Saturday December 22, 2012

Jerrod Hugenot

It is Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012. If you are reading this op-ed, the Mayan calendar's "ending" passed without incident. If you are not reading this, I guess it does not pay to do one's homework in advance .

Many religious traditions have much to say about "the end of all things." I do not avoid such talk, as it can be a healthy part of what it means to be human. We have to deal with our finitude, and certainly, what has begun will be surely at an end someday, even if today or millennia far distant.

Back in 1843, First Baptist, Bennington, had quite a controversial time dealing with predictions of "the End Times." A Baptist minister came to First Baptist, Bennington, as a guest speaker for a weeklong series of lectures. A historian of Vermont Baptists notes the minister's "influence wrought havoc in the flock."

The Rev. William Miller traveled the area, preaching that on Oct. 22, 1844, Jesus Christ would return and bring about the End. His charismatic message took hold of the hearts and minds of some Bennington area Baptists. Between the lines, one suspicions the Baptist church nearly capsized from the hysteria and disagreement over Miller's views.

Miller's passionate predictions came to naught. When the sun rose on Oct. 23, 1844, the big day became known as "the Great Disappointment." After this, Miller's predictions were deemed misguided by many. Many of his ardent followers found themselves in dire straits, having given up their work, their possessions, and donned white robes to climb up hilltops to await the Lord.

I find this story a cautionary tale, reminding us that we have to be careful how we think about "the end of all things," yet we should not dismiss that the world has a finite shelf life. After all, we live in an era where humanity can wreak havoc indeed on a global scale. With nuclear weapons and a world of natural resources overtaxed by unchecked (and particularly American) consumptive habits, we are at a point where we cannot stop thinking about consequences. We can wreak much havoc on the fragile web of life and humanity. We should not dismiss the responsibility that comes in such an era, though it seems we live otherwise more often. When I am asked my opinion on the matter of "the end," I count it as a good question for a person in my profession to engage rather than avoid. Certainly, Christianity has a variety of views, some of which I hold dear and others I wish to consign to the basement safely under lock and key (perhaps including with them their often bizarre proponents). We leave "the day and the hour" matters more in the hands of the divine or whatever "ending" you might postulate. I'm more concerned we dig in and make a difference with the world today.

As you find yourself with the dawning of today and tomorrow, consider your responsibility for improving these days for your household, our community and our world. Get involved directly with the world's deep pain and great needs. Why waste our time and purpose by standing on hilltops while the lack of basic food, shelter and healthcare access haunts our local and global villages?

While we may have our own calendars and ponderings about how long the world will keep spinning, in the meantime we can avoid abdicating our responsibilities in the here and now, erring on the side of hope, justice and love.

The Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot serves as coordinating minister of the First Baptist Church of Bennington.