol)  I guess I am having a hard time articulating something that may be simple to others but to me was a very radical and incredibly scary revelation.  Death became real.  (And maybe you can tell, but I’ve never had anyone very close to me die except my Grandmas.  I am fortunate.)

I cried a few tears thinking about what inevitably lay ahead for me and for all of us (and Tom encouraged me in his simple and authentic way that I love, calming me.  I tend to think I know so much more about spiritual things than him, but here I am always running to him for words of truth and peace when I am upset.  The first time we had a conversation like this is when I knew he was the man for me).  Yes I want to live fully in God’s presence someday (heaven!), but I also kinda like my life here on earth.  I still haven’t had children which I really want to do.  I haven’t done so many things.  And worst of all, I fear the pain and the specific way which I will die.  Again, I know it sounds so cliche to fear death, and the whole point of trusting God with my life is to replace this fear with Love and Hope.  But never had my beliefs become so real and been put to the test.

Now I’m with all of you out there who have been saying 2009 was a tough year for the world and bring on 2010.  I’m happy for the new year and the new decade, too.  But “2010” sounds a little too chronologically close to “2012” – namely, December 21, 2012.  The thought has kind of tarnished the excitement of “twenty ten” for me.

I knew about this date before it was a big Hollywood action film (which I have no interest in seeing —  I don’t like action / special effects type films anyway, and one that will freak me out about this date would not be helpful).  My Dad told me about the Mayan connection to December 21, 2012 a couple years ago.  My parents do a lot of “New Age” reading and learning.  This is the end date in a 5, 125 year cycle, recorded in the uber-accurate Mayan calendar.  The Mayans were an extremely advanced civilization, at least in understanding the universe and time.  Their calendar is much more accurate than our Gregorian calendar, what with all our changing weekdays, different numbers of days in each month and a Leap Year every so often to clumsily make up for the inaccuracies.

The reason that this date is significant is because on that winter solstice, our planet will align with the center of the galaxy (I believe… I could be wrong).

The main theories for what will happen that day are either, A. There will be a massive spiritual transformation upon the earth, a positive thing… or B.  The world will end.  We will all be annihilated.  Not positive, in my view.

Now I’m really hoping for A. lol  And my Dad is a firm believer in A being the likely winner.  But B is always a possibility.  “No one, not even the Son of Man, knows the day or the hour,” but can I just say that several civilizations besides the Mayans have come up with this same date?!

So now we’ve got Requiem for a Dream, 2012… what else is freaking me out about death?  Oh yeah, the nightly news!  Have you watched that lately?  Our world events are getting crazier everyday — more extreme weather, drought, famine, terrorism, wars, and lately I keep hearing about kids killing people… children killing!  I don’t know, maybe we just didn’t know about all of our world’s madness before globalization and the internet? but it definitely seems to be getting exponentially worse.  I even fear that the very-overstretched U.S. will eventually be attacked and at only 330 million in a world of nearly 7 billion people, we will soon become the overpowered minority rather than the superpower.  (This is partly why I am so vehemently opposed to things like torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition and other violations of the Geneva Conventions.  I believe that as we do, so it will be done unto us.  If we oppress and torture others in our great power (even those who we THINK may be terrorists, but have no proof or even charges of, by the way… these prisoners have been sitting in Cuba for 9 years now with no charges brought against them in a court), then someday if the tables are turned, we will likewise be tortured and oppressed.  The other reason is that torture is just wrong, illegal and it doesn’t work — duh!)

Well enough of my fear ramblings.  I have never been a fearful person until the last year.  None of this has been really REAL to me before.  But now it is.  The world is changing very quickly and any instant, we could be devastated by one of a thousand possible scenarios — weather-related, politically-motivated, even just the crashing of our financial markets which just became much more real to most of us…

It’s time for me to choose hope over fear.  Now that death has become “really real,” it’s time for God and Life to become just as many times more real.  Each time I feel fear, I am reminded that my trust is in myself rather than in God.  Facing these fears, while just something that plays out in my head and heart, is a true test of my faith and a real chance to grow closer to the God I confess and profess.  (Quite honestly, it’s probably a time for me to learn more about Christian eschatalogical views too, but between a third of the people I know being all pre-trib, a third being amillennial and another percentage being transmillenial, there is really too much jargon for me to even want to enter the conversation.  Aren’t we supposed to be busy LOVING God and people?  I guess eschatalogical study fits squarely into those two most important commandments for most people, but for me, it’s incongruous.)

