Beliefs, Bible, Spiritual

charlottesville and revelation

My church’s Pub Theology crew wanted to discuss the doctrine of Revelation. As is my custom, I created a worksheet to help start our conversation:

Working Definition: Revelation unveils the Unknown. 

What is it:
An experience, an event, an inspiration that moves one beyond the vision of the ordinary. 

What is it not
Revelation does not provide us with all that there is to know about God. 
It does not speak against Biblical theology, i.e. it will never tell you to hate your neighbor.
It is not new information.

Sources and Sites of Revelation:
Jesus Christ
Soup Kitchens

Thomas Merton Plaque

A plaque of Thomas Merton’s famous Revelation

The Intersection of Revelation and Charlottesville 

“Flannery O’Connor depicts an event of “revelation” in a way that points to the deeper theological meaning of the term. She tells of the story of Mrs. Turpin, a hard-working, upright, church-going farmer’s wife, who is unexpectedly accosted by a mentally disturbed teenage girl in a doctor’s office. After bearing Mrs. Turpin’s superior attitude and demanding remarks about white trash and black people as long as she can, the girl suddenly throws a heavy book at Mrs. Turpin, begins to strangle her, and calls her a “warthog from hell.” When Mrs. Turpin returns to her farm, she cannot get the girl’s words out of her mind. Standing beside her pigpen, she is outraged by being called a warthog. She knows she is a good person, certainly far superior to white trash and black people. She reminds God of that, as well as of all the work she does for the church, “What did you send me a message like that for?” She angrily asks God. But as she stared into the pigpen, she has a glimpse of “the very heart of mystery,” and begins to absorb some “abysmal life-giving knowledge.” She has a vision of a parade of souls marching to heaven, with white trash, black people, lunatics, and other social outcasts up front, and respectable people like herself at the rear of the procession, the shocked expressions on their faces showing that all their virtues are being burned away. Mrs. Turpin returns to her house with shouts of hallelujah from the heaven-bound saints in her ears.”

“Revelation is an event that shakes us to the core.”

“Revelation compels momentous decisions about who God is and how we are to understand the world and ourselves.”

The previous quotes are from the tremendous book Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel Migliore (p. 22)

Our conversation was complicated by the group constantly arguing for what I deemed as little “r” revelation. They described events that shaped new ways of visioning the world, but not necessarily with the consequences of material change. For example, someone mentioned walking in the park, feeling awestruck, and not being able to see a leaf again without thinking of God’s handiwork. This is lovely, for sure, but is not capital “R” Revelation. 

When Biblical Revelations occur, which seem to only happen to men, the recipient’s  lives are transformed. After Moses encounters God in a burning bush, he changes his path, goes back to Egypt, and joins in the liberation of the Hebrew People. Paul’s revelation of God knocks his life out of control, no longer does he kill Christians, but now he preaches a Gospel for both Jews and Gentiles. According to these Biblical Revelations, they happen when they’re least expected and one is persuaded towards a way of life-giving love. 

And oh how I pray for Revelations for politicians, CEOs, & white supremacists that they may change their ways. Often I think that people could help foster acts of Revelation. Like the teenage girl in the Flannery O’Connor tale and help others to see that their vision of the world is destructive.

I ended the conversation at Pub Theology saying that if a Revelation does not create a material change, not just a spiritual one, then you should’ve been paying closer attention.


driscoll’s misreading of revelation

“I am suspending the name (of) “God” in scare quotes. That sends the (strong) theologians heading for the exits, because they are looking for something to save them, to keep them safe.” – John Caputo in The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps (pg. 10)

In his sermon series on the Decalogue, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle wrote a blog post on the sixth commandment titled “Is God a pacifist?” The commandment, of course, is “do not murder” and is present in both Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20. To defend his personal position that Christians can kill, make war, and enact in, Driscoll’s favorite hobby, UFC wrestling, he goes straight for jugular and quotes an extremely violent passage in Revelation.

“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia” (Rev. 14:14–20).

Mark Driscoll preaching

Disturbing, to say the least. Yet, Driscoll’s Reformed/Neo-Calvinist hermeneutic, which sets all Scripture on an equal playing field, has royally mixed up these passages.* First, Driscoll writes, Jesus “is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom.” Nowhere in the passage, he cites, is Jesus riding a white horse. The only white horse references are found in chapters five and nineteen. According to the fifth chapter, Jesus is not even riding the white horse because he is located in heaven represented by the slaughtered lamb. In the nineteenth chapter, the rider on the white horse could be assumed to be Jesus. The rider slaughters those in the Empire, the ones who have power beyond power and the martyrs feast on them. Not trying to shy away from the violent imagery, it is the martyrs in the sixth chapter who demand justice for their spilled blood, which was done by the Empire. This fleshy feast fulfills this justice, according to Revelation.

Second, throughout Revelation, there is a kaleidoscopic representation of symbols assumed to be Jesus. Yet, in chapter fourteen, the son of man in the cloud wearing one crown probably isn’t him! Strictly thinking about crowns: when represented as a slaughtered lamb, he doesn’t wear any crowns. Then, the rider in nineteen wears many diadems. In addition, in a mocking fashion, the red dragon wears seven diadems and the beast from the sea sports a total of ten. A figure wearing one crown does not fit the normal representation of Jesus in Revelation.

