We’ve been looking at the book of Revelation in the Christian Bible and discovering that it has nothing to do with the Rapture popularized in the Left Behind Series. Instead, the book challenges us to loEk at our own cultural and society realities and to critically examine whether, instead of being the faithful few, we are really part of the corrupt and controlling empire.
Maybe it’s because of another American cultural phenomenon known as “It’s not my fault.” IWe have become masters at the “Better to Blame Someone Else Game.” If we begin to see ourselves as the Empire then we have a responsibility to do something about it. But if we are the victims of something out of our control, all we need to do is buckle down and finger point and wait for the apocalypse.
My criticism of the book is that it too neatly divides people into two camps and creates an us vs. them mentality. And in doing so it fails to consider that we each hold the seeds of oppressor and oppressed within us.
America was founded on the idea that people needed to be free of oppression which leads me to wonder if we take some sort of perverse pleasure in being persecuted so that we always have an oppressor to overcome. Think of the neo-Nazi and White Arian Resistance movements who claim reverse discrimination and demand to be seen as the victims in a society making pitiful progress toward advancing the status of woman, people of color, and people of different sexual orientations. Is that kind of egocentric worldview at the heart of why we can read Revelation in our context today and not see that we have become the very empire we decry?
Oppressor and Oppressed
Is there something here tied to emotionally charged words like “power” and maybe “shame” in our failure to use power well? Do we look self pityingly upon our own self and the slings and arrows we know we have suffered and fail to see our place within a much larger community – or two – one that oppresses and one that is oppressed? Is the truth that we don’t want to face the fact that we live in both and that we get them mixed up – so that we give our energy and allegiance to the one we know will suck the life out of us but that offers other powerful enticements to stay? And in doing so are we unable to accept the responsibility that our choices have local and global consequences that hurt other people and this earth? Until in our dissonance we simply have to blame it on the “system” – the enemy that holds us captive?
In the Book of Revelation I find that I am finally both oppressor and oppressed. I struggle to build communities of support for myself and for my many friends who are marginalized and mistreated. I sign petitions and walk for good causes and donate lots of money to charity. And I continue to buy products at the lowest cost from companies who benefit from military contracts and shady employment practices.
Revelations challenges me to ask on a day-to-day basis what values I choose to live by. It asks you and I to what or to whom will we give our allegiance? And it tells us in no uncertain terms that there are consequences to the choices we make. We can be complicit in the violence and destruction and help destroy all that is good and beautiful or we can be co-creators in building a new heaven and a new earth. But whatever we do, the consequences begin today.
The primary vision in Revelation is not about a place after we die or even after Jesus returns. It is a vision for how we can transform our world today by the way we live out God’s reign in the world. It is a vision of healing and of peace and joy. Once we have seen that vision it affects everything we do.
A Book of Hope
According to Barbara Rossing, “Revelation is not a book written to inspire fear and terror. But it is definitely written to increase our sense of urgency. It is an apocalyptic wake up call precisely because there IS hope for us and for the world. Revelation teaches us a fierce, urgent and wonderful hope – not an easy comfort, but a hope that knows the reality of terror and still can testify to God’s love in the face of that terror.”
Revelation is a bizarre book to read. In times of great turmoil, persecution and uncertainty, it helps people make sense out of what is happening and comprehend the source of their suffering. It holds out to them the promise that God is still in control and will ultimately be victorious. But in a time and place of arguable wealth and comfort and power, it offers a harsh critique of the political, economic, social and religious realities of the Empire.
It doesn’t stop there. It also presents us with a vision of a world-in-the-making where peace and justice are embodied in a new heaven and a new earth, as it challenges us to withdraw from the Empire to live even now in the New Jerusalem, the New Grand Haven, the New Michigan, the New America.
My boys, Jackson and Alex, saw King Kong when the 2006 version was released. They came home at 10:30 at night bouncing off the walls. I told Alex he had to calm down and get ready for bed. To which he replied, “I’ve just sat for 3 hours and 6 minutes with my eyes exposed to flashing light and loud noise. I can’t settle down now!” I encourage us all to spend some time with the Book of Revelation. If King Kong can do that to a 10-year-old kid, imagine what multi-headed beasts, weird creatures, dragons and a hero who’s a lamb might be able to stir up in us!
Invitation for Reflection
1) How do you approach theology and “pop” culture?
2) If the world were ending, what would you do?
3) In what ways are you oppressed? In what ways are you the oppressor?