I walked outside our Pasadena apartment to witness billowing smoke rising above the Los Angeles skyline. This can’t be real, I said to myself. We live in America. This doesn’t happen in America.
Moments before, a jury acquitted four white Los Angeles police officers of beating an African-American man named Rodney King—despite capturing the pummeling on video. The African-American community was incensed and began ravaging their neighborhoods, breaking into stores and burning buildings. Not long after that, the color demarcation no longer mattered as people regardless of race began rioting.
Concerned about the safety of my family, we holed ourselves in our apartment and kept the doors locked for several days.
Finally, the disturbance seemed to calm down. I was scheduled to work as a valet in Beverly Hills, which meant I could take one of two routes to get there—through the safer suburban area or through the flashpoint of the riots. I drove to work via the safe route, but curiosity won out on my way home.
I was nearly killed twice.
First, a gang of people who mistakenly assumed I was an off-duty police officer challenged me to arrest them. Then, the front bumper of my Hyundai was torn off by a car that ran a four-way stop.
I drove straight home as quickly as I could.
Reflecting on the events of the riots, I realized the fragile nature of democracy. No matter how safe we feel, nothing is completely secure. The World Trade Center tragedy on September 11, 2001 confirmed this.
If you knew you were going to encounter a lifestyle-altering, culturally devastating tragedy in 2011, how would you live?
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
“Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!”
As we inch closer to the end of Revelation, we read about the destruction of Babylon. Scholars agree that Babylon is a veiled reference to Rome (see Revelation 7:18). At the time of John’s apocalyptic vision, the thought of Rome being destroyed seemed like an impossibility. No one could envision the greatest empire in the world being brought to its knees. But it happened.
While we could take time to explore the various prophetic interpretations of Revelation 18, I suggest we read the chapter as if it were written into our context.
Are you content with life as you know it? Do you consider your lifestyle to be secure? Deeper still, to what extent do you enjoy the standard of living your country offers you?
It all could change. Actually, the chances are pretty good that it will change.
Safety and security—they’re the American way. Perhaps our readers in South Africa and Australia feel the same way. We relish our lives of privilege. Participating in our society isn’t a sin, but far too often I think their importance is overemphasized.
Ironically, the most predominant Christian music station in our country promises their listeners that they are “safe for the whole family.” But is safety the most important value?
The original Babylon met its destruction, as did Rome, and as it will the United States (hopefully not in my lifetime!).
If you knew that civilization as you know it would one day come to an end, would you live differently? I would, I think. Possessions wouldn’t seem as important. Safety and security wouldn’t, either.
End of the world-themed movies wrestle with this question. One lesson they teach us: looking face-to-face at our eventual destruction changes our priorities. Offenses and possessions become less and less important while relationships become increasingly important. They also motivate us to keep our accounts short with God.
Perhaps wrestling with this question isn’t such a bad idea.
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- If the end of the world was going to take place in 2011, how would it affect the way you live?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.