I stepped off the sidewalk to make room for a man on a bicycle coming my way on the corner of 15th and Larimer in downtown Denver. The sight was the cause of much amusement.
As the cyclist approached, I could tell he was actually on the front seat of a tandem bicycle. I assumed the woman on the rear seat was his wife. There was a sign attached to the front handlebars. In bold, apocalyptic lettering the sign read, "The End is Near!"
As the bike passed me, I had ample time to judge the message and the messengers as yet another example of end-time drivel.
In a millisecond I sized up the couple, their church and their belief system as perpetuating the fear of Chicken Little and a host of deranged prophets, that the sky is falling and the world is ending. My judgment was so swift and flawless it would have made a Pharisee blush.
The sign on the bike reminded me of a conversation I had with my own mother Easter morn on the telephone.
"Get right with the Lord, Michael," my mother warned, "He is coming soon, your stepfather read it in a letter from the Virgin (that the pope released) to the Knights of Columbus, and your uncle George (uncle teeth) heard it from Harold Camping who knows the exact date: May 21, 2011."
I joshed with my mother, "You mean I only have a few weeks left?"
There was lots of silence at that inquiry.
"Mom," I asked, "listen, if on Jan. 1, 2013, we are all still here eating bagels, will you tell your friends that your wayward son knew more than the Harold Camping, the Virgin and the pope combined?" At that my mother laughed and laughed.
Harold Camping and Family Radio
Camping's "Project Caravan" has sent teams of people across the United States with the message, "The End is Near." Only Camping's disciples are not on bicycles but in RVs.
Harold Camping's theology is plastered on the sides of the RVs. While his calculations are complex, Camping's message is simple: Christians will be raptured or caught up to heaven on May 21 of this year. After what can be described as nothing short of hell on earth, the end of the world will come on Oct. 21.
Never mind that misled people have been putting their money, possessions, families and lives on the line for end of the world predictions for as long as preachers could count, Camping's followers are sure that this year is the last year. "I know it is absolutely true, because the Bible is always absolutely true. If I were not faithful that would mean that I'm a hypocrite," claims Camping.
I doubt if many people in Japan have heard of Harold Camping or his RV caravans. Yet, I am certain that many Japanese thought the world was coming to an end just recently. For some it did.
Even for the larger world, the day was devastating. An earthquake and the succeeding tsunami moved Japan's coastline eight feet and shifted the Earth's axis by four inches. It felt like the end of the world.
Thousands died, more were missing and assumed dead. A half million people were in shelters. They were the fortunate ones. Even for a prepared nation like Japan, a 30-foot wall of water felt like the end of the world.
Still, the end of the world did not come, and it will not come Oct. 21 or even start May 21. Yet, that will not stop Harold Camping from saying so. He joins the infamous ranks of people who pretend to know what is unknowable and who see the Bible not as a story to be told, but as a mathematical equation to be solved.
Once, when Jesus was speaking with his disciples, he seemed to be talking about the end. "He said... 'For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.'" Then he added, "This is the beginning..." To us it looks like the end, but to God it is just the beginning.
As the couple on the tandem bicycle passed by me, I noticed the woman had a sign also attached to the back of her seat. After reading her husband's message on the front of the bike, "The End is Near," I could only imagine what kind of apocalyptic warning the back sign would carry. As she passed by me, I turned and read the sign below the seat. It read, "The End!"
I judged the cyclists wrong. They were not scary, only funny. After May 21, Harold Camping's message will be funny, too. I'm already snickering.
Michael J. McCarthy can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.