Thirdly, the symbols of Jesus work autonomously compared to other characters in Revelation. In complete opposition to Jesus’ character, it reads,  “another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.”” Thus, it should be understood that Jesus is not the son of man in the cloud. Jesus, thankfully, is not carrying a sickle reaping the world.

Of course, it begs the question, what are we to do with the violence in Revelation, even if it is not Jesus who is doing all the reaping or killing? Certainly, this is no easy task, and will take more than a blog post to handle all of the nuances and challenges found in the text. So I will point toward a few ways of reading Revelation. To begin, this text was written during the triumph of the Roman Empire by John of Patmos who was in prison. Violence was the imperial norm for his society, very similar to ours, and their artwork and mantras upheld this tradition. The violent imagery was seared into the minds of all. Therefore, how could John of Patmos not be expected to use it in his text?

Many of our biblical texts are counter-narratives. They turn the norm of their current society on its head. The same is true for Revelation. Although, it is hard for us to see because much of our culture is infused with biblical imagery, we cannot fully comprehend its topsy-turvyness. For example, in Revelation five, an angel cries out with a loud voice “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals?” John openly weeps, but an elder comforts him saying ““Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Isn’t this what we expect: a lion, strong, courageous, with a beautiful bold mane.

Yet, the lion does not respond to the elder or open any of the scrolls; instead, John writes, “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” A bloody lamb opens the scrolls. In my mind, I picture this lamb to be constantly bleeding from the neck which never scars, its wool blood red, and taking shallow breaths, just to stay alive. This is counter-narrative at its finest. Among other things, this is what Driscoll doesn’t understand about the Bible: it is a multivocal, mostly anti-Empire, hope-filled text that challenges our very assumptions! One should not go lightly into reading the Bible, it takes courage!

Revelation 4

*Reformed/Neo Calvinist theology teaches that the entire Bible is inspired and inerrant. Everything from the genealogies in Chronicles to the parables of Jesus should be taken at the same dedication and seriousness. Consequently, they often create doctrines and dogmas by looking through the Bible as a whole for certain words or phrases that will give them the results they have assumed. Driscoll certainly does this in his post by barely touching on the historical context of the verse in the Exodus and interprets it through Revelation.

Christainity, Justice, Scripture

praying for peace in syria

Pope Francis called the church and the world to pray for peaceful resolutions in Syria. Indeed, the world needs more people to focus on peace and non-violent solutions. For my class, Revelation: Economy, Ecology, and Empire, the first assignment given was to read all of Revelation and figure out who the writer believes to be the righteous heros or the villains. As I read through it tonight, I was disturbed by the role angels play. Of course, it is an angel who guides John through the vision, but angels also release the horrible seven seals. One moment, angels praise God in all the tapestry and in the next, angels are sending locust to destroy 1/3 of plant life.

For political and military interventions, the US has always played the dual role of these angels. We can send good medical aid to people around the world, and have people who would sacrifice anything for peace. Yet, concurrently, we promote victory through violence. Our military and special ops have devastated other countries and governments through means of violence and Empire building. For instance,  in the 1970’s, the US aided in the killing of Salvador Allende, Chile’s first Socialist President, because he did not fit the mold our capitalist democracy. If the US is an angel, then its wings are tattered and burnt.

Similar to the Gospel of Matthew, Revelation’s author affirms, “if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed” (13:10). This message seems clear. If we spread violence world-wide, then eventually it will come back to us. I believe this to be very true, especially with our high statistics of gun violence, allowing cities to go bankrupt, to let our public education system to go to waste. Yet, the American logic makes total sense: if we keep our troops overseas, we don’t have to worry about getting them a job in the US. Our priority is to keep the military-industrial-complex machine running at full steam: we needmore wars, more conflict, and enough public opinion for a  greater meaning of purpose for our soliders.

One more note, before we close in prayer. I scan many news sites trying to gather as much information about  the Syrian situation as possible. All of our news outlets focus on the President and Congress’ decision whether we “help” them out or not. Al Jazeera, on the other hand, reported that the Syrian Parliament does not want us to intervene. Their question is what would happen after the first strike? They are afraid that extremism would gain even more popularity and so many more people will be killed. The conflict in Syria is complex and trying to “fix” all of the world’s problems with bombs is a horrible idea.

In conclusion, there is the Palestinian Liberation Christian Community called Sabeel. Every week they pray for Palestine and for those around the world. Here is their prayer from September 5th:

Lord, it is also a time of great uncertainty and tragedy for many people across the Middle East. In the wake of the latest alleged chemical attack which took the lives of nearly 1,500 people, we wish to pray especially for the people of Syria, remembering the more than 100,000 killed and the 6.2 million displaced by the horrific civil war. At this time of upheaval, many countries surrounding Syria fear for the security and the stability of their nations; Merciful God, hear our people’s cries for safety, justice, and peace. Lord, also give wisdom and restraint to world leaders that they will not respond to this recent tragedy with warfare and instead will seek the path of non-violence. We pray, God, for a political solution that will stabilize this war-torn country and the entire Middle East. Lord in your mercy. Hear Our Prayer.

Gracious God, we lift the Egyptian people up to you. In the midst of turmoil and violence, we beg you to be the light that shines in the darkness and reveal your way of peace and reconciliation. Lord, we pray that you would provide a way forward which honors the dignity of all and brings a peaceable political solution and end to the conflict. Lord in your mercy. Hear Our Prayer.