In Your Midst
Crossing The Threshold In Ordinary Clothes
April 99

From the Seattle Times Opinion/Editorials : Friday, February 05, 1999

BRACE yourselves. The voices of fringe Christians, such as those flocking to Jerusalem in anticipation of the Second Coming, will surely get more shrill as the year progresses. The fast-approaching new millennium is a veritable feast for those with a fascination for disaster or a need for high drama.

However, only a handful of Christian zealots are renting apartments on the Mount of Olives or joining doomsday cults, as The Times reported on Jan. 11. Christians in the mainstream choose to see the approach of the new millennium as a call not to arms or Armageddon, but to renewal. It is a call both personal and societal to recommit ourselves to the far-from-finished agenda of the Christian Gospel.

That agenda is more about building a just social order than about building cozy perches overlooking Jerusalem to watch the eruption of the end times. It is more about liberating the oppressed than oppressing the timid; about forming communities of compassion, forgiveness and love, than about creating conclaves of fear and trembling.

It is tempting to want to take a giant short-cut around our seemingly unsolvable human dilemmas and to turn them over to a vengeful Liberator whose magic will eliminate any need for further effort on our part. But that is not the Christian way. Jesus himself wore the ordinary clothes of our flawed but graced humanity, and his followers can do no less.

Our ordinary clothes, as St. Paul wrote to the Colossians long ago, are things like "heartfelt mercy, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness, and love." It is only by donning these clothes that we will make a lasting difference in a world that has too often been shortchanged by doomsday preachers and prophets of the quick fix.

At this millennial moment, instead of focusing on alarming images of impending doom, serious Christians are engaged in a common effort to address the true calamities of our age. Those calamities, sadly, are unmistakably visible in the anguish of the poor and the homeless, in the loneliness of the anonymous urban elderly, the hopelessness of abused and neglected children, the despair of the mentally ill, and the gross global inequities between the rich and the poor. Unlike the items on the apocalyptic agenda, these are calamitous circumstances we can do something about. In fact, our neglect of them will invite the ultimate judgment set forth in the 25th chapter of Matthew.

My own Roman Catholic tradition likes to use the symbol of an opening door to speak of the rich possibilities of pivotal moments in history like the coming of the new millennium. As the hour dawns, the Christian family and all people of good will have the opportunity to cross a threshold together. At that crossing, we can choose with courage and conviction to leave behind some of the mess we have made of the past and walk forward together with confidence into a future limited only by our unwillingness to dream great dreams.

When Pope John Paul II opens the "Holy Door" in Rome next Christmas Eve to mark the dawn of the third millennium, he will be inviting all great dreamers of whatever faith to join together on a pilgrimage of hope rooted in the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ, which, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, has not been tried and found wanting, but found difficult and not really tried at all.

Here at St. James Cathedral, we plan to do something similar as new bronze ceremonial doors at our main entrance are flung open for the first time on Christmas Eve. On that night, a great procession, representing the entire human family in all its wonderful diversity, will surge across the threshold into a cathedral that offers a little glimpse of the heavenly city but which, like all Christian churches, must spend most of its time getting its hands dirty in the earthly city where no human need is foreign and every human hurt is a reproach.

The cries of the doomsayers are way off target. The apocalypse is not now any more than it was a thousand years ago when criers of cataclysm first did their brisk business of terrorizing the unsuspecting and the unrepentant.

Gospel-centered Christians will offer their best challenge to the prophets of doom and offset the mania they generate by praying great prayers, certainly, but also by engaging in the truly prophetic tasks at the heart of the Judeo-Christian faith. We invite them to join us in serving the poor and hungry, advocating for the marginalized and discriminated against, speaking for those who have no voice - in a word, to do the things Jesus called the building of the Kingdom of God.

We have no say whatsoever about when that kingdom will ultimately appear, but its day-to-day realization is entirely in our hands.

The Very Rev. Michael G. Ryan is pastor of St. James Cathedral in Seattle.

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