September 30, 2006

the scroll/david

The hairier this thing gets the more we want to descend into allegory symbolism and subjective interpretation. The author of Revelation feeds this in us: in my vision. As if he is frightened we might take this stuff as literal.

While I'm post-modern enough to not see this stuff as having one and only one objectively determined sense, neither do I think the whole enchiladas is up for grabs. If Revelation can mean anything, then it means nothing. And if it means nothing it stops being text. This writing, for weal or woe is trying to communicate. It exists to inform and to transform and so the objective is determining the how the author might want us read this, how we might live differently should the author succeed in his purposes.

So where to begin. Six of the seven seals are broken and all manner of signs an portents are loosed upon the world. Are these magickal seals, the means of our destruction? Is God author of conquering armies, wars, famine, and death by sword, by famine, by plague and through wild beasts?

Forrest writes:

Or we can think of the scroll as a kind of "legal document", a divine decree that will manifest that meaning. A Roman will, for example, needed to be sealed by seven witnesses. The writing on the outside may be a summary/description of the contents within, but their actual fulfillment demands a public reading.

I think this is a helpful opening here. Firstly, these seals are not the content of the scroll. They are the preamble to the content. A King's will is about to be read, an edict empowering his heirs, establishing ruling structures, distributing wealth, gifts and power. The pretenders for the throne gather their armies to seize control. the reader of the scroll, the gathered assembly, knows this and calls out to them, "Come!" Do your worst.

The pretenders are divided against each other but united in purpose, they want to determine the outcome and they are prepared to kill to get it. And with the sixth seal broken open, we see how vulnerable, how impotent they are before the opening of the scroll.

Now this is my take. Is it any better than yours? That would depend on what we mean by better. It would depend on why we read and more importantly, why we try to interpret.

It seesm to me, the key questions here are 1) Are the Four Horsemen agents of God or part of the powers and principalities aligned against God and his people? and 2) Whose side are we on?

To upack these questions we need to look to our own reactions to the text and explore why we react the way we do. What is in our psyche or our history that responds this way? What is in the text that pushes those buttons?

The Lamb Opens Six Seals (Revelation 6)

Then, in my vision, I saw the Lamb break one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures shout in a voice like thunder, 'Come!' Immediately I saw a white horse appear, and its rider was holding a bow; he was given a victor's crown and he went away, to go from victory to victory.

When he broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature shout, 'Come!' And out came another horse, bright red, and its rider was given this duty: to take away peace from the earth and set people killing each other. He was given a huge sword.

When he broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature shout, 'Come!' Immediately I saw a black horse appear, and its rider was holding a pair of scales; and I seemed to hear a voice shout from among the four living creatures and say, 'A day's wages for a quart of corn, and a day's wages for three quarts of barley, but do not tamper with the oil or the wine.'

When he broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature shout, 'Come!' Immediately I saw another horse appear, deathly pale, and its rider was called Death, and Hades followed at its heels. They were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague and through wild beasts.

When he broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of all the people who had been killed on account of the Word of God, for witnessing to it. They shouted in a loud voice, 'Holy, true Master, how much longer will you wait before you pass sentence and take vengeance for our death on the inhabitants of the earth?' Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to be patient a little longer, until the roll was completed of their fellow-servants and brothers who were still to be killed as they had been.

In my vision, when he broke the sixth seal, there was a violent earthquake and the sun went as black as coarse sackcloth; the moon turned red as blood all over, and the stars of the sky fell onto the earth like figs dropping from a fig tree when a high wind shakes it; the sky disappeared like a scroll rolling up and all the mountains and islands were shaken from their places. Then all the kings of the earth, the governors and the commanders, the rich people and the men of influence, the whole population, slaves and citizens, hid in caverns and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us away from the One who sits on the throne and from the retribution of the Lamb. For the Great Day of his retribution has come, and who can face it?'

September 28, 2006

Lilly of the Valley

First if you have heard of the recent book on Revelations, it sounds very enticing. A friend apprized us that Jonathan Kirsch was being interviewed on PBS during lunch-- refreshing.

Now, amplifying my (precipitious as usual) comment on Rev 5, I spent an hour folding it into my magnum opus.

September 27, 2006

worthy is the lamb (Revelation chapter 5)

I saw that in the right hand of the One sitting on the throne there was a scroll that was written on back and front and was sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a powerful angel who called with a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?' But there was no one, in heaven or on the earth or under the earth, who was able to open the scroll and read it. I wept bitterly because nobody could be found to open the scroll and read it, but one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep. Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed, and so he will open the scroll and its seven seals.'

