Being Fully Human, Bible, Christian Mysticism, hope, oppression, perspective, Progressive Christianity, Relationship, Spiritual

Rapture Revisted

FireWe’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?

Jesus, Progressive Christianity, Spiritual

Revelation – The Nonsense of the Rapture

Apocolypse RaptureLet me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield, but to my own strength. Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved, but hope for the patience to win my freedom. Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.  – Rabindranath Tagore

I notice that the posters are back. The Keys of Revelation are once more available for public purchase. It’s a shame that the real depth of this book is lost in a lot of rapture nonsense promoted in the Left Behind series and in Bible Prophesy Seminars that promise to bring the most “exciting and indisputable prophecies of the Scripture” to an unsuspecting public.  

The Backstory

The book of Matthew in the Christian Bible was written around the year 90AD less than a generation after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Empire. The hearers of this book knew firsthand the devastation and destruction of a terrible war. Many people had been taken away as captives to be enslaved or killed. For those that survived it must have felt very much like the last days. In Matthew 24 we read that two men will be plowing in a field and one will be taken and one will be left behind. Two women will be grinding at the mill and one will be taken and one will be left behind. The focus of this passage is not on the prediction of events that will transpire thousands of years in the future. It is that we are always to live in a state of readiness. We don’t know when Jesus might return so whatever trauma may come, we are told to be ready to love our neighbor, to care for the earth, and to live faithfully.

 Matthew is ambiguous about whether it’s better to be the one taken away or the one left standing in place. Given the time in which he wrote you can easily read this passage to mean that it is far better to be left behind than to be carried away by the secret police or swept away by judgment. But this is the text used by the authors of the Left Behind as a clothesline upon which they hang all of their other prophecy. 

The premise of Left Behind is the Rapture. The Rapture is supposed to be a time when all of the true believers of Jesus are transported up to heaven so that they are safe and sound and light years away when all manner of violence and terror consumes the earth for the next seven years. People who believe in the Rapture believe it’s foretold in the book of Revelation. But the truth is there is no Rapture described in the book of Revelation. In fact, the very idea of a Rapture is less than 200 years old.

The Origin of the Idea of the Rapture 

The idea stared in 1830 at a healing service. A 15-year-old girl had a vision of Jesus coming back not just once, but twice. Pastor John Nelson Darby took this idea and worked in into a whole theology. Hal Lindsey liked Pastor Darby’s ideas and described it all in his book  The Late Great Planet Earth. Most recently, authors LeHaye and Jenkins have exploited this theological anomaly in the Left Behind series.

 Their books do not paint a pretty picture of the future. After the rapture all hell literally breaks loose. Chaos and destruction reign. It is a terrifying time to be alive. Eventually the earth itself is destroyed. But there is hope. If you are one of the few who are ready, you get to be spared all of that pain and misery. You get to escape the realities of disease and war and corruption and violence. You get the coveted get out of jail free card and get to sit in bliss and harmony while the sad sorry people who didn’t listen to you suffer for their sins. Not only that, you also get front row tickets to see the carnage below.

It is a story with very carefully defined characters that feeds our addiction to violence. There are good guys and there are bad guys. There is black and there is white. There is right and there is wrong. There are concrete answers to all of our questions and there is a way to ensure our own safety and protection. It’s a plot that seems custom made for America in the 21st century.

A Culture of Fear 

The only problem is it’s a complete misappropriation of the message and imagery of the Book of Revelation in which Christ is the Lamb who shepherds and shelters and leads us to pasture while God wipes away our tears.

In a culture immersed in fear, in a society where people long for personal security in the midst of widespread suffering, in a world that promotes war over peace and violence over reconciliation, two authors have found incredible success. In one of the books, there are people who finally believe – but too late to do them any good. While they are being cast into hell they are wailing in vane “Jesus is Lord” to the deep satisfaction of many who were saved. Author Jenkins says, “One of the toughest things I deal with is that there are some evangelicals, with familiar faces, who seem to LIKE that part of it. You know, ‘We’re right, you’re wrong, that’s what the Bible says, someday you’re going to kneel and admit it.’ That, Jenkins reflects, should break our hearts.”

 Indeed. How troubling that people who claim the name of Christian would embrace such a picture of suffering and that they would deliberately prey upon fear as a means of conversion. But also how sad that this theology can be packaged by loud voices with lots of money and assumed to be true. So many people fail to understand that these terrible ideas can be written in books and still be utterly untrue.

I think it’s fine to consider the theological content of the latest Hollywood Blockbuster or the loudest voice in the public arena, as long as we also take on the responsibility of bringing critical analysis to the message we’re being fed. Imagination combined with reconstructed and omitted Biblical passages can produce some great fiction and captivating entertainment – but that doesn’t make it true.

So what is the meaning behind the book? More next week…