Friday, November 26, 2010


The End of Waiting--Concluded

Lastly, mourning the loss of the city are “the captains and seafaring men, sailors and all those who make a living from the sea.” Here is what they say: “Mourn, mourn for this great city/whose lavish living has made a fortune/for every owner of a sea-going ship;/ruined within a single hour (18:17, 19).”
The end of commerce extends all the way to the ends of the earth, to the farthest reaches of the seafaring network. When the city is destroyed, that destruction reaches into all facets of life and commerce. Nothing will escape its consequences.
Now, what does all this mean? Well, it means a lot of things. There are layers upon layers of meanings embedded in the text of the Book of Revelation. But for me, coming at the text with an appreciation of what lies at the surface, here is what I come away with:
1)Anyone who lives by the city will perish by the city. The city may be many things to many people—indeed for some it may be all things. But the city will never be the vehicle of salvation. That’s a promise, not a prediction.
2)Whoever puts his or her trust in religion, church-going, the temple; in politics, governing, legislating; or in commerce, investing, buying and selling, will find that trust betrayed—again and again and again. That, too, is a promise, not a prediction.
3)All of this—the end of temple, politics, and commerce—happens in “a single hour.” There is nothing enduring or deep about any of those supremely human enterprises. They are but a veneer over the chaos and meaningless of a human existence lived without attentiveness to the presence of the divine, and the promise that presence holds.
Let me simply close these thoughts on Apocalypse and the End of Waiting with these verses that conclude the Book of Revelation:
“The one who guarantees these revelations repeats his promise: I shall indeed be with you soon. Amen; come, Lord Jesus. May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen.”

Friday, November 19, 2010


The End of Waiting

No, I do not mean that waiting will end; I mean that the purpose of waiting is to open us to the coming of the radically new. And so radical will this coming new “thing” be, that the old will be destroyed—not transformed, changed, or filed away in our historical memory banks. It will be destroyed.
In the “Little Apocalypse” we listen to Jesus describing the destruction of the temple, where not one stone will be left standing on another. The radically new in this case is such that it will do away with the temple; i.e., there will no longer be a need for the temple. For the kingdom of Heaven will be ushered in by the coming of the Son of Man, upon the clouds of glory.
In the “Great” Apocalypse (The Book of Revelation), the new Jerusalem destroys the old city. The words of Jesus are fulfilled: in the new Jerusalem there is no temple, “since the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb were themselves the temple (21:22).
But this does not exhaust the meaning of the new Jerusalem. To begin understanding what the New Jerusalem means we must pay attention to the old city that is destroyed in the Book of Revelation, i.e., Babylon.
It is often said the Babylon is code for Rome, the city-empire that was persecuting the Christian sect. But really Babylon is simply code for the city, nothing more. If we pay attention to the destruction of Babylon, we will see what the coming new Jerusalem offers in its place. And one way to focus on what the destruction of the old city means is to note who mourns its loss, and why.
First and foremost are the “kings of the earth who have fornicated with her and lived with her in luxury (18:9).” In other words, the day of the politicians is over, for the day of poitics is over—not just ‘politics as usual,’ but politics itself is finished. All those trusted with governance have failed; they have whored after false gods.
Second, are the merchants, who have “grown rich through her debauchery (18:3).” Here the description is long and detailed, “There will be weeping and distress over her (the city’s fall)…when there is noboby left to buy their cargo of goods; their stocks of gold and silver, jewels and pearls, linen and purple and silks and scarlet; all the sandlewood, every piece in ivory or fine wood, in bronze or iron or marble; the cinnamon and spices, the myrrh and ointment and incense; wine, oil, flour and corn; their stocks of cattle, sheep, horses and chariots, their slaves, their human cargo…(18;11-13).”
Along with politics, commerce is finished. Those who have whored after the false god of the free market are left with this description: “All the fruits you had set your heart on have failed you; gone forever, never to return, is your life of magnificence and ease ((18:14).”

