The End Is Near, Still. Yup, Still Near. Any Day Now. So … What Are We Gonna Do?

So, I grew up a music nerd.

Specifically, I grew up as a Christian music nerd, and while I know the term “Christian music” can be problematic, let the record reflect that in the beginning of this sentence, the word “Christian” is modifying “nerd,” not “music,” which means that really what I’m saying is I was a music nerd who was also a Christian.

(Lest anyone doubt my nerd credentials, I present as Exhibit A: that previous sentence.)

I listened to a lot of contemporary gospel, and to what people later in the 90s referred as “CCM” (contemporary Christian music) which means that because my parents were harbingers of diversity — or, more accurately because they were New York transplants in the Pacific Northwest and needed to retain elements of blackness in order to retain their sanity — they exposed me to the best Christian music from both white and black artists. My love for the music of Andrae Crouch is well documented, but there was plenty of Russ Taff and The Imperials, Edwin & Tramaine Hawkins, The Winans, Reba Rambo & Dony McGuire, Commissioned, Michael W. Smith, Sandy Patti, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Rev. Milton Brunson & The Thompson Community Choir… on and on.

Essentially what I listened to growing up was a lot of this:

gospel

Mixed in with a lot of this:

ccm-covers

It would only dawn on me much later how unique an experience that was, but at the time it was just “what I listened to.”

(At least until my adolescent years when we got cable and I discovered MTV and BET, but that’s a whole different story.)

Anyway, two of the most influential artists for me in my upbringing were Michael and Stormie Omartian. They were a husband-and-wife duo who sang on a series of records in the late 70s and into the early 80s, mostly as a side ministry to Michael’s incredibly influential career as a producer. Anyway, I loved their music, even though most of it I didn’t understand until I got older. As a little kid, what I remembered was that a lot of it was cool, exciting, daring, even. And one of the songs I loved this most was this song, entitled “End Times.”

Read these lyrics as you listen along. Take a short break if you must during the instrumental interlude, then come back for the end.

 

(And yes, you should listen… don’t just read it. Listen.)

 

Let us worship gold, quenching our desires and we later pay the price
The burning of our souls is quite a noble sacrifice
Isn’t it nice to know… nice to know that we’re always right
We don’t look at hate, we won’t count his offspring, we’ll just say that they are gone
Sit inside our gates, pretend it isn’t going on
Isn’t it good to see… good to see just what we want
I believe the signs are clear, the end is near
I believe the signs are clear, the end is near
I can see the end is near, the signs are very clear
Families are torn, ripped apart and broken, ’til no shred of life remains
Must be evolution, or it could be growing pains
Isn’t it nice to know… nice to know we’re okay
I believe the signs are clear, the end is near
I believe the signs are clear, the end is near
I can see the end is near,
Just like He said, He’s coming to take us home, far away, and believe
He’ll make the wounded whole, the blind to see, and they’ll be completely free
[instrumental break]
Ignore the battered child, treat the guilty well, while the innocent are shot
It could just exist in someone’s mind as well as not
Isn’t it nice to know…  nice to know that we’re always right
Sanctify the rage, disregard insanity and let the weak be scarred
Surely it’s their fault, the thing they secretly desired
Isn’t it good to see… good to see just what we want
I believe the signs are clear, the end is near
I believe the signs are clear, the end is near
I can see the end is near, the signs are clear
I can see the end is near, the signs are clear
I believe the signs are clear,
Just like He said, He’s coming to take us home, far away, and believe
He’ll make the wounded whole, the blind to see, and they’ll be completely free.

Wow, right?

There’s so much to unpack in this song. Listening to it with fresh, adult ears, there are a litany of hot-button issues that spring to mind.

Racism.

Materialism.

The idolatry of celebrity.

Gun control and the mental health crisis.

Income inequalty.

Abortion.

The war over marriage.

The future of education and the common core debate.

And all of these have been swallowed whole by the reality-show circus of depression and depravity that we call the election season of 2016.stock-vector-word-cloud-related-to-controversy-and-controversial-issues-like-death-penalty-eutanasia-250860811

 

There are two major things about these lyrics that I find fascinating.

First, the lyrics to “End Times”  seem to defy political categorization. They’re pretty sarcastic, but given that sarcasm has become the domain of both extremes on the right and left, it seems pretty appropriate that these lyrics touch on issues that matter to both liberals and conservatives.

And second, these words were written and recorded in 1980. Thirty-six years ago.