One thought helps me… We are in this together.  Regardless of what happens, I am connected to some pretty amazing people that are, thankfully, more faith-filled than me (may I learn from them!) and a blessing and encouragement.  I like to keep coming back to this thought about community.

In some ways, all of this seems kind of petty and ridiculous.  Just live in the moment, right?  Everything will be fine?  I guess I am glad I am taking these questions seriously, because I hope they will lead me to serious, deeper truth.  My search for what’s “really real” may have started with death, but I doubt it will end there.

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4 thoughts on “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel FAR FROM fine

  1. What a great post, Jenny. I know that you and some of the ladies have been having an engaging conversation about this off-site; there’s a lot to unpack here!

    I agree with your dad, re: 2012: If the date means anything at all, I’d hope for Option A! I want to try and read this book before the date arrives; it seems to have a good, trippy grasp on things backed by research.

    I’m currently reading The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and the Dawning of A New Era, and it’s fascinating. It proposes that our current insanities aren’t some inherent, static ‘human nature’ – rather, they are a learned trait (that’s admittedly been with us for about 6,000 years now, lol), a manifestation of self-reflexive consciousness that emerged when we as a species moved from the more mobile hunter-gatherer and simple horticulturist modes of society, into more complex agrarian arrangements. We settled down, and began to accumulate things, have social stratification, and oppress women. And – I haven’t gotten to this yet – but my guess is he’s going to suggest that our orbit through the Milky Way these past 6,000 years has something to do with it. If such a hypothesis is true, then who’s to say an alignment the likes of which are predicted for 2012 wouldn’t undo some of the egoic pathologies that have plagued us? Stranger things have happened. 🙂

  2. I totally agree with you re: torture, and our precarious superpower status.

    Eschatology! I’m reluctant to spout off about this anymore, as I’m sure I’ve propositioned you enough about such things to last a lifetime. 🙂 But you’re right, it’s important to a lot of people, consciously or subconsciously. How we see the ‘last things’ playing out frames how we read Scripture period, and forms a ‘script’ for how we live out our faith and see macro economic/political/spiritual events. ‘Cause while some of the literature in the Bible is arguably private or devotional, the language of Apocalypse is public in its implications – ostensibly, it effects everyone, whether they ‘believe’ it or not! Which is why I think that irresponsible readings of Revelation have plagued US foreign policy decisions since at least the Reagan administration. All I’ll say is that I think a close reading of the New Testament indicates that Jesus (and Paul, Peter, and John) thought that ‘the end,’ whatever that meant to them, was going to happen in a very close time-horizon to them…”Some of you standing here will not taste death ’till all these things are fulfilled,” Jesus said. Re-interpreting this as a far-flung future occurrence, as much of the Church has done over the years, is what caused British mathematician and logician Betrand Russel to write his famous essay “Why I Am Not A Christian” – if the supposed Son of God couldn’t get the chronology of his Parousia right, why should we believe anything he and his followers had to say?

    So rather than reinterpreting the clear timing-related statements Jesus and his earliest followers made, I’d rather re-interpret what we mean by “the end of the age” and “a new heavens and earth.” The end, I think, refers to the end of the Old Covenant heavens & earth – this is consistent with Old Testament usage of the terms. And a New Heavens and Earth is a way of speaking of the fulness of God’s “new deal” in Christ – God’s new way of dealing with, not just an isolated chosen people, but a whole cosmos, which was God’s plan all along (Abraham, after all, was chosen to be the one “in whom all families are blessed.”) So it could be that the end of one world/era and the beginning of another happened long ago, and in ways less sci-fi than we might imagine from the vivid prophetic language. I was recently struck again by the down-to-earthiness of the promise of a New Earth when reading Isaiah, chapter 65:

    “Behold, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
    The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.

