Travelling Salvation Shows

(Christian Courier column, June 26th, 2011)

It’s another implacably rainy day. Two days ago the Sarnia Observer ran this childishly pleading headline: “Rain, rain, go away.” The lead article: extreme delay in spring planting and poor crop predictions for the fall.

I went for a walk, umbrella in hand, tunes on the iPod. But I wasn’t really listening. My thoughts were bumper cars banging in my head: Oprah’s final show and the global impact of her amorphous spirituality, Harold Camping’s “end times” debacle and its harmful influence. So many Christians convinced that history is in its final spin cycle, not just Camping followers, but everyday Christians all around me. I’ve always understood the end times to be the time from the Ascension until Christ’s return, not a chunk of “apocalypse” sliced from a dispensationalist spectrum. I want to argue: it only seems like things are getting worse because our information delivery systems are inundating us with quantum waves of unfiltered news. Human history could conceivably continue for another millennium! Check newspaper headlines from the 20’s or 50’s or 80’s. It won’t take long to compile an extensive list of even the most rational predictions that were way off the mark.

Still, today, it wouldn’t have been hard to get me on the tribulation bandwagon. I was thinking about Joplin and Slave Lake, Manitoba and Mississippi, Haiti and Japan. All those lives wrung out by water, fire, tornado and earthquake. I was thinking about sad things closer to home, too. A good man commuting daily to London for radiation treatments. A grandmotherly neighbour diagnosed with liver cancer. Other sorrows dragging down my heart …. I told God that he could choose to finish up the laundry anytime. Turn off the machine. I was fine with it.

But my daily walk is more than just exercise. It’s a physical effort to discipline the “eyes of my heart” to see God’s faithful presence all around me. I walked under a massive lilac tree, its creamy panicles tinged with shy pink centres. I contemplated its age…over a century? How many global crises had cycled through its seasons of infinitesimal growth? How many anxious individuals had hurried by without noticing its silent testament of grace?

I thought of my mom at my age, sobbing to me, “It’s all over. It’s all over.” She’d just heard the news that my dad had lymphoma. They battled the disease for ten more years. I thought of my grandmother, severely diabetic, injecting needles daily into limbs already black and blue. When she was my age, she’d survived Nazi occupation and was facing the imminent departure of my mom and dad for Canada. Would she ever see them again? She didn’t know.  

My mood was lightening, though the rain was not. I refuse to live in Harold Camping’s doomsday world, awaiting my rapturous lift off, waving an I-told-you-so farewell to my human home as it writhes in armageddon agony. I won’t live in Oprah’s world either, channelling the supposed positivity of the universe to fulfill my own personal dreams, nay-saying the inevitability of natural disasters and human failure with psychobabble and spiritual self-talk.

I’ll hold on to my mother and grandmother’s Heidelberg sturdiness, their practical faith in a Saviour who said: “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart. I have overcome the world.” I’ll trust that this same Lord isn’t going to abandon his creation, but restore it in his own time. So, Harold, word up, I don’t really care when. And Oprah, sistah, I bless you for your good works, but I’ll pass on creating my own reality. It’s already in good hands.

As Churchill advised, I’ll keep calm and carry on. I’ll mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. I’ll work on the church bulletin this afternoon and write a column for a Christian paper. I’ll send a card to the nearby friends who are struggling with life and death and be mindful of those in far-off places who are doing the same. I’ll pray, “Your kingdom come” instead of grumbling. 

On my way home, I could have laughed aloud at the misspelled, but appropriate, Baptist Church sign. And, no writer’s tweak here, Neil Diamond singing Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show: And when your brother is troubled, you gotta reach out your one hand for him/And when your heart is troubled, you gotta reach out your other hand/ reach it out to the Man up there….”

I fairly danced the rest of the way, singing in the rain. 

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