taking the words of Jesus seriously

“I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky.”- John Denver, Rocky Mountain High

Every August, for as long as I can remember, we’ve invited friends to join us in watching the Perseids Meteor Shower. Living high in Rockies, far from city lights, we enjoy amazingly dark skies. Sometimes clouds block the view; sometimes the moon is too bright. But every once in a while, we get a year like this one.

We were camping between the peaks in a meadow at 8300 feet in the middle of nowhere. The moon wouldn’t rise until almost midnight. We had a great site overlooking the lake with an expansive view of the sky. All we had to do was stay awake. I was a little sad that, unlike years previous, we had no one with whom to share the evening. We’ve only lived here two years. All the friends we made so far were at the church we just left. Only one stuck around.

Like most visitors in national forest campgrounds, our next-door neighbors waved politely but kept to themselves. These days, it seems like we are all a little more wary of speaking to strangers. Are they Trumpers? Liberals? The quality of their outdoor toys told me they were far above our socioeconomic level; Texas license plates told me they were more than likely Republicans. Back in civilization, we’d never sit down to lunch together.

But here’s what I did know: a glorious display of natural beauty and God’s majesty was about to unfold, and they didn’t even know to look for it.  I just could not keep this information to myself. Late in the afternoon, as they were sitting out and enjoying the view, I air-knocked in the forest and walked into their camp. They waved me on in.

“I just want to make sure you two know about tonight’s meteor shower. You have a perfect site to watch the show.”

As my words sunk in, their demeanor leapt from cordial/reserved to unbridled excitement in about two seconds flat.

“A meteor shower! Tell us more.”

So I did. Pointing toward a peak in the northeastern sky, my finger traced out where they would probably originate, and which way they might fly. As I hiked through the brush back to our campfire, I remembered other extraordinary encounters with strangers. The first time I saw a whale breach in Hawaii, jumping up and down with a woman who was similarly gobsmacked by the sight. The rays of a setting sun exploding through a crack between canyon walls, bathing worshipers in an other-worldly glow. These, and other times, live in my memory as golden moments; extraordinary events to be treasured for their sanctity.

The overwhelming beauty and majesty of God’s creation made them memorable, but to me, sharing them with other human souls made them sacred.

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Eventually the sun set and dusk gave way to darkness. Stars came out one by one; then stars by tens, and stars by hundreds. The night grew so dark that the Milky Way glowed a faint green, something I’d never seen before. And finally, like quicksilver, they began to whisk out of the night, darting here and there- bright and faint, short-lived and long-tailed, arcing across the sky above the lake. Out of the corners of our eyes we’d catch movement and try to turn our heads in time. Every once in a while we’d be looking in just the right direction, straight on, and watch in amazement as they streaked along the peaks to the east. The sky would quiet for a while, with stationary points of light studding the darkness with diamonds. And we would wait.

Finally, Kevin and I could stay up no longer, so we put the fire out and turned in for the evening. The neighbors were still out there, still watching, with the occasional “ooh!” and “ahh!” whispered through the cold night air.

As we were packing up to leave the next morning, guess who came “air-knocking” through the forest?

“Eddie woke me up at 2:30am to come back outside!”  She was just tickled, and surprised. Tickled that she and Eddie (each in their seventies) would do something so spontaneous; surprised by the unforeseen extravaganza orchestrated by God and shared with a stranger.

I never learned her name; I wouldn’t recognize her if I saw her on the street. I don’t know if she was a Republican, a Trumper, or an Evangelical Christian. These three categories of people have broken my heart and support a regime that threatens the very democracy my family has fought to protect. It’s all I can do to be polite to them, and I’m guessing they feel the same way. And therein lies the problem.

Our country is at the boiling point in the divide between these two people groups. We listen to different news sources and make up our minds accordingly. There is a great evil that perpetrates false conspiracy theories with the intent to divide us. Foreign leaders use high-ranking officials as puppets, also with the intent to divide us. Personally, I feel betrayed by the very people I trusted most, and powerless to stop the evil. It’s so tempting to take the low road.  Fortunately, the words of Michelle Obama ring my ears: “When they go low, we go high.”

But ultimately, it’s the words of my Savior that are written on my heart. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” The list goes on and on. Even though so much of the Evangelical Church has betrayed the teachings of Jesus Christ, his word stands forever. One of his own disciples betrayed him. His closest friends turned their backs, and his own church murdered him. Still he loved them, and gave his life for us all.

As hard as it seems at the moment, this time in history will pass. What now seems apocalyptic will, at some point, have scholars scratching their heads and saying, “What the heck was that about?” I’m old enough to remember the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK. I remember Vietnam and Watergate and riots and Kent State. Throughout history we’ve been infiltrated by evil. This is the only instance in my lifetime where the church was blatantly responsible, but it’s far from the only time in history.

And still, God loves us. And God instructs us to do the same.

 If our country is to survive, we will all have to forgive eventually. The least I can do today is try to resist the urge to go low, and to see the person rather than the policy.

If I succeed, that will be quite enough to accomplish for one day. Whether I do or not, I will try again tomorrow.

About The Author

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Rachel Ophoff met Jesus when she was 30 years old. For the last 34 years, they’ve bonded over addiction and recovery, beauty and brokenness, and even the loss of her daughter on a church outing. In the Evangelical Church, she found the family she never had. Now she is watching those she loves fall prey to the Religious Right’s quest for political power and is fighting the good fight by writing and speaking to remind people it’s all about Jesus.

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