A hundred years ago many Christians envisioned Christianity winning acceptance among every country and people of the world. As it turned out, this century has seen a drastic erosion of Christianity in the very centers from which it launched its missionary activity—namely, in Europe and North America.
Anyone who has ever studied for a major exam or planned a special vacation knows how the task of preparing for a big event can give vitality and meaning to one’s days—and create a sense of emptiness afterward. No wonder, then, that journalists sounded a little disappointed as they reported that computers were functioning fine on January 1, 2000.
The 20th century began in Sarajevo and it will end in Sarajevo.” That saying, current during the war in Bosnia, wasn’t too far wrong. A grim age that began with the 19th century’s bleeding to death in a war sparked in the Balkans is ending, in places like Sarajevo and Kosovo, with the aftershocks of communism’s collapse.
A year before my mother died, she heard her father call to her during the night. When I visited her in the nursing center, she said his voice was so clear that she answered and struggled to get up. This was the first sign that she would spend her final year of life in a twilight that blended past and present.
Elections produce overwhelming hope or overwhelming disappointment. On the Wednesday morning after a national election, one half of the country wakes up disappointed with the other half. If it’s our candidate who’s won, we celebrate the new day dawning. In defeat we ruminate, despairing for the future and wondering bitterly about fraud.
How odd that the most hopeful season of the Christian calendar begins in the midst of darkness! When we light the first candle on the Advent wreath, it will not be a second too soon. This Advent I feel an urgent need for the light that comes from God, and I do not think I am the only one.
The most prophetic thing that Thomas Merton ever did was to say to a drugstore clerk who asked him which brand of toothpaste he preferred, “I don’t care.” Intrigued by the clerk’s response, Merton wrote, “He almost dropped dead. I was supposed to feel strongly about Colgate or Pepsodent or Crest. . . . And they all have a secret ingredient.” He concluded that “the worst thing you can do now is not care about these things.”
In discussing two books on the new apocalypticism, Jason Byassee confesses that he failed as a pastor to know what his people were reading and thinking about the topic. I know what he means. I don’t read this stuff either. But a lot of people are reading it.
The hugely popular “Left Behind” series of novels continues to frustrate mainstream pastors and biblical scholars who object to an “end-times” theology they consider just as fictional as the books’ genre. The readers are real, however. The tenth and most recent volume in the series, The Remnant, picked up 2.4 million orders in the two months before its July release.
“I tell you, that on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.” Luke 17:34-35, NRSV.