Which makes me think that regardless of how much your eschatological reading of the Bible lines up with the headlines, even if you think we’re currently in “the end times” … these end times sure are lasting awhile. They’ve been going on at least since the 80s, maybe longer. Maybe, depending on your Biblical interpretation, much, much longer.

So you know the chorus, right? That’s the part I remembered as a kid. In the arrangement, the chorus sits as a bright, singular beacon amidst a lot of chaos and rancor. It’s where all the big words get shrunk down, which is why it’s the part I always remembered as a child.

“I believe the siiiiiigns are cleeeeear…”

But now I wonder whether or not that hopeful chorus is to be interpreted less as a clarion call to action, and more as a lampooning of a typical knee-jerk, counterproductive response. I honestly can’t tell. Maybe Michael and Stormie were 100% earnest in their lyricism, but from my vantage point, it seems awfully Trey-Parker-and-Matt-Stone-ish.

Why do I read it this way?

Because the political divide that prevents us from making headway on these issues has only gotten worse since 1980, but it was bad then, too. Part of the reason why is that a whole generation of Baby Boomer Christians have gone through life attempting to deal with society by adopting either of two extreme positions — either fleeing from it and attempting to protect ourselves within a Christian bubble of pseudo-community, or trying to dominate it by forming political alliances that ensure that the laws reflect our religious values. Many of them are now either lamenting the state of the Republican party, holding their nose and voting for Trump anyway, or both.

And even saying that much is a little beside the point, because this is not a post about why Republicans are terrible and why you should vote Democrat. Frankly, I have serious problems with both major candidates (and the third party alternates that are waiting in the wings). So don’t think my point is to vilify conservatives, because it’s not.

My point is that the problems that we have in our country aren’t going away, and sometimes it’s a lot easier to just talk about how bad they are and how one day we’ll get to escape them instead of trying to do the hard work of making it better.

But there is a third way, that is neither seeking refuge from society nor seeking dominion over society, but instead working for the overall benefit of society, even with people with whom you disagree. And yes, even with — gasp! — unbelievers.

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In the middle of all the partisan rancor in the national election, there has been a firestorm of controversy about our local police force, and one of the people who has been the most outspoken critic of our current administration in the city of Portland is my friend Greg McKelvey, Jr. Greg has been in and out of the news locally for the last several months, serving as a local delegate for Bernie Sanders and helping to lead demonstrations against police brutality with the group Don’t Shoot PDX. And he’s done so with passion, zeal, and integrity.

Being a millennial, he’s a natural at social media, and it seems like every other day I see some story in my Facebook feed that he was a part of, or some video that he’s featured in. But the most impressive thing I’ve seen involving Greg was a video of a Trump supporter reflecting on an interaction he had with Greg and several others who were camped outside the mayor’s house in protest (in a rainstorm, no less).

Check it out.

(No, really… go watch it, then come back. I’ll wait.)

 This video is proof that a third way is possible, that you can find common ground with people from different backgrounds, and that despite the dire nature of our national political and moral environment, all is not lost! Progress can be made when we see our collective futures as being bound up in a single garment of destiny, and when we can see the prosperity of the least of these in our cities as being synonymous with our own.
do think the end is near, so to speak. I do think that, like the Scriptures say, the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. But what are we to do with the time we have left?

The answer is staring at us every time we turn on the TV or scan through our Facebook feed. That. We’re tasked with doing something about that. 

 

Complaining about it isn’t going to make things better… and it might end up making things worse. I’m talking about real work. I’m talking about loving your neighbor like yourself, and bringing heaven down to earth, bit by bit.

The end might be near, but it ain’t here yet.

 

What will we do in the meantime?

  1. What will we do in the meantime, indeed!? Excellent question and great point. How we live our lives, what we do with our time, even how we earn a living or spend our money, it all matters. In fact, over the duration of our life, if we really stop
    to think about it, it it the sum of these personal choices that not only can define us, but this is how we create social change. This does not minimize the significance of this election, because we can’t fool ourselves into thinking it doesn’t matter. At the same time, I have been feeling that it’s beyond time to think beyond this epic distraction and renew my focus and commitment on what I can influence and the choices I make. It also seems there is a movement already afoot where people are starting to shift toward finding points of commonality, be kind, and choose love. Let’s hope that becomes commonplace. Oh, and thanks for the trip down memory lane! I haven’t thought of most of these artists in a long time! You are maybe one of three people I know that would put the Winans, Russ Taff, Michael W. Smith and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir in the same paragraph! So great! Now that’s bridge building, brother!

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