flag prayer

Two Christianities

Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:6-19

During a haircut my barber asked me, “Do you believe that zombies are real?”

I said, “What?” not sure if I had heard her correctly. She asked again, “Do you believe that zombies are real?”

Realizing that it was a serious question, I said, “No. Zombies are in movies, books, TV shows, and games. But they’re not real.”

She said, “My preacher says that zombies are real. He preaches that the Devil reinvigorates dead bodies and that’s where zombies come from.”

Trying to avoid public criticism of another preacher I said, “Where in the Bible does he get this?” She shot back, “Well, I don’t know where he gets it. All I know is that he says we’d better get our guns ready because zombies are real.”

“Where do you go to church?” I asked.

“I go to the Cowboy Church outside the loop. You know, you can see the rodeo arena out back.”

“How many people attend on Sunday mornings to hear that zombies are real?”

She said, “Oh, we usually have somewhere around 400 on Sunday mornings, with most staying around Sunday afternoon for pot-luck dinner. We have roping, barrel-racing and other rodeo events after that.”

I didn’t know whether to cry, cuss, or pray for mercy. Every Sunday I preach well-prepared, biblical sermons to a congregation of 80 to 100 people, while across town 400 people dress up as cowboys and pack into a church to hear that zombies are real and go rodeo afterwards.

Someone asked me the other day if I thought I was depressed. I thought about this barbershop conversation. I responded that the question is not whether I’m depressed. The question is why am I not depressed?

Last week the huge headline in our local newspaper was about the Texas controversy over U.S. Army training code-named “Jade Helm” going on near Austin, Texas. Some conspiracy theorists are worried that the Obama Administration is secretly preparing for the Army to seize control of the Texas government, impose martial law (some say Sharia Law), and seize everyone’s guns. Furthermore, apparently several Walmart stores have been inexplicably closed, which proves the point that the Army is preparing the stores to become detention centers for all those they arrest. Texas Governor Greg Abbot ordered the Texas State Guard to “observe” the Army training to make sure the constitution was being observed.

The response by readers of the newspaper article was interesting. A few said that it was all true and we’d better get ready. A few others said it was extremism and how could anyone believe such weirdness and why did the paper even run the story. But most of the respondents said things like, “Well, you know where there’s smoke there’s fire. Sure, it’s a nutty story but at the same time, I’m glad the governor is keeping an eye on the Army. Better to be safe than sorry.” What was further disheartening is that many of those expressing such views are people I know in town who are active members of local churches.

I saw an ad yesterday for a new local food outlet that began with the words of Jesus to be prepared and “keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). As I read on, I realized that this was an ad for a seminar on how to prepare for the coming end of the world. Besides learning how to grow your own food, there was training in guns and ammunition, making your home into a fort, and knowing the escape routes out of your community.

I feel like the character Walter Sobchak (played by John Goodman) in the movie The Big Lebowski, who screams, “Has the whole world gone crazy?!” Zombies? Secret Army take-over plots? Apocalypse?

One more item: Last week was the annual National Day of Prayer observance. Our local version is held at one of the city parks where everything is decorated in American flags, the community choir sings “God Bless America” and the series of speakers get up and fume, fuss, and shout over the demise of America, the dangerous rise of same-sex marriages, and why “Christians must take America back!” (Always an explanation point!)

This year, like every year, it is an all-white audience completely distinct from our annual Martin Luther King Commemoration back in January. The pastors of the leading large white churches do not participate in the MLK events, but they always lead the NDP event. When invited to the MLK service, they often reply, “That’s too radical.” Yet, when some of us do not attend the NDP service, we hear, “Why can’t the church be one? You folks don’t want to be the unified church.”

Which brings me to Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17, where he prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn. 17:11). For a long time, this has been my most discouraging word from Jesus. Is this what Jesus is praying? That I be unified with churches preaching about zombies, while getting our guns ready, waving the flag, and building bunkers?

I can’t do this.

What I can do is trust that Jesus is praying for me, and for the wider church, when I can’t. And while I do not think Jesus is talking about being one with gun-toting, flag waving zombie fighters, I do think Jesus is calling us to humbly trust him as we learn to be one with others who come to Jesus’s Table or Altar with hands that are empty, with hearts that are ready, and an appetite that hungers and thirsts for Jesus and his righteousness.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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