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Entries in eonsnow (1)

Saturday
Jun112011

Feeling the Revelation

It started as a joke in December of 2010 after seeing the first billboard proclaiming Judgment Day was to happen on May 21. I posted a joke event entry on Facebook for my young adults group at church. I called it The End Of The World. There was a cute illustration of the Earth being destroyed by a meteor. Big explosion. Funny, eh? It was heir to my other such mocking references in song, journal, and joke at the expense of the fundamentalists and doom sayers who have led people to hysteria and maybe suicide by their various doomsday predictions. We in the UCC tend to elevate our noses above that stuff. The Facebook event also included a possibly moving date just in case we got the date wrong and recalculations were needed. I had no intent to really move it. I was making a larger joke at my own expense: my graduation from high school was on June 11, and this was to fall on the 20th anniversary of that date which to me seemed like the end times of history for me.

What began as a joke made all those months in advance slowly morphed into plans for a real get-together with the group. We still had a joking tone about it. We were going to have a "post-apocalyptic regressive dinner" featuring nuclear-safe food like Spam and Twinkies. Others had other food ideas: your "last supper" meal that you would want most to eat before your death, and also the option of bringing freegan food—found food—in keeping with an expectation of shortages and deprivation. I was onboard still.

But as the whole matter of Harold Camping blossomed into major news and hysteria and so many were caught up in mocking it all, one of our number (quite well educated in seminary and years of Baptist life growing up) cautioned a couple of us to ease up on the mocking since there are people who are well meaning and faithful but grossly manipulated by religious charlatans like Camping. At the same time, the June newsletter from my former church started with a great article on Revelation and how to disentangle the popular readings of it (that are the basis for Camping's utterances) from ones that stand up to more historical scrutiny and that aren't just manipulations of the faithful. I wrote to Jerry the pastor and he let me use that article and sent along some notes for a forum he was giving. All of a sudden, in about a week and a half I found the opportunity to take our End of the World party more seriously.

I have to admit, I sort of hijacked this event, but since we tend to be unprogrammed anyway, mostly people are flexible. But what was rumbling in me was that the UCC, a mostly liberal/progressive denomination, has little to say on Revelation. Most mainline denominations sort of shrug it off more than engage it. The dismissing attitude I sense falls in two related forms: If the scholars haven't figured it out, we won't go there yet. There must be great stuff in there. We just don't know how to interpret it. Or maybe people just dismiss it and say it should be left out of the canon because it is too weird. I haven't detected a UCC movement to claim it back and to find a meaningful alternative to the nutty and even dangerous interpretations coming from the more conservative wing of Christianity. But such a silence leaves the fundamentalist interpretations and their fictionalizations in stuff like the Left Behind series as the go-to viewpoints, in part because they are sensationalist, but probably because they appear to be the only voice out there. It is a forfeiture of biblical interpretation that gives the people with the completely wacky ideas the microphone and the knowledge that no one will oppose them! I don't particularly like that.

Lee Van Ham was the first one who helped me have a breakthrough in understanding Revelation as a document setting one earthly paradigm against a cosmological paradigm. (I also had to learn the P word upon meeting him.) He gave me a clue that the book of Revelation was one of hope and perseverance. So since about 2006 or so I have been looking for support along those lines. That is Jerry's general take on it, so I had two trusted voices speaking from close to the same viewpoint. Richard Rohr put a more mystical spin on it (perhaps more in tune with the larger message of the book), but that too took away any reservations that this book is meant to give people the willies and to induce nightmares in people of good faith.

Another kind of insight that arose out of Lee's interpretation was that Revelation is not written for rich nations to interpret. It is for the troubled people who are plagued by the power that the rich have over them. Jerry insists it is protest literature. So for it to be written and understood, one has to know the kinds of powerlessness and fear that people in oppressed situations know. Apocalyptic literature is good for liberation of the soul because it defiantly announces that monstrous powers of oppression and domination are limited and empty in their claims to divinity. That is the domain of God/Christ alone (depending on if you're reading Jewish or Christian apocalyptic lit.). The problem is that to explain this to people who don't feel oppressed, this interpretation falls flat. It is unflattering to people who have to sit by and hear that their retention of any kind of power and privilege is somehow evil. But I think that is missing the point. The point isn't to slam individuals trying to get by. The point is to critique the systems of the world, the corporate ("body") evils that manifest in the systems of the man-made world. Some we recognize as our contemporaries, and fear that they have too much power already and need to be limited somehow: Empires. Transnational corporations that pollute, enslave, and ride roughshod over local laws and traditions. Trade deals like NAFTA. The Military-Industrial-Corporate-Think Tank complex. Agribusiness, epitomized by Monsanto. Giant banks that foreclose on the laboring folk and credit card companies that charge exorbitant fees. That is the kind of evil that undoes community welfare, and these days, even has the power to ruin the biosphere too. Revelation is written to encourage people who are feeling under the weight of all that. People who fear nothing can save them from that but God.

One movie called What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire does a profoundly moving job of showing how empire has been the logical (and illogical) end of the line of civilization. For all it can do for us, it is also the basis of our destruction at the hands of working and consuming ourselves to death. And not just ourselves, but all of the life-giving biosphere too. The movie takes on peak oil, population overshoot and dieoff, extinction, and all the dismal stuff that no one wants to look at. It can sometimes be so brutal that it makes you feel. My intent to show the movie was to accomplish just that. It isn't that my group is not smart, or even aware, or even passionate about a range of social/environmental/political concerns. They are quite fine, and probably ahead of me in those regards. But one thing you can't particularly teach is how to feel like someone.  People are quite familiar with the topics. But this film is so powerful in the way it brings so many forms of dread together, that you can't help but get rattled inside. That is what Revelation is supposed to do to a person: Rattle them. Shock them. Rattle YOU. Shock YOU —into a new and larger consciousness, often brought on by an overwhelming feeling. Intellect alone won't get us there. We have more intellectuals on this planet than ever, and more problems than ever. Call it over-civilization. What needs to happen is that people feel the pathos behind this global issue. Intellect is secondary. Everyone welcome!

