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.

Christainity, Justice, Liberation Theology, Spiritual

dangerous memory, spiritual practices, and the media

If America’s soul was not already wounded by the violence we impart around the world, it is certainly broken now. Last week we suffered conflict after conflict: the Boston Marathon bombing, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and the shooting at MIT, etc.  It would be most appropriate to practice “Dangerous Memory” as Johann Baptist Metz taught. It calls us to remember those who are suffering and have suffered. (Consumer-capitalist culture thrives on amnesia, not giving us any chance to remember those who suffered and have died because we are too busy consuming.) As we remember those who are currently suffering, we relate their struggle to the life, suffering, and death of Christ. Yet, Jesus’ life does not end with death, but God/She raised Jesus and we keep this hope for those who suffer. Alongside our remembering and hope in new life, we lament. We cry out to God/She, asking that justice may come. The road of healing and restoration is hard but necessary, and if we are following Jesus, then restoration is the only way.

My practice of  Metz’s “Dangerous Memory” fell short last week, being was consumed by the news, my twitter feed, and NPR. On Thursday morning I stayed in bed all morning until I went to work at 1:30pm listening to NPR.

In our society we retrieve information and news through screens: computer, tablets, television, phone, etc. 24 hour news cycles and up-to-second coverage on Twitter and other news-feeds bombard our minds and hearts. Brother Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk in Kentucky, wrote widely on subjects as war, violence, peace, monasticism, and silence. He is still revered for his writings. Concerning the news, Merton wrote:

I have watched TV twice in my life. I am frankly not terribly interested in TV anyway. Certainly I do not pretend that by simply refusing to keep up with the latest news I am therefore unaffected by what goes on, or free of it all. Certainly events happen and they affect me as they do other people. It is important for me to know about them too: but I refrain from trying to know them in their fresh condition as “news.” When they reach me they have become slightly stale. I eat the same tragedies as others, but in the form of tasteless crusts. The news reaches me in the long run through books and magazines, and no longer as a stimulant. Living without news is like living without cigarettes (another peculiarity of the monastic life). The need for this habitual indulgence quickly disappears. So, when you hear news without the “need” to hear it, it treats you differently. And you treat it differently too.

Merton viewed our obsession with the news cycle the same as an addiction to cigarettes.  We desire to stay on top of everything as it happens and it makes us anxious when we don’t know what is going on. This is a problem. Last week CNN demonstrated that “Breaking News is Broken.” Farhad Manjoo, began his article:

“Inspired by the events of the past week, here’s a handy guide for anyone looking to figure out what exactly is going on during a breaking news event. When you first hear about a big story in progress, run to your television. Make sure it’s securely turned off.

Next, pull out your phone, delete your Twitter app, shut off your email, and perhaps cancel your service plan. Unplug your PC.

Now go outside and take a walk for an hour or two. Maybe find a park and sit on a bench, reading an old novel. Winter is just half a year away—have you started cleaning out your rain gutters? This might be a good time to start. Whatever you do, remember to stay hydrated. Have a sensible dinner. Get a good night’s rest. In the morning, don’t rush out of bed. Take in the birdsong. Brew a pot of coffee.

Finally, load up your favorite newspaper’s home page. Spend about 10 minutes reading a couple of in-depth news stories about the events of the day. And that’s it: You’ve now caught up with all your friends who spent the past day and a half going out of their minds following cable and Twitter.”

Majoo described the same kind of spiritual practice as Brother Merton, only 60 years later. Any intentional engagement in the world that wants to positively affect the whole person: spirit, mind, and body is a spiritual practice. People are beginning to recognize this again as an important factor of life, which explains why yoga, meditation, walking in nature, etc. are making a comeback. Comedian Amy Poelher on her “Ask Amy” Youtube channel explained how her “eyes need a break” from all the tragic images in the news.

I am not saying that we never read or watch the news or not concern ourselves with the global community; it is far too late for that. I am suggesting that the world needs us to be full of love and compassion and we cannot do that if we are busy watching television. If we turn off the television, twitter-feeds, etc. we need to replace them with spiritual practices. These are the most counter-cultural act we can do since  they do not consume anything, hence counter-cultural. You can take your time walking the labyrinth or read a psalm as slow as you want during lectio-divina or meditate by emptying yourself of thoughts and desires. 24 hour news-cycles attempt accuracy, yet they harm viewers with unwanted anxiety. To turn off these fear-intensifiers and to direct our emotions and energies toward prayer, self-care, meditation, and compassion in the community changes the way in which we engage in the world.