Punched by Tomorrow
It was midmorning on Friday, June 26, 2015, and I was getting ready for the final day of a Christian leadership conference I was attending. I had spent a long week in Cincinnati with friends and ministry colleagues. The days had been filled with meetings and speaking opportunities about my then-upcoming book, Messy Grace, in which I tell my story of growing up with both parents in same-sex relationships, becoming a follower of Jesus, and learning how to relate to both the LGBTQ community and the Christian community. I was looking forward to a less busy weekend and returning to California to be with my wife and kids.
Then the text alert on my phone went off. I was puzzled by the message. A friend had merely sent this line: “God help us.” I wasn’t sure what his text meant but figured maybe it was some awkward spiritual encouragement.
Remembering I wanted to be on time for the morning’s final main session, I set the phone down, turned the volume off, and finished packing and getting ready. Nearly ready to walk out the door with my suitcase, I picked up my wallet and phone. I noticed my phone was displaying text message after text message. Some of them read as follows:
“What are you going to preach on now?”
“God is still in control.”
“You need to celebrate with people on Sunday!”
“This is a chance for you to stand up for what’s right.”
There were many other texts, but one let me know exactly what had happened. A pastor friend texted me: “Bro, I sure wish your book was available now.”
The Supreme Court had been expected to announce its decision on Obergefell v. Hodges (marriage equality). No doubt it had been announced that the court had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, and thus the wave of text after text.
Just as I was about to check the news, I got a call on my cell phone. It was a number from my home area code, so I answered—I thought it could be my wife or kids using somebody else’s phone. In a glimpse of what was to come this weekend, the call was from a journalist with a Southern California newspaper. “Reverend Kaltenbach, what is your reaction to the Supreme Court ruling?”
I didn’t answer at first. It took me a couple of moments. I hadn’t even seen a news broadcast, read an article, or listened to an interview since the court announcement. The wheels in my mind were still spinning. My mom, her partner (Vera), and my dad had talked about this day for years. They couldn’t wait to celebrate a day like this. But certainly not everyone felt the same. During my week in Cincinnati, I’d had a few conversations with pastors and leaders about the upcoming ruling on marriage equality. Some asked if I believed the Supreme Court would rule in favor of keeping marriage between one man and one woman. My answer to them was simple: “Nope.” This response hadn’t been greeted with universal joy.
As quickly as I could, I ended the call with the journalist, turned off my phone, and headed out of the hotel room to put my luggage in my car. Shortly afterward, as I walked out of the parking garage, I saw that the change in society had already reached downtown Cincinnati. The streets had been lined with rainbow flags during the week, but now there were more. A gay pride parade had been scheduled for downtown later that weekend, but with the ruling now public, the celebration had started early. People were dancing on the sidewalks, cheering, hugging, high-fiving, and shouting, “Victory! Victory!” Loud celebratory music was pumping from cars, and a few people were running through the streets. Meanwhile, a couple of people were waving homemade signs of protest on street corners.
When I walked into the convention center, the doors to the main hall opened and people began walking out as I was walking in. Some pastors had their heads down; some were obviously angry; some were expressing their happiness that there was equality in marriage. A variety of emotions filled the crowd leaving the session.
One new acquaintance came up to me as he exited the main session. Earlier in the week, he had been in a workshop I had taught on the church and the LGBTQ community. I remembered that he’d had a series of questions after I taught the workshop. Today he shook my hand and said, “Well, thank you for trying.” What in the world did that even mean? His next comment puzzled me even more: “I don’t know what tomorrow holds.”
Then he walked away without even giving me a chance to respond. I didn’t know his name, but I knew that he and a lot of people were in a tailspin on this day. Probably most Christians who are conservative or evangelical or who identify as such saw this as a day when everything in America changed. I can understand that (especially from a political standpoint), but for me everything had changed a while ago. Actually, even before I became a Christian as a teenager, I knew that a major shift in society was taking place. Still, my acquaintance’s fearful words bothered me: I don’t know what tomorrow holds.
This book, unlike my last book, is not primarily about some Christian attitudes toward people who identify as LGBTQ. The book you’re about to read examines a much wider range of issues we face. More importantly, it goes to the heart of what we believe about God, ourselves, and the future.
And let’s be honest: it’s not just a Supreme Court decision that some evangelical and conservative Christian leaders fear. It’s not just a conservative takeover of the government that some progressive Christians worry about. Political, social, cultural, economic, and relational fears across a broad spectrum drive our emotions and frame our outlooks. I’ve been trying to figure out why the concept of tomorrow can be so frightening. I think it’s the unknown that drives our fear.
Tomorrow Can Be a Creeper
For many people, the concept of tomorrow is uncertain, alarming, and even terrifying. I mean, tomorrow is not something you can count on, right? It can be full of surprises. Tomorrow almost seems as if it has multiple personalities; sometimes it brings us good news and other times not-so-good news.
Many nights over the course of my life, I have gone to bed not knowing all the wonderful things tomorrow would bring. My tomorrows have given me the first days of new school years, new friends, an invitation to a high school Bible study that would teach me about Jesus, graduations, an exciting job at a church in Southern California, an introduction to the gorgeous woman who would become my wife, the births of my kids, new adventures, and so on. Even when I have my down periods, I have to admit there have been many good days in my life.
