My family and I were at a birthday barbeque last night with several other families celebrating a 17th birthday party for one of the boys. Guess what we talked about most over dinner? My clergy spouse and I found ourselves defining the word "rapture" at an interfaith table. Yes, the conversation was lighthearted but folks did want to understand where this all fit in to the Christian message: the rapture, the apocalypse, the church, Christianity.
Over the years, I have been asked a lot of odd questions in gatherings far away from the church. But the rapture on May 21, 2011? This is what makes the evening news? This is what goes viral on the internet? This is what has serious people talking, reporting, writing? Really? This is the Christian voice in the public square, at dinner tables in the neighborhood?
I have decided it is much less a credit to Harold Camping and the Family Radio marketing machine, much less a problem with the obsessive behavior of the media, and much more an indictment of the rest of us who seek to bring faith and life together in relevant ways. It is an indictment of the Christian Church's feeble effort to proclaim and live the gospel. It leads me to lament the church's lack of voice when it comes to really important things.
The voice of the church, the Christian message; it's about more than one sermon or another, this famous preacher or that faithful pastor, more than this denomination pronouncement or that denomination vote. It's about those dinner parties, and those office conversations, and when families gather at the table, and when friends linger long after desert has been served, and when you and I find ourselves talking with others about important things.
Instead of being asked about the rapture, what if the church's voice was so crystal clear on serving the poor and feeding the hungry, that that's what people asked us about? What if someone asked you at work about your Christian faith and the death of Osama Bin Laden and all that celebrating? What if the Christian Church's collective voice was so unanimous against torture that someone would say to you, "well, you're a Christian what do you believe about "enhanced interrogation techniques?" I don't know about you, but I for one, am tired answering for a Christian voice out there in the community that I don't even recognize. Or to put it another way, can our faith help us to talk about important things, really important things?
Fifty years ago this month, May of 1961, the Freedom Rides were taking place in the southern States. The current documentary Freedom Riders tells the incredible story of young black and white college students who rode Greyhound and Trailways buses into cities in the deep south; challenging segregation, Jim Crow, and public officials at every level of government. The courage and commitment to non-violence among the young students was more than what the Kennedy administration and some in the Civil Rights Movement themselves could tolerate. At one point, an advisor to the President tries in a phone conversation to warn a young female black leader of the students that someone was going to get killed. Her response was to let him know that they had all completed their wills prior to getting on the bus. An older white woman describes in tears how as a little girl she ran to give water to injured students after one the buses was burned and the crowd tried to lock them all inside the bus.
The documentary interviews many of those Freedom Riders alive today. Other members of the Civil Rights Movement are interviewed as well. The former governor of Alabama, John Patterson, speaks throughout the documentary. Not surprisingly, no members of the crowd, no perpetrators of the violence, no pipe wielding men, no police who looked the other way, none of them were interviewed. Just doing the math, there were a lot more people in the crowd than there were on the buses. There have to be plenty in that crowd still alive. They were, they are a nameless, faceless crowd. You and know that crowd really never goes away; nameless, faceless, crowds that espouse hatred and violence.
May 21, 2011 or May 1961? Which would you rather talk about? Because the church, Christian faith, the people of God should rise together staring down that crowd that never goes away. And with a public voice that forever echoes in the public square, let us proclaim that our hope in the resurrection, our identity as an Easter people, our life in the Risen Christ demands that we stare them down and say no to hatred and violence and all those rocks.