When I was in seminary, I heard for the first time a song Gil Scott Heron released in 1970 – “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” It was a monster piece of protest music and a first-class historical document, but in even in 1986, CNN, HBO and the emerging basic-cable landscape were making some of the references feel a little antiquated and quaint:
You will not be able to skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not star Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen.
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath.
The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat.
The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.
But then came the Arab Spring in 2010, a revolution that was televised — LIVE, as it happened. There may not have been an Arab Spring if there hadn’t been smartphones and Twitter and Skype and all the products and services we call social media. In fact, today, it seems like everything is being televised. It recalls a phrase popular during the Vietnam years, “The whole world is watching.”
That Time the World Didn’t End
A year or so after the Arab Spring, the world didn’t end, despite one man’s claims to the contrary. Normally it would not be the stuff of a hot news item, but a man named Robert Fitzpatrick had heeded the counsel of California broadcaster Harold Camping, who foretold with metaphysical certitude that the Rapture would occur at 6:00 p.m., May 21, 2011. And so, Mr. Fitzpatrick stood in the middle of Times Square, surrounded by news media, waiting to be taken up to Heaven.
The whole world was watching.
Mr. Camping, however, chose to experience the end of the world in the privacy of his own home, and it was difficult to feel very sorry for him when he got a drubbing in the press. But when the appointed hour came and went, poor Mr. Fitzpatrick was very publicly, genuinely shaken.
With a jeering crowd in the background, Channel 7 Eyewitness news asked him what he was going to do. He said he had to go buy groceries, then go home and water his plants. Later on he said, “I was really looking forward to being in Heaven, but I was really dreading it for the people who weren’t going to get to go.”
Being the Example
The Gospel According to Internet Jokes reads:
This guy is driving up to a light that’s just turned yellow, and he stops. But right behind him there’s this mom-type, and she sits on her horn, screaming at the guy that he’s messing up her yellow light.
She’s still screaming when a cop shows up and taps on her window, and he looks like he means business. He orders her to exit the car with her hands up. He takes her to the police station, she gets searched, fingerprinted, photographed and stuck in a holding cell.
A couple of hours later, they spring her from the cell and take her back to the booking desk. The arresting officer’s there, and he hands her back her personal effects.
He says, “Ma’am, I’m real sorry for this mistake. See, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, and cussing a blue streak at that fellow. I saw the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday-School’ decal, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. So naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car.”
Somebody is always watching, and that’s why I don’t have any stickers on my car identifying me as clergy, Presbyterian, Christian. It’s bad enough if I make MYSELF look bad. I don’t want to take a whole faith tradition down with me.
For a long time, I thought that was a pretty good defense against what goes on with the Church and the world around us. I’m always complaining about how church people have become some of the biggest, best, most influential and busiest busybodies in the world. We have taken on controversy after controversy, fighting and fretting and complaining and analyzing and theorizing among ourselves while the Gospel goes unspoken and often unheeded among us.
Robert Fitzpatrick may have been wrong to believe some guy who claimed to know the day and date of the apocalypse, but he may have been right about something bigger and more important. Maybe our place isn’t in our quiet homes and peaceful places of worship. Maybe hiding from the public square to avoid the ugly crowds is not what we should be doing. Maybe keeping silent to avoid saying the wrong thing IS the wrong thing. Maybe anonymity is the wrong quality to pursue when we claim to be offspring of the living God.
There are a lot of ways to get it wrong when we bring our faith to the marketplace. In the end, maturity in the body of Christ calls us to account for our actions and face the world. We go out there, not because we have to, but because we want to.
The whole world is watching.