But there have also been many tomorrows that have negatively affected the course of my life. One time when I was two years old, I didn’t understand that the next day my parents would decide to divorce. I had no idea as I went to bed one night in December 1996 that I’d wake up to the news that my cousin had been killed in a horrible accident. Not long ago, the next day caught me by surprise when I heard that my wife’s father had had an aortic dissection and aneurysm. I could go on, but you understand that my tomorrows have been filled with lows as well as highs. So have yours.
And not only do we see uncertainty in tomorrow, but the leaders and writers of the Bible saw it too. Verses such as the following remind us of tomorrow’s ambiguity:
Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring. (Proverbs 27:1)
When life is good, enjoy it.
But when life is hard, remember:
God gives good times and hard times,
and no one knows what tomorrow will bring. (Ecclesiastes 7:14, ncv)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. (James 4:13–14,esv)
The events of tomorrow were unpredictable for the people in the Bible:
~ Abraham would leave his home for an unknown land far away.
~ Sarah would laugh at the mere thought of pregnancy.
~ Moses would kill an Egyptian, and his life would never be the same.
~ Deborah would be named the leader of her people.
~ Samson’s girlfriend would betray him, and he would be captured.
~ David would have an affair and unleash a chaotic chain of events.
~ Elijah would run from a queen after watching God defeat his enemies.
~ Esther would muster the courage to expose Haman’s evil.
~ A woman by a well would meet the God who created her.
~ John the Baptist would be thrown into prison.
~ Peter would deny Jesus three times.
~ Mary Magdalene and the disciples would see the risen Christ.
~ An Ethiopian eunuch would hear about the gospel.
All these people were just like you, me, and everyone else who is alive on this planet right now. We’re all individuals stuck in the arena of time who experience the progression of life through uncertain days.
Whatever tomorrow brings, the fact that it will deliver something good or bad remains inevitable. The future relentlessly engages us, whether we want it to or not. Today and its status quo might seem solid enough, but as William Shakespeare said, tomorrow is always creeping up on us.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time.
I don’t know if anybody has noticed this before, but Bill has a way with words. And he’s right about tomorrow’s persistence.
All of us have to face the reality of tomorrow and the changes it will bring. When we look at the world and see the changes that have occurred and imagine the ones that might happen, fear may enter our souls like cold iron.
Why Tomorrow Might Cause Fear
Let me make it clear that this book is not about our personal fears for tomorrow, though we have plenty of them—and they are important. You may be worried about the stability of your job, a loved one’s health, supporting a friend during her crisis, how to fix your marriage, or many more personal or family problems. I know these life situations weigh heavily on your heart, as they weigh on mine, too. In this book, however, we’re focusing more on the large-scale social changes that affect us all. The encouragement this book brings can apply easily to your personal problems, and I hope you’ll take it to heart. What I’m particularly trying to address is the widespread issue I see in Christians of all political and theological persuasions who fear tomorrow because of what they see transpiring in society. I don’t believe God wants us to have a toxic fear of the future or to get stuck in anxiety (even though the fear of what’s happening in society is common and serious).
And in a sense these changes in society are personal. Sooner or later, many of them will invade our lives and relationships. They’ll affect us individually by altering our moods or influencing us in more direct and tangible ways.
Maybe some of us have coworkers of a different ethnicity who have a dissimilar perspective on society and political beliefs than others do. When they encounter people who don’t understand their viewpoint, they may think, I bet they’ve never been attacked just because of the color of their skin. I’m sure they haven’t walked into a clothing store and had to deal with the salespeople eyeing them the whole time. I wonder if they’ve ever gone into an elevator and noticed the woman in the back grasping her purse tighter just because they got on the elevator. As we hear our friends talk, we can’t help but wonder if some of us are really that unaware of the privilege and resources we may have been afforded in childhood.
Or it could be that we begin our day by watching the news and reading articles that reflect the polarization of politics. Later on during the day, we have lunch with a friend who voted for the “other candidate.” A voting record hasn’t ever been a conversation stopper for us before, but now it seems that our friend becomes more incensed as our talk gravitates toward politics. It’s then that we realize how much the enormous gap between political parties has removed the potential for thoughtful dialogue with this friend. Perhaps later that night, as we watch the news channel we agree with, our emotions lean toward dismay as we consider the future of religious freedom, presidential administrations, the implications of various bills Congress might pass, social unrest, and so on.
Those examples of social change are just a start. Unfortunately, a segment in our society has a problem with our culture becoming more multiethnic. Some don’t think of racism as a huge problem in America, despite acts of violence and the continual cries of our people. We argue about immigration, the ethics of immigration reform, and the importance of loving refugees, yet somehow we forget that these discussions are more than political platforms; they’re about actual people with families, needs, and stories. As the months go on, some see our society drifting further from Judeo-Christian values, while there’s an increase in broken families and teen suicides that reveals society’s lack of concern for hurting people. There are a few who seek to put restrictions on some individuals’ expressions of faith. Today, people live in fear of terrorists and don’t even consider the atrocities committed by some governments and regimes around the world. Political leaders in a few states would count the legalization of marijuana as a victory, but have they really counted the cost of such a move? More than ever, we see a loss of civility in public discourse, the devaluing of honest conversation amid disagreements, and vile social media posts. Our prison population is increasing, shootings are becoming all too familiar, natural resources are under attack, a few politicians on both sides of the aisle are becoming more extreme, and the list could go on and on. At the root of it, for me, is that a growing number of people see a relationship with Jesus as irrelevant.