Well, that was some eclipse, wasn’t it? I hope you were able to enjoy it since we won’t have another one until 2153, 129 years from now. Thirty-five of us gathered on the kitchen porch here at the meetinghouse. Herb and Chris grilled hot dogs and we ate moon pies and played cornhole, then watched the darkening skies and after that the gradual lightening, a dawn at mid-day. If we had been ancient people, it would have terrified us. We would have fled to the nearest cave. But now that we are enlightened, we know eclipses happen because God is fed up and wants to smite us upside the head. This happened just as I thought it would, the Rapture came and everyone I know is still here.

If ever there were a nonsensical and selfish theology, it would be the notion that Jesus will one day descend on the clouds and rescue his true followers, that is, us, leaving everyone else behind to endure a hell on earth. I have a shirttail relative who actually believed the world would end last Monday and had prepared himself by laying up ample supplies of beer and gasoline. The leaders in my town, expecting the world to descend on us, in anticipation of apocalyptic traffic jams, set up traffic barriers all around town, thereby causing an apocalyptic traffic jam. Once again, proving true the adage that in life we often get what we look for.

Last week, we began a new series called What in the World Were We Thinking?, realizing that in addition to knowing Quakerism’s finer points, it also behooves us to acknowledge our shadow side, those less admirable decisions and moments, believing our spiritual institutions are made better by honest scrutiny and critical reflection.

Quakerism was founded in 1649, on the heels of the English Civil War, a tumultuous and frightening period in English history. We know turbulent times often give birth to apocalyptic movements, when the wider social anxiety permeates and influences the religious culture. Crazy times beget crazy beliefs. In the Bible, we find three separate collections of what scholars call apocalyptic literature—the book of Daniel, the 13th chapter of Mark, and the book of Revelation. Each of those collections were written during times of social chaos and persecution. Because social chaos gives birth to apocalyptic thinking, it’s no surprise that we’re witnessing an increase in this theology, especially among people who believe they are uniquely oppressed, which today includes those Americans who are meeting resistance to their efforts to turn America into a theocracy, with them at the helm. Our refusal to go along with their plans, our unwillingness to place our nation in their hands, strikes them as outrageous and immoral, hence their anger and their renewed determination to turn our free democracy into an oppressive theocracy. It is that simple, those who embrace apocalyptic theology truly and sincerely believe that God has anointed them to rule over us, to have dominion over us.

There is a growing movement in America, driven by Pentecostal and evangelical Christians called The Seven Mountain Mandate. It identifies seven aspects of society they are endeavoring to control: family, religion, education, media, arts & entertainment, business, and government. It is known as dominion theology and at its heart is the belief that God has anointed and appointed them to rule every aspect of American life. Lauren Boebert and Mike Johnson, the Speaker of the House, support the Seven Mountain Mandate.

To be fair, we Quakers once shared this worldview. Our earliest beliefs were rooted in a conviction that Jesus’s return was imminent, that the responsibility for governance would be assigned to those Christians whose lives were blameless and sinless, and so we saw among early Friends a deep commitment to spiritual and moral purity. The founding of Pennsylvania was called “a holy experiment” by early Friends, who were convinced their ability to live in obedience to God would hasten the return of Jesus. Gradually, two things became apparent, 1) we had overestimated our ability to lead blameless lives, and 2) Jesus wasn’t going to descend on the clouds to set the world right, no matter how desperately we wanted him to. Eventually, we reinterpreted the return of Jesus, saying it would not be a global, cataclysmic event as we had thought, but rather a personal, inward event, as Jesus entered each human heart, one person at a time. We no longer believed the return of Jesus would be heralded by trumpets, but looked for it instead in the still, small voice heard in our gathered silence.

When I was working at Duke Energy, I met a Jehovah’s Witness who believed with all his heart Jesus’s second coming was imminent. He spoke with such confidence I began to think he was right. I admired the strength of his faith and conviction. I found myself wishing I could have that kind of faith. I was dating Joan and we were planning our wedding, when the man advised me not to marry, that Jesus would be returning within the year, and I needed to focus on my relationship with Jehovah, rather than my relationship with Joan. This presented a problem, since I was far more interested in Joan than I was in Jehovah. It turns out I made the right decision, because that was 40 years ago, and here we are.

Here’s what I’ve learned since then. The people who scan the heavens and pore over the Bible looking for the return of Jesus aren’t any more faithful, any more Christian, any more privy to the will of God, than the rest of us. They are simply more frightened, overwhelmed by a world they cannot control, but desperately want to. I understand that. There isn’t one of us in this room who hasn’t felt overwhelmed by a world we can’t control. But our hope should not rest in a miraculous intervention, in Jesus returning to make things right. Our hope should rest in one another, in the warmth of mutual love and affection, in our conviction that those who come after us will build upon our efforts, just we have built upon the efforts of those who preceded us, which is why I believe our salvation will not be sudden and spectacular, but gradual and gentle, as each human heart learns to love that which is beautiful and gracious and pure.