Some Christians read Revelation 13 as prophecy for the end times. Others interpret it as a highly symbolic commentary on a despotic first-century emperor. A reflection of the past, a prediction for the future, or a play-by-play commentary on our present? Let anyone who has an ear listen:
“The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.” (Revelation 13:5–8, NRSV)
Not for nothing, but January 2017 to June 2020 is forty-two months.
To all Christians invested in the struggle for racial justice, I recommend Kelly Brown Douglas’s Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Orbis, 2015). Written after the murder of Trayvon Martin, Douglas’s book puts white supremacy in historical perspective, arguing that Christians should acknowledge the complicity of their faith in America’s original sin. At the same time, she offers a compelling theology of witness with this clear theme: the crucified Christ stands in solidarity with black lives still being crucified today.
From the book:
“It matters that Jesus died on the cross, just as it matters that God freed the Israelites from bondage. For it is only when the least of these are free to achieve the fullness of life that God’s justice will be realized. The profound meaning of God’s preferential option for freedom is seen in God’s solidarity with the crucified class. Their freedom will mark an eradication of all that separates people one from another and thus disengages all people from the goodness of their humanity. Thus, the justice of God also begins from the bottom up. Put simply, it is in the freedom of those who are crucified that one can see the justice of God working in the world” (197).
It is an expression of Christian charity
Lost in the traumatic aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, including President Trump’s assault on the right to free speech and peaceable assembly, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling on another First Amendment issue late last week. The case involved a church suing the State of California for prohibiting large in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The church argued that assembling as church is a fundamental expression of Christian faith, and that the order to limit gatherings is therefore a violation of the First Amendment. A majority on the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the prohibitions on mass gatherings did not constitute a violation of religious freedom.
“In a revolutionary situation there can never be nonpartisan theology. Theology is always identified with a particular community. It is either identified with those who inflict oppression or with those who are its victims. A theology of the latter is authentic Christian theology, and a theology of the former is a theology of the Antichrist.”
—James H. Cone in A Black Theology of Liberation
Please join me in a virtual Easter morning worship service with Grace Congregational Church of Rutland, Vermont! Happy Easter. Christ is risen, indeed!
My friend Steve Martin serves as Director of Communications and Development for the National Council of Churches in DC. He and I share a love of motorcycles and a love for the church. In the following essay, he writes beautifully about what motorcycling might disclose about being American and being Christian, as well as how church might refract our identity with other “tribes.” Even though he rides the wrong kind of bike, I’d like to share what he wrote:
Motorcycles, tribalism and America – What I learned riding in Rolling Thunder
Today many Christians observe Epiphany, commemorating the coming of wise men to see the infant Jesus, following the star until they found him in Bethlehem. Epiphany concludes the traditional twelve days of Christmas, and what it adds to our Christmas celebration is the Good News that God’s presence is a Gospel meant for all the world. The star shines for the redemption of all of humanity. The wise men who sought out the infant Christ came from beyond the family lineage of Israel, and together they symbolize the longing for life and love, hope and peace, that every member of the human community shares. As the Gospel of John’s opening lines declare, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” On Epiphany we celebrate that the imperative of the prophet Isaiah is an invitation for the whole world: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Epiphany may be a specifically Christian holy day, but in our celebration we the Church are simply what theologian Karl Barth once called the “provisional representation of all humanity.” In our Epiphany celebration, we foreshadow a hope for all people, the light of life, Emmanuel, God with us!
Grace and truth. Neither is in great supply these days. Grace and truth can be scarce in the church or at family holiday gatherings, but they are virtually unicorns in American politics, rumored to be real but never actually seen. In our post-fact era, there is no such thing as truth, for reality is whatever my favorite cable channel or internet site says it is. And in our hyper-partisan political culture, where political opponents are no longer fellow citizens but enemies of the people, grace gives way to demonization. In the eyes of Democrats, Republicans are racist, cowardly, and enslaved to the wealthy elite. In the standard rhetoric of Republicans, Democrats are anti-religious intellectuals bent on undermining American security with open borders, while redistributing wealth to eliminate the need to work. The absence of grace and truth in our politics increasingly bleeds into how we relate to our neighbors, family members, and church kin.
Check out this really helpful article in the New York Times about organizations trying to heal the polarization in this country by inviting people to actually sit down and talk. It also includes a shout-out to my book on civility!
This past week I was blessed to spend a couple of days hanging out with friends in Greenville, South Carolina. I have known Susan, Ken, and Leeann for only three years or so, when I joined a committee for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that they were already serving. In a short period of time, they have become some of my closest friends. When we are working together, we are writing theology exams for our denomination’s ordination process, and it is wonderful to bond with them in our common love of theological tradition and the church. But what has pulled us together runs deeper than theology. These friends understand (and to varying degrees share) my extreme introversion. They endorse and encourage my love of bourbon and gin. Perhaps most important of all, they match my school-bus sense of humor with disgusting antics of their own. (Well, Susan and Leeann are happy to meet me in the gutter with inappropriate jokes and innuendos, while Ken futilely tries to model humor that is a little less adolescent.) They care about me, not because I do something for them, but simply because I am. Two days with this Fun Bunch yielded more laughs and spiritual restoration than I have enjoyed in a long, long time. It was holy time.