You know the feeling. You’re sitting in a waiting room at, say, the dentist’s office – listening for a loved one to finish up, or your own summons to the chair. Things get quiet. You find yourself noticing things you usually don’t… the sound of fingers, turning the pages of a magazine. A cough. The distant squeal of a drill. The tune of the elevator music playing overhead.
It’s been a little that way for me these last few weeks, waiting. For the results of an election that will undoubtedly have profound effects on our work, and our world. For another birthday, coming up. For some important transitions we’ll soon be making here at the ministry.
Meanwhile, the day-by-day goes on. But in those suddenly-quiet moments between the numbing treadmill of meetings and flights and e-mail catch-ups, I find myself catching snatches of the passing culture, pondering what’s happening around me … and wondering what’s to come.
For instance: I’m no great baseball fan, but it’s hard to miss news of the World Series this year: the Cleveland Indians v. the Chicago Cubs. The news, of course, is not just that these teams made the Series, but that these teams made the Series. Two ball clubs that can hardly remember what it means to be in the finals, much less have a chance at winning the championship.
Cleveland hasn’t won a Series since 1948; Chicago hasn’t won one since Teddy Roosevelt was president. They haven’t even been to one since Franklin Roosevelt was giving fireside chats. That’s a long dry spell.
And yet, both teams count their fans among the most loyal in all of baseball. People who buy tickets year after year, follow the standings, buy the shirts and hats and hope and cheer and console each other with, “Maybe next year.” This, finally, is their year.
Which reminds me: Hope is rewarded. Faithfulness is rewarded. Tides do turn, and come in, and raise marooned vessels to sail again.
Whatever comes of the elections in a few days, we hold to this hope. For 42 years, we’ve worked for the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The standings on court cases defending marriage show what looks like a losing streak. Assaults on religious freedom are on the rise all over the country.
But tides turn. New seasons can bring extraordinary, stunning, so-long-awaited victories. “It ain’t over,” as Yogi Berra liked to say, “’til it’s over.” And only God decides when it’s over.
Among the new movies opening last weekend was I’m Not Ashamed, the story of Rachel Scott. Rachel was just 17 when she died in the first volley of shots that opened the horrific massacre at Columbine High School in 1999.
The boys who critically wounded her had recorded tapes of themselves, in the weeks before the attack, mocking Rachel and other Christian students for their faith. Now, one came up to where she lay, lifted her head up by her hair, put a gun to her temple, and demanded to know whether Rachel still believed in God. Through tears of shock and agony, she said, “You know I do.”
“Then go be with him,” he said, and pulled the trigger.
That never happened, insist an extraordinarily virulent swarm of atheists and agnostics, who – with the debut of this new film – have besieged websites, editorial pages, and the comment sections of movie reviews to insist that Rachel said no such thing – that the movie is a great lie – that Christians are fools and hypocrites wallowing in their own fantasies of teen martyrdom for the cause. So vehement were the attacks on YouTube that the site refused to post the movie’s trailer for nearly a year, intimidated by the multi-media onslaught. (They’ve since apologized.)
And yet, there’s only one man alive who really knows what happened in Rachel’s final moments – her friend Richard Castaldo, who was eating lunch with her when both were shot by the killers. Castaldo, gravely wounded himself, freely admits to being alive only because he gave a different answer to the same question the boys asked Rachel, telling them he did not believe in God.
Today, Castaldo remains an agnostic, but says he feels some regret that he answered differently than Rachel. “I’m not always happy I didn’t have the [courage] to say ‘yes,'” he has said.
Why is it so important for those who dismiss faith to silence those who embrace it? It’s not enough that we disagree – we must be silenced. What do they have to fear from our witness… from a dead girl’s last testimony… from a movie about a few months in her life nearly 20 years ago? What do they have to fear, for that matter, from a small town florist in Washington? A T-shirt printer in Kentucky? A cake baker, just down the road from where Rachel was killed?
Why do the opinions of these individuals matter so crucially that a vast, organized, hate-driven effort must be mounted to destroy them?
These are not questions that engage everyone. But they should engage anyone called to give a faithful witness for Christ. Because the time for finding courage to resist the intimidations rising all around us is before, not after, a gun – real or figurative – is pointed at our heads.
Halloween is at hand. The season when our culture tries to blend horror with… treats. When so many want to terrify each other, then laugh it off as a joke. To convince themselves that the devil is a charming rogue, or a naughty imp in a silly costume. To persuade our children that monsters are only pretend, that evil doesn’t really mean any harm. And that sweet things are waiting for anyone who plays along with the ruse.
It’s a curious message… and, at bottom, a dangerous one. Rachel Scott, I suspect, might find it more than a little misleading.