Don’t write about the Capitol siege.
These are the words I repeated to myself as I prepared to write this week.
You see, I have nothing useful to say about the siege or what it means. Sure, maybe dismissing it is a bit like ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room, but I’m a little tired of being in rooms with elephants in them. Plus, sometimes it’s nice to talk about something else, like, let’s say, the sofa or the lamp.
And yet, the more I tried to write about things that weren’t the siege, the more powerless I felt to resist addressing it. In its violence and spectacle, it has a near-gravitational pull on me.
What I want to do, then, is to avoid saying anything about the siege itself, or what it may mean for a hurting America. I want only to explore this feeling that I’m caught in its orbit, sinking more and more deeply into the fray of revelation, commentary, and speculation about its circumstances and implications.
This feeling of being “caught in the orbit” includes a mix of dread, terror, anger, and hope. I’m unsure of what to do with these feelings, but, there they are. And I think I can see faintly where they are coming from. They are somehow related to a question that’s been growing inside me: “Can we go on like this?” This question’s companion is more straightforward: “Is this the end of America?”
Now, I doubt I’m the only one who’s had this question bubble up in their subconscious. In fact, often under the protective cover of humor, I’ve heard people ask more or less the same thing.
Admitting that I’ve been quietly asking, “Is this the end of America?” I can begin to make sense of the feeling that I’m caught in the orbit of the Capitol siege. It awakens in me anxiety tied to an imagined state of chaos.
Yes, the United States is a country among countries. Nations and their governments come into and out of existence all the time. And yet, this thought in no way soothes me, nor does it break me from the siege’s spectacular pull. The fear of chaos and destruction feels almost primordial, resistant to the fix of a simple history lesson.
Apocalypse is not a word to throw around lightly. I barely even trust myself to employ it in the right way. But I want to point out that even as the word has become associated with “the end times,” it really only means “revelation” or “showing forth.”
To say why apocalypse is tied in our psyches to “the end of days” is beyond my ability. Maybe it has something to do with our religious dread of being judged and our desperate hope that it will only happen once and not for a long time. Rather than being a singular event that either will or won’t happen in our lifetimes, apocalypse is more a way of “seeing the world as it really is.”
And yet, when a huge event happens, especially with a lot of folks around to see it, it can feel downright revelatory. And so from a myriad of perspectives it’s analyzed and picked apart. For my part, this touches upon my ownmost fear and dread. These analyses and opinions pull me into their orbit and make me dizzy as I try to find the most truthful opinion on who is the wheat and who is the chaff.
It’s in this daze that I find myself now. I’m not sure what to say or whom to read or how to pull myself out of the orbit of this cataclysm. At the risk of sounding incredibly trite, I feel the only thing I can really do for now is to return to the gospels.
In the years leading up to Christ’s life, there was a rash of “end times” thinking around Roman Palestine. Several prophetic figures emerged, even some with messianic ambitions. Christ himself had an incredibly strong apocalyptic streak, and yet it wasn’t wholly definitive of his ministry. His wisdom on God’s judgment and justice even eluded most of the people who knew him best.
This week, many of us heard from the (Zoom) pulpit the story of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist. In the lead-up to the baptism, a disheveled John is found preparing the crowds to know Jesus by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance.” Coming to really know Jesus, we’re told from the start, begins with repentance.
I sense that there’s a lot to be said about the Capitol siege and other events like it. I also sense that some of it might help me live more justly and faithfully. But the deep-seated questions in me that it touches—questions of permanence and God’s sovereignty—will only present themselves to me as overwhelming dread. That is, until I take time for repentance: acknowledging the parts within me that make America a god, inflicting the weight of eternality on this fleeting world, and turning them over to the Lord.
Until then, I hope to refrain from talking much about the Capitol siege.
Klaas Walhout graduated from Calvin in 2016 with majors in philosophy and religion. He has lived on the East Coast since then. He currently lives in Philadelphia, PA, where he spends his days (and sometimes nights) working as a hospital chaplain.