About 2:30 yesterday afternoon, while waiting for my daughter to obtain her driver’s license, I thought of two selections from two vastly different books. The first was a passage from the first chapter of the Book of Acts. In Acts 1 Luke describes the Ascension of Jesus; the moment Jesus leaves his disciples and returns to Heaven. In the tenth verse he says, “Suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”” It just so happened that millions of Americans were standing outside looking up toward heaven at that very moment, hoping to see a rare solar eclipse. I was inside the DMV thinking about the words of the mystery man on the mountain who asked, “Why are you looking up?”
The second passage was from Douglas Adams’ novel “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”. It’s the kind of place where, Adams says, “Diners enjoyed watching the obliteration of life, the universe and everything whilst enjoying a nice steak.” In scrolling through photographs and posts on social media, that’s what I felt I was witnessing. People enjoying the obliteration of life while enjoying a nice beer, wine, cheese, and well, you get the picture. It was a snapshot of how we approach the apocalypse; like a grand day out! Except, I’d lived through several recent mini-apocalypses: a hurricane, a flood, and extended blackout. Those weren’t any fun. In fact, they were more like the DMV waiting room than the pictures of “eclipse parties” I was seeing on Facebook.
Whether it is a thunderstorm or an eclipse, it is exciting to see nature do its thing. Even the most basic thunderstorm is a grand spectacle. On a day like yesterday, when the moon and sun align (for only minutes) and we return to our pre-Christian pagan roots to marvel at the grandest show of all, it’s easy to be stunned into silence. As I watched and waited, I wondered, have we got this backwards? The mystery man’s quote was ringing in my head, “Why are you looking up?” The people of the United States, we in the path of totality, were expecting a show. We bought tickets (i.e. glasses), traveled great distances and found the best seats all to watch a performance of celestial theatre. One of the reasons we were looking up was this: we were the consumers, the theatre-goers, the sun and moon were the performers, and we became the center of universe, the celestial bodies were putting on a show for us. Something is wrong with how we see our place in the world, deadly wrong. Narcissism this strong will kill a civilization. The Sun and Moon are eclipsing because we are here to be eclipsed (and call it such). The Moon and Sun will continue this dance until the Sun dies. We are the ones who will fade first.
If the Psalms teach us anything, it is that God’s presence is eternal and is marked by the sun, moon, tides, wind, and rain. God’s presence is seen in nature. Our lives are impermanent and temporal. As Psalm 116 notes, the celestial complexity of the cosmos doesn’t frame God’s relationship to humanity. Simplicity does. “The Lord preserves the simple, when I was brought low, the Lord saved me. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 116 is a Psalm of looking down at your feet, wiping the tears from your eyes, and walking on solid ground. It’s only one example of how we might answer the question, “Why are you looking up?”
Why, when the kingdom is right here in front of me in the DMV waiting room? There are the two immigrant young men who don’t speak a word of English and need an identification card. There’s the angry man who’s mad because he’d didn’t realize you had to take a number and wanted to fight with the DMV inspector. There’s the family who just moved from Idaho and didn’t realize what North Carolina needed in proof of insurance, there’s a teenager getting her driver’s license, there’s the guy who smells like he hasn’t had a bath in a week. Why are you looking up when there is a parable sitting all around you? Why are you staring at your phone when this is exactly how Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven; chaotic, anarchic, a little frightening, multi-lingual, smelly, and not in the sky. It’s simple. Here I am brought low (reduced to a number), waiting, with my daughter and my wife on a day everyone else said “you had to be” outside.
I can’t think of anywhere else I’d have wanted to be. Save your hyperbole and photos for somebody else. I saw the Kingdom of Heaven at the DMV and I feel fine.