Thoughts in the shadow of a shooting

I freeze when I’m given an open-ended assignment. In school, I used to stay after class to ask the teacher about what he or she *really* wanted to me to research even though the class was told, “Write about anything you want.” It’s the same with painting or drawing. It makes me physically nervous to face a blank canvas. However give me something to copy, I am good to go. Tell me the end, and I can finally begin.

While I’m not sure my predilection for such defined parameters is healthy or not, I believe that understanding the end is very important for us in living in the present. And here’s what I believe about the end:

In the last days,
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2)

This is a poem. Let’s be clear. It’s intended to be read with the right cadence, and the goal is to inspire us with its rhythm and beauty. It begins with a vision larger than all of us, a forward projection of a time to come when the centrality of God will not be in question. The perspectives of all people at this future date will be shifted to recognize the Godwardness of everything.

At its center, the poem then describes to us the Godward world, a world defined by peace. Even though the specific word for “peace” is never used, the descriptions of life and relationships are all peaceful. When all things and all people are oriented toward God, we find peace. Disputes are settled. Matters are resolved. There is no more enmity. Cycles of violence are stopped cold. In the midst of that peace, we find weapons have no more use, that instead they’re transformed literally into tools for the common good, from a sword that literally cuts us off from one another to a plowshare that works the land for us all. Those whose job it is to be war-ready now have need for new employment.

At its end (and woven throughout) is an invitation. “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Here we find that this vision of our future orientation isn’t some warning of what’s to come. It is a present posture we’re invited to embody. Come, let us live out now the reality that will be our ultimate end.

If one day we will find new unifying uses for the things that divide us, let that binding work begin now.
If one day we will find only settled matters instead of unsettled tension, let that healing work begin now.
If one day we will find all of our perspectives shifted toward the same direction, let that understanding work begin now.

Ultimately I’m left with an uncomfortable question for which I don’t have a serious answer, not if I’m honest: What if this poem isn’t a declaration of what is to come but a hopeful invitation and nothing more?

Often in Christendom we picture this spiritual like-it-or-not moment wherein our present existence will be arrested and suddenly turned on its head. Maybe that’s true. Maybe there will be some literal “last days” in which cinematic moments play themselves out in the heavens and things play out as expected. But what if that’s not the case? Let’s entertain that for just a second.

What if this poem is borne from a deep, heavenly longing? What if this ultimate reality will never be unless some of us begin to accept this present invitation? After all, if all we feed is our base instincts, our violent impulses, how will we ever learn the difficult practice of transforming destructive tools into constructive ones?

Whether the passage is a true vision of something bound to happen or an imaginative longing for a better world, the invitation is something I’m inclined to accept either way. We are better than this, all of us, and perhaps if we can believe this is the ending, then we can now know where to begin.