I read today in the New York Times of President Obama’s impassioned call for social and religious tolerance between Muslims, Christians and Jews amid protests and violence in Afghanistan, “set off by a Florida pastor’s plans, now suspended, to burn Korans [today], the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and against the backdrop of the controversy in New York over a proposed Islamic center near ground zero.” (p.1)

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, I’ve been feeling like the world is coming apart at the seams.  The world I was born in is the not the world I will die in, in fact the world (as I knew it) already has come to an end.  It ended on September 11, 2001, when the Terrorists succeeded in paralyzing Americans with fear, distrust and division that nine years later has erupted into cultural and religious wars at home and abroad.

I’m old enough to remember how divided Americans were over the war in Viet Nam, and how the so-called ‘generational gap’ kept my family from appreciating my tastes in rock music, clothing and hair, and how the preachers kept saying that we were living in the last days of planet earth.  Whether we are better or worse off as a nation in 2010 than we were 40 or 50 years ago I cannot say.  What I do know is that apocalyptic times are here again.

Once again, there are ‘wars and rumors of wars’ looming on the horizon.  The world is a dangerous place: Osama ben laden and company are still at large and planning new punishments for the West; the War on Terrorism is a 24/7 exhausting effort; Iran and North Korea are still pursuing a nuclear weapons programs; Palestinians and Israelis continue to say the other has no right to exist as a nation. And more hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural and technological disasters may be on the way.

“Apocalypse Now” could happen in our lifetime!  Apocalyptic preachers and prophets predicted the end of the world back in 1971 and again in 1984, and I feared the worst as the year 2000 approached.  But the End of the World was delayed from Y2K to 9/11/01.  If the world did not end then, perhaps it will before the end of apocalyptic year 2012.

But here we are today on the anniversary of 9/11, still alive on planet earth, but deeply anxious and culturally divided, easily provoked by ‘the other side’, partisan in our politics, dualistic in our either/or black/white thinking, and unable to trust those who are different or do not agree with our social or religious point of view. 

Okay, that’s a generalization.  But consider the fact that substantial numbers of Americans believe the President of the United States is a Muslim, that most Muslims are terrorists, and that a Muslim mosque and community center should be prevented from being built near Ground Zero in New York.  Consider the fact that Americans are irreconcilably divided over the role of government and social issues such as healthcare, immigration, abortion, homosexuality, religious liberties and constitutional rights.  (The current controversy over the proposed mosque in NYC and the burning of the Koran in Florida are just tip of the iceberg).

Signs of the Times or Signs of the End?

In my Fall course at Drew University on apocalyptic eschatology, I hope to put the end of the world in perspective.  I’ll post a few excerpts from my lectures on this blog in the coming  days and weeks.  In the meantime, shalom!  “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”