Watching this movie, it would be my hope that people would see that we people of faith (and equally so, those who don't think themselves religious) ARE at the mercy of the system-gone-crazy, and that only falling into trust in a larger reality, maybe God, maybe the regenerative power of nature—or call it what you will—can help get us past all that and start on the arduous task of righting the wrongs of an overcivilized human race that thought it was God. Maybe that would be accomplished by taking our hands off the wheel and letting God get back into the driver's seat. The exodus from Egypt is upon us all over again. Can we trust the wilderness we're entering on a global level?

So, back to the evening's program.

In the week before the Saturday date, this all was working on me. Stirring. Despite having not used the name since 2006, I realized this was another EONSNOW teaching engagement, so I sort of made some rumblings about a larger idea with one or two of the group, but not too completely because it was still taking shape in me right up till I went to bed at 4:30 the night before! What I came up with was a "teaching liturgy" that set us into a sacred, ritual space where the idea was to engage both the power of the darkness, and the power of the light. Since we as Christians are the people of the resurrection, and not of the tomb, we claim  hope in things we can't see, worthy results even from ill-made decisions, all by the grace of God. One thing I learned from the Rites of Passage last year, and with some additional reading and understanding of rituals, is that a ritual charts the flow of life's experiences in a microcosmic, representative way. To take people to a dark place is one thing, but to ritually move them back to a place of illumination is another. A ritual like this is a microcosm of life that embodies the dark and the light, the flow of all things. They should not be broken apart. Facing such a devastating vision of things using the King Crimson song and the movie is the downward and inward path to confront deep feelings, but reemerging to partake in the shared meal of the communion, and the more optimistic U2 song is the integrative aspect that connects both polarities of life into one.

The "teaching liturgy" was as follows:

Welcome and introductions
A bit about why this came together this way in light of recent charlatan predictions. What is the end of the world to you? What is civilization? What are your understandings of Revelation? Will lead to...

Discussion of The Apocalypse/Revelation of John
Notes courtesy Rev. Jerry. Historical setting, background on apocalyptic-crisis literature. The intent to overwhelm and shock people into some kind of response, ideally a faithful recommitment to God in protest against empire-consciousness, then manifested by Domitian, who some thought was Nero (aka 666), reborn. Early Americans (under the crown) referred to the Stamp Act as “the mark of the beast,” —when they were subject to the Crown’s harsh economic policies from afar.

Song: Epitaph by King Crimson (1969)
A song about the disillusion with the mind of empire and its handmaiden, state-tamed religion, written by white men from within that world at the peak of the 60’s counterculture in Britain. Henri Nouwen discussed parts of this song as part of his book, The Wounded Healer.

Watch the movie What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire
A movie by another disillusioned white man of a privileged culture, asking the question of what follows empire? Hopefully it will have the power to disturb as Revelation would, to provoke a new consciousness or to tie together fragmented consciousness.

Discussion of the movie and Revelation
in light of a new understanding of how empire consciousness does indeed pose a threat to all of us at this profound, global level. Hopeful aspects of encountering this?

Sacrament of Communion
with common elements made sacred by a blessing by the newly ordained Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas. Here we integrate our brush with new consciousness into a larger God consciousness instead of disowning it. Practicing God’s economy of grace and enough for all, in protest against the empire consciousness of scarcity and competition. How does being wounded by this knowledge of the fragility of all we know, this gnosis, pave the way for us to become the wounded healers in the way Henri Nouwen envisioned?

Song: Peace on Earth by U2 (2001)
A protest song by citizens of a nation often under the boot of an empire state (Ireland under England), but by artists who faithfully claim allegiance to Christ above earthly powers that would divide them from God’s other children. A protest song against empire consciousness and the violence and division it brings.

Benediction

I admit, it was hastily thrown together, and I wish that there was more time to actually teach a few basics on Revelation and apocalyptic literature (but Jerry's notes do quite well with supporting that), and I wish that the connection to Nouwen's book was better made, i.e., how facing our deepest pains is the best motivation for meeting the world's greatest needs. In this case the movie would help us to feel the vast woundedness associated with being alive today. Communion aims to put us back into a whole, ready to do our parts as integrated people ready to address the world's hurts.

During our post-movie discussion period, there turned out to be some conversation that took a decidedly personal turn, toward some vulnerable topics including bouts with homelessness, coming out of the closet, wrestling with false self and the kinds of reprioritizing that go with losing jobs and prestige. We didn't talk that much about either the book or the movie at hand, but it was clear there was a new freedom to open up at a level that can pave the way for bigger leaps of faith and trust such as will be called upon in this perilous life ahead of us.

I'd like to do it again. The thing can get long, but I think that is part of what needs to happen. It is not just a movie and discussion. Not just a church service. Not just an activist's meeting. Surely it is worth the four hours or so that it takes. The short term goal is to soften people's objection to Revelation, or their indifference to it. But the longer term goal is to open up their consciousness, to make them feel the pain of the world, not to dull it. It has to be a better use of a few hours than just cutting down someone else's faith, even if we are undermining it with a more useful interpretation.