(To be continued)

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Apocalypse Heavy
What can one say about The Book of Revelation that hasn’t already been said?
Let me begin by repeating what I said about the “Little Apocalypse:” the Book of Revelation is “not a prediction of catastrophes, a list to be played out according to a timetable; but rather an understanding that the change coming will be so profound that it will literally be the end of the world as we know it! Or, to put it even more simply, the destruction of our cherished beliefs is harder to bear than the destruction of our lives. We will be ready to deny everything, follow any leader, turn on even our family—if only we can hang onto the world as we know it!”
After spending one afternoon browsing a few of the many websites devoted to the “Mark of the Beast,” from Rev.14:16, I can assure you that for the over-whelming majority of the readers of the Book of Revelation the above has not been said.
So let me say it again: John’s revelation is much more profound and earth-shattering than some testosterone-induced, Hollywood-style scenario of the end of the world!
The Book of Revelation is a book for quitters!
And now I will immediately say it is not a book for whiners. It offers no solace for those who have had to leave behind all their cherished beliefs; it does not blame the present state of the quitters on the evils committed by someone else, i.e., it does not feed the persecution/victim complex; nor, finally, does it offer a simple solution to personal and/or social problems.
It is a book for people who have given up. Nothing more, nothing less.. Simply given up. And that is why it is a book that continues to resonate with readers down through the centuries. For we have all at some point in our lives asked ourselves what good is it to even believe, or to hope.
So the question is: What do believing, hoping quitters do? And the answer is: they watch and wait! They are ready for the new world and the new city.
With that understanding, I would like in a few of the following posts tell you what I am watching and waiting for.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Apocalypse Lite
I want to begin looking at what it is that is revealed to us in the apocalyptic writing in the Bible—in the New Testament, really. And I begin with what is often called the “Little Apocalypse,” in the Gospel according to Mark, Chapter 13.
Every time I read this passage, I think of William Butler Yeats’ ever-increasingly more relevant poem, “The Second Coming:”
“ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
Yeats was speaking of his “end-time”, and Mark of his. But were they, really? There are images, words, and understandings that resonate with us today.
Who cannot hear Jesus saying today: “Take care that no one deceives you. Many will come using my name and saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many….And if anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Christ,’ or, ‘Look, he is there,’ do not believe it; for false Christs and false prophets will arise to produce signs and portents to deceive the elect, if that were possible.”
It is possible!
Does not Yeats speak of our times when he writes, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/are full of passionate intensity”?
But why is all this happening? Why does Jesus speak of false prophets, of buildings being laid to waste, of sign in the sun and moon, of families turning on one another? Why does Yeats speak of anarchy, and blood-dimmed tides?
Here Jesus interprets Yeats: where Yeats simply says “the centre cannot hold,” Jesus names that center—or, to be more precise, Mark has Jesus “sitting facing the Temple” when he (Jesus) describes what is about to happen.
The “centre” that cannot hold for Jesus is the Temple! “Not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be destroyed.” With the destruction of the Temple comes the destruction of everything, of all meaning. What follows then are wars, pestilence, false prophets, persecution, family members turning on each other—and even the shaking of the heavens.
Jesus, of course, is speaking to and about the Diaspora: his followers will have to exist in a world whose center is no longer the temple. And at that time in their history, the temple was what held the people together.
So this is what the “Little Apocalypse” reveals to us: not a prediction of catastrophes, a list to be played out according to a timetable; but rather an understanding that the change coming will be so profound that it will literally be the end of the world as we know it! Or, to put it even more simply, the destruction of our cherished beliefs is harder to bear than the destruction of our lives. We will be ready to deny everything, follow any leader, turn on even our family—if only we can hang onto the world as we know it!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


(Just a quick break)
You know the rest of it—“so shall you reap.” Please excuse the paraphrase of Paul in Galatians, 6:7; but I just wanted to make quick comment on the mid-term elections.
I heard a pundit say it thusly: We ended up with a Congress [he meant of course a House of Representatives] in which the Democrats are more liberal [as a body, since the Blue Dogs were decimated—or I should say ‘halved’] and the Republicans more conservative [or what passes for conservatism these days]. Yet, what the people really want, according to all the polling, is a more bipartisan approach; they want the two sides to work together, etc.
He offered no follow up on that point, nor was one sought.
Let me suggest one: If you really want a Congress that is bipartisan in its approach, then always vote for the more moderate of the two candidates.
Let me suggest another: stop listening to the pundits of one side or another. Listen to both, or listen to neither.
Finally: instead of breaking down the body politic into liberals, conservatives, and independents; think of the divisions as being among ideologues, pragmatists, and the totally uninvolved.
“Whatsover a man soweth…”