After the service, my mother and I were gawking at the large stained glass windows above the altar. Thus far, they were the most interesting aspect of our experience at College Church of the Nazarene. Each panel portrayed a biblical event, and because most of our religious knowledge comes from musicals, and there was no obvious Technicolor Dreamcoat present, we were spouting incorrect guesses loud enough for an older couple nearby to hear.
The man approached and after asking our permission, began explaining each piece of glass: The Ten Commandments, Loaves and Fish, etc. His wife stood beside him quietly until he reached the last panel.
“And this one,” he exclaimed with more excitement in his voice, “this one is my favorite. This is when Jesus comes back!”
My mom looked at him and in a serious tone, without missing a beat, asked, “Oh? And when will that be?”
I turned my head to roll my eyes and smile.
“We don’t know,” the wife finally spoke. “We just have to be ready.”
“Oh, okay,” my mother nodded in believable agreement.
When the couple left I turned to glare at my mother with a laugh, shaking my head. “When will that be? Seriously, mom?” She shrugged and walked toward the exit.
After I laughed my way through the mockery and hilarity of her interaction with the couple, I started to recognize the true genius of my mother’s sense of humor. On the surface, her flippant question was literally shrugged off by the both of us. Deeper, though, was her direct and serious questioning of the couple’s beliefs. I began to wonder if her question wasn’t meant as a joke, or at least not completely.
Any professor will tell you that in writing a research paper, your research question(s) will change an annoying amount of times. Without that willingness to change our query, we are essentially judging the book by its cover. In the 16 churches I have visited, my question has changed from “Are you just like I thought you were based on my liberal upbringing and sickeningly awesome tree-hugger education?” to “How?” On many church websites, there is a tab entitled “What we believe.” Usually, within that section is an explanation as to why the church believes as it does. The “How” is missing only because it is so personal. I would agree that it could be dangerous for a church to affirm “What” and “Why” they believe. Everyone is different, even in a conservative denomination. But even more frightening would be trying to dictate how people come to those beliefs; how they worship, pray, sing, rejoice, cry, keep the faith…
My mother had the guts to ask a question that was then submitted into my spiritual consciousness. By asking when Jesus would return, she was really asking how they know he’s even coming back in the first place. I wish they had jumped at the opportunity to evangelize, explain and convert, but instead they left me to ponder the Second Coming and my own beliefs on the revelation. And though I have dismissed the left-behind, final-battle, Jesus-rules-the-world scenario as a way to make people submissive and afraid, I now ask myself, “How did I come to that belief?”
This stained glass window was the man’s favorite. He smiled when he spoke of it, and joy illuminated his body. There was no fear or submission, only faith. The woman’s answer was direct and secure. For me, faith doesn’t come with that assurance. Perhaps, it is not the Rapture that scares me, but instead the lack of comfort I still feel about my own convictions. If my mother were to ask me a similar question about my supernatural beliefs, jokingly or not, I would not have an answer. For me, the most sacred and valuable securities have come during the least likely of times. As long as my heart and mind are open to accepting the faith, I know it will come eventually. I guess I just have to be ready.