Every time we have an inauguration here in the States, I remember that book by Douglas Coupland called Life After God. It’s a wonderful little book of loosely connected short stories about life in our current, western, spiritual vacuum.
In one of the latter stories, Coupland’s character is in New York on business (down from Vancouver, BC) and hears about the inauguration gearing up in DC. He visits, marveling at the crowd and the pomp and circumstance. If you’ve ever attended an inauguration, it’s truly a remarkable scene. Perhaps the closest we can come to feeling a remnant of Rome. Or ancient Greece.
Coupland’s character gives plenty of thought to our need for a King, our need for a leader, for justice, to be watched over and protected and taken care of.
He also makes note of the clapping, the rapturous applause when the new king is sworn in. It’s the sound of a hopeful people. It’s the sound of a truly miraculous, though flawed, democracy. It’s the sound of a people in hope, and for others, people showing grace.
It’s a melancholy book, Life after God. It’s a sad book filled with divorce, drugs, snaps at Christianity, narcissism and the stuff of, well life after God.
In the final scenes, though, something remarkable takes place. Coupland’s man is back in BC, sitting in his office in a suit and tie and decides he’s done. He doesn’t want to live in a world without God anymore, in a world without a real king.
He leaves his office, packs up his boy scout tent and heads into the mountains of British Columbia. He camps there and meditates, feels sorry for himself, cries a little.
Then, he takes off his clothes, wades into an icy river and baptizes himself. He confesses that he still needs a God to save him from the world and from himself.
The final page of the book are just two drawings of hands. There’s a hand on either side of the page so that when you open the book the last two pages are clapping their line-drawn hands.
It’s symbolism, of course, for the clapping that took place at inauguration. There’s been a new king crowned. And He’s good.
Not long ago I somehow attended a tiny church service with the President. I don’t really know him but I know a few people around him. I sat behind the President and I can’t describe how strange the sensation was to see the most powerful man in the world kneel small in his pew to bow before the king. Though he is tall, he bowed lower than his wife and even, oddly, his own children.
I write this blog four blocks from the capitol steps where our President will be sworn in. I’ve been living here for a few weeks, right across from the Library of Congress. It’s a special time for some, and a sad time for others. The air carries expectations. And there is much delusion on both sides. But regardless, this is an earthly king. And we will yearn for something, and someone more.
As I get older, my belief in Jesus is helping me realize what happens on earth is eternally important but it is not eternity. My fight to bring light into this darkness seems more important but my hope lies elsewhere.
Perhaps before we get too excited or too deflated about this week’s inauguration we can remember the One that is to come. This is not a terrible event, nor is it our hope. It is just people creating earthly governments in a life after and still before God. And I am grateful for those who serve in these capacities, flaws and all, on both sides of the ridiculous isle. I do wish more of them would bow before the King who made them.
Our day of hope is coming.