    But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
    for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.

    I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
    the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

    “Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
    he who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere youth;
    he who fails to reach [a] a hundred
    will be considered accursed.

    They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

    No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
    For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
    my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the works of their hands.

    They will not toil in vain
    or bear children doomed to misfortune;
    for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
    they and their descendants with them.

    Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.

    Do you see what I see? This is an awesome promise, to be sure, but it also seems entirely this-worldly. People will live a long, full life, but they won’t be immortal. There will be fair and equitable housing arrangements, but there’ll still be work. Perhaps best of all, our rapport with God will get better and better; way more responsive. While we might still feel like such a vision is ‘far off,’ it’s not a utopian fantasy. It’s something that, with God’s help (and if we feel like God’s has fulfilled his end of this promise) we can work toward, in grace.

    Alright, I’ll end my little preachin’ session. 🙂 In my reading of Church history, eschatology ends up framing the rest of Christian spirituality and practical theology whether we realize it or not. Bottom-line, if you have a catastrophic, future-oriented view of ‘the end,’ your imagination is impoverished to dream or work toward any other future. In fact, you see working toward things like ‘global peace and reconciliation’ as the work of ‘the antichrist’ rather than the heart of the Gospel. As a result, you marginalize what Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is like in the Beatitudes to some far-flung future reality, after Jesus comes kicking butt and taking names in Revelation! You have no other choice but to say that the Jesus who preached peace and humility is out place with ‘the end’ so (perpetually) near. In sort, you neuter the Christian message and instead see our Christian duty in this time as basically one and the same with the Neocon agenda. I’m serious! Why do you think folks like Palin are so confident in their faith? It’s ’cause they don’t follow the humble reconciler of the Gospels, who’d rather die than be right; they follow the muscular, literalized-and-futurized Jesus of Revelation, with swords flying out of his mouth to kill anyone not like them. ‘Tis immoral, and biblically illiterate.

    I’m not sure if you’ve seen this link before, but my friend Kevin writes a nice, non-technical overview of a Transmillennial eschatological perspective that’s free! At http://thisbookwillchangeyourworld.com

  3. Thanks, Mike. Wow that is a lot to absorb. I guess I am going to have to plunge deep into these issues after all. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to write this and I will explore further when I get home.

  4. I watched a woman shrink down to skin and bones and then die when I was 13ish. Her husband had given her HIV. As far as I know, he still doesn’t have full blown AIDS. But his wife on the other hand – well, the virus feasted on her within a very short period of time. For her, the end of the world was nigh and when her world ended the blip in the matrix was barely noticeable.

    This bothered me.

    Nightmares ensued soon after her burial, and I was petrified by the idea of death. Now, I don’t overtly fear it; though I’m sure my survival instinct is just as potent as any one else’s, and I would probably beg for my life if it came down to it.

    And there are times where I cannot – with my intellect – reconcile the promises with Christ with the fucked up stuff that happens on this planet. I simply cannot.

    This is not just some standard anti-intellectualism. Nope – I am simply respecting the limits of death and fear. I am allowing myself to simply feel the burden of my limited frame without the need to justify those limits or to explain them.

    And so the thought of my limits being burst open by cataclysm is ultimately beyond my perception or understanding. And I respect those limits.

    So all I can do is funnel those fears and the frustration I feel over my limits and what seems to be the complete inaction of God in so many areas……funnel them into this audacious hope that Christ is mine and I am His.

    So, the end of the world may be nigh. And it’s always nigh for someone or something. But honestly, every time I’ve tried to read and/or formulate my own cohesive theory about the end of the world, I always end up being that uncertain 13ish girl again, wondering why God let AIDS happen in the first place.

    That’s why I loved the end of this blog post. In the end, it boils down to digging down deep into soil of Christ; shoveling into the being, the experience of those Christians you’ve been blessed with; to drill down down down until all you can do is lay prostrate before who they are and who Christ is and who you are.

    And so when the earth explodes into a million pieces, I’ll have some grit under my finger nails, a shovel, and the knowledge that the City of God is somehow beyond the shattered borders of my reality.

    The end of the world is always nigh. Always has been.

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