It was lunchtime in Rome, Ga., in 1980. I was living on a meager intern’s stipend so a Big Mac was the day’s sustenance.
An older man at the neighboring table started a conversation. I was young, and had not yet learned to tell such strangers that I sell Volvos rather than admitting my true vocational direction.
He couldn’t wait to add to (or correct) whatever knowledge I might have absorbed in college and seminary. So, quickly, he pulled a pen from his pocket and began writing on a McDonald’s napkin.
In big, stacked, blocked letters he penned:
Then beside each name he added the number of letters contained therein: 6.
After all those wasted years of biblical studies the truth was finally delivered to me in the presence of two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun: Ronald Wilson Reagan — 666 — was the anti-Christ.
In college I’d completed an independent study on the Book of Revelation with the incomparable Dr. Jorge González. He worked me so hard that, at the conclusion, I could have given a tour of the island of Patmos.
But we never got around to identifying the actor turned president with three six-letter names as the one mentioned in the ancient, cryptic writings. And a good dose of New Testament studies that followed in seminary omitted this obvious insight as well.
Such nonsense (i.e., BS) once spread one cheap napkin at a time. Now, tragically, it flies around the Internet freely and quickly, multiplying rapidly one click at a time.
Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates aren’t spreading the virus to make money with help from 5G cell phone technology. Holding a blow dryer up to your nose doesn’t kill the virus.
God didn’t send the virus to punish the people you don’t like. As Anne Lamott famously said, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
The absence of critical thinking at this time is greater than the loss of concerts, baseball and buffets.
While nonsense is not new, the speed with which it is shared has gone from napkins to nanoseconds. And the gullibility with which unfounded, untried misinformation is accepted and regurgitated is staggering.
Jesus’ call to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves has always intrigued me. It seems to call for a balance of seeking wisdom while responding in ways that do not harm.
Whatever it means, it surely calls us to think critically, test credibility, and avoid spreading that which is untrue and often harmful. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
Surely that middle identification should mean something to those who seek to follow him.