Falling Apart

Since the late 90s, I really haven’t watched traditional fiction TV series. But back in the era of “Must See TV”, shows like ER always had these crazy season finales that would be spectacular in the scope of their drama. People would die, people would move on, people would disappear, and you would be left for the summer wondering how on earth the story would continue in the fall. Maybe that model of television storytellling still happens; I’m not sure. (Streaming series’ are a different bird.)

The last couple of weeks have felt like a season finale.  Sure, in our own tiny world, the kid going to college is one of those big transitions (so far, all good, and not what this post is about), but I have a shocking number of close friends who have experienced tragic losses, others who are facing scary diagnoses, and on top of that we’ve got hurricanes, wildfires and pandemics, and an undoing of 20 years of war abroad. Even compared to the last 18 months, it feels like a climactic finale. Whatever next looks like, it’ll be really different.

During the lockdown portion of the pandemic, I got to watch the Harry Potter and Star Wars movies, (yeah, that was a loooong lockdown, wasn’t it?), and one thing that jumped out was that, in each of the sagas, the general vibe was that the world was falling apart. The victories in both movies weren’t so much triumphs as miraculous survivals. Even when you blow up the Death Star, the Empire still outguns the rebels and the emperor still lurks. Even when you survive Voldemort, he escapes, sometimes stronger.

When I was in college, one of my religion classes focused on the Tolkien Lord of the Rings books. When I was in seminary, I had a lot of classes infused with theology about the brokenness of the crucified Jesus. The throughline, really, was from John 1:5: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. The world is falling apart, and God is in the fact it is still around at all.

When I was younger, I wanted none of that. I wanted the triumphant God, not the loser God who barely makes it out before the explosion. I expected victory, not just the avoidance of defeat. This dark worldview where the miracle is that we are only “mostly” defeated? Not having it.

Sometimes non-Christians scoff at the Christians who seem to have their heads buried in the sand, convinced that there is a (literal) deus ex machina coming soon in which the good guys triumph and the bad guys are vanquished. You look around at the world, you look back on the good people who died too young and the people you love who you wanted more time with and the dreams that didn’t happen, and you know that the story doesn’t end tidily, wrapped in a pretty bow.

But to the extent that life experience has given me the wisdom I didn’t have as a twenty-something seminarian, it has taught me that the world has always been falling apart. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the apple, if you will, things have been going south. The world was falling apart during the long span of Hebrew Scriptures. It was falling apart when Jesus was led to the cross, and it was falling apart during the first three centuries of Christianity, when Roman rulers martyred believers in spectacularly gruesome ways. To the extent any of that has changed since then, it is because we have cropped the photo to exclude the majority of the world where children die young of preventable disease, war rages, famine reigns, and good people get gunned down in their prime while people we love get fatal diagnoses.

The world is falling apart. Just like it ever was. But somehow, against all odds, the light still shines, and the darkness has not put it out. Next season’s premiere may be really different, but it has already been green lit and is in production.

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