Thursday, August 21, 2008

Apocalypse Now

I am easily affected by seasonal change. When fall's first cold front brushes across the Texas landscape, its cool kiss invigorates me and I experience a sudden rush of energy. The overcast clouds of winter create a ceiling over my head and instantly I become more contemplative, wondering, "What's beyond?" By the time blue skies stretch themselves out in the spring and summer, I am ready to stop wondering and start wandering. I suppose if I didn't live in Texas I would be more able to appreciate the seasons. Here, seasons are like an annoying relative who never shows up on time and then overstays his welcome. 

As I get older the seasons begin to run together in a fluid freshet of time. I can now look back and catalogue years of my life into particular seasons. For example, my four years in college stand as a season of great maturity and spiritual searching. In short, seasons seem much broader in my mind than simply fall, winter, spring, and summer. As a student of culture, I've been observing the western world and picking up on an obvious seasonal trend. 

The 90's stood as a time of great enthusiasm and optimism. In America, the economy boomed early on and it seemed like there was no limit to what we could create or innovate. The internet was birthed, cell phones made it into the hands of every person alive, and the dot-com industry erupted. The Dow Jones industrial average soared, NAFTA was created and trade increased, and abroad the EU was formed. In science, String Theory was developed, a sheep was cloned, and the Hubble space telescope allowed us to see beyond the stars. I could go on but you get the picture. Art imitates reality and movies are no exception, as big budget films originated in the 90's. Additionally, movies like Schindler's List, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, and Shawshank Redemption promised the public we had learned from our past mistakes and were hopeful for the future; or so it seemed.

When the year turned 2000, a seasonal shift occurred and nobody knew quite how to react. Enron filed for bankruptcy, 9/11 shocked the western world (and our economy), the war in Iraq divided our country, and an energy crisis was acknowledged. All of a sudden our bright future looked grim and art, staying true to form, began to imitate reality. Movies became increasingly dark and apocalyptic; books and music carried the same themes. I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, No Country for Old Men, and Donnie Darko all express a disgust with modern-day humanity and a sense of things coming to an end. Even the pop-happy band Matchbox 20 changed its tune. The group released a song called, How far we've come, in which Rob Thomas prophecies, "I believe the world is burning to the ground," and "I believe the world is coming to an end, oh well, I guess we're gonna pretend." What are those who create culture intending to communicate to us and to the world?

I've been reading Cormac McCarthy's newest book The Road, a post-apocalyptic story about a boy and his father traveling through a burned and ravaged America. The book won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2007 and is being made into a major motion picture. Even in this depressing book where humanity has destroyed itself and continues to do so, hope abides. The young boy reminds his father at one point "we're the good guys" and "we carry the fire." Much like the scarred countryside in The Road, my culture is a ruined landscape that offered fruit and vegetables but yielded weeds and thorns. No matter how much success the 90's brought us, it never succeeded in insulating us from evil. Humanity seemed to sit on top of the world and somehow we were surprised when it abused its power. So what hope is there for humanity if humanity can't even save itself?

Matters of hope, justice, redemption, and even the  restoration for a weeping mother earth provide the frame for the gospel message. "Gospel" means "good news," and the good news for our broken culture is that we don't have to depend upon ourselves for hope. When ethnic cleansing represents the most vile, selfish, and abusive act man can commit, we look to the One whose selflessness can change the heart of a brutal dictator. When child prostitution becomes a country's national pastime, we look to the One who said, "to these [children] belong the Kingdom of heaven." Jesus is the hope of nations because He can change hearts and will one day rule in true justice and love. The Kingdom of Heaven is the only hope for a world that is dreadfully tired of man's progress being spoiled by none other than man himself. It's no wonder why Jesus didn't respond to the passers by who jeered him to "come down from the cross" and "save yourself." It seems He knew that man had already worn out that option and would continue to do so. What we needed was something beyond ourselves to reach in and pull our hands out of the mess we made. Praise God for a Savior.