Then I saw, in the middle of the throne with its four living creatures and the circle of the elders, a Lamb standing that seemed to have been sacrificed; it had seven horns, and it had seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits that God has sent out over the whole world. The Lamb came forward to take the scroll from the right hand of the One sitting on the throne, and when he took it, the four living creatures prostrated themselves before him and with them the twenty-four elders; each one of them was holding a harp and had a golden bowl full of incense which are the prayers of the saints. They sang a new hymn:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to break its seals, because you were sacrificed, and with your blood you bought people for God of every race, language, people and nation and made them a line of kings and priests for God, to rule the world.

In my vision, I heard the sound of an immense number of angels gathered round the throne and the living creatures and the elders; there were ten thousand times ten thousand of them and thousands upon thousands, loudly chanting:
Worthy is the Lamb that was sacrificed to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour, glory and blessing.

Then I heard all the living things in creation -- everything that lives in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and in the sea, crying:
To the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb, be all praise, honour, glory and power, for ever and ever.

And the four living creatures said, 'Amen'; and the elders prostrated themselves to worship.

September 24, 2006

heavenly worship: Revelation 4

Then, in my vision, I saw a door open in heaven and heard the same voice speaking to me, the voice like a trumpet, saying, "Come up here: I will show you what is to take place in the future."

With that, I fell into ecstasy and I saw a throne standing in heaven, and the One who was sitting on the throne, and the One sitting there looked like a diamond and a ruby. There was a rainbow encircling the throne, and this looked like an emerald. Round the throne in a circle were twenty-four thrones, and on them twenty-four elders sitting, dressed in white robes with golden crowns on their heads. Flashes of lightning were coming from the throne, and the sound of peals of thunder, and in front of the throne there were seven flaming lamps burning, the seven Spirits of God.

In front of the throne was a sea as transparent as crystal. In the middle of the throne and around it, were four living creatures all studded with eyes, in front and behind. The first living creature was like a lion, the second like a bull, the third living creature had a human face, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was studded with eyes all the way round as well as inside; and day and night they never stopped singing:
Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty; who was, and is and is to come.

Every time the living creatures glorified and honoured and gave thanks to the One sitting on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders prostrated themselves before him to worship the One who lives for ever and ever, and threw down their crowns in front of the throne, saying:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you made the whole universe; by your will, when it did not exist, it was created.

the letters

It seems to me these letters offer us a wealth of christological material. They each present a Christ who is someone somewhat different for each community addressed yet at the same time One.


  • holds the stars of the seven lampstands in his hand. The spirits that animate the churches are under his authority.

  • is the Alpha and the Omega; the One dead now made alive. He is the first fruits of our own resurrection. The empty tomb is affirmed.

  • a sharp two-edged sword comes from his mouth; he is the God who speaks (difficult) truths to us and we hear.

  • has eyes of flame and feet of bronze. He sees what we do even in the dark. The things he sees are revealed by an inner light from within.

  • holds the key of David, what he opens cannot be shut and what he shuts cannot be opened. He has authority in the palace. He grants access to the King.

  • is the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the First of God's creation. Christ is the Cosmic Christ. Christ Pantokrator as the Greek say.

Is this what Christ is for me? There was a time when I could witness Christ speaking things to me and I hear. The Voice seems less clear now and I seek it in other places than before. The empty tomb is not at the heart of my spirituality.

This Cosmic Christ is also, in these letters, one who warns, who promises, who enters into communion with us. Perhaps I'm passing through dry straw times. But this doesn't really speak to my experiences either.

This doesn't feel like a cuddly me and Jesus kinda spirituality behind these writings. This doesn't feel like the mysticism of quiet contemplation, or of waiting worship. I'd wager the early Friends knew this Jesus. This is the Jesus Rudolph Otto witnesses to in the Idea of the Holy. A Jesus disappearing form Christian culture. One that draws us to him, and scares the heck out of us at the same time. It is a mysticism of storms in the mountains, earthquakes and whirlwinds not still small voices or gentle breezes.

September 23, 2006

Before We Leave Laodicea

There were some good words on this from Jacques Ellul; I'm going to edit them down but they are very much about what we face:
"Here I believe that finally in this last letter the central theme is hope...
It is in this epistle that we find the formula so often cited of the cold, the lukewarm, and the hot. I believe this is very simple: the lukewarm is the one who desires nothing, who does not feel any lack, any absence, who does not understand that there is anything missing, who does not aspire to anything and because of that does not hope for anything.

"The cold is the one to whom much is lacking and who knows it but who does not ask for anything, who is shut up in the consciousness of his failure. The hot is the one who moves and who acts. But these latter two aspects are aspects of hope.

"The lukewarm, who is satisfied with that which he is, is led to do nothing to change, since the actual situaton appears satisfactory to him. He then does not see his real situation before God....

"This church does not know her truth, does not know herself; this is the evangelical definition of hypocrisy (which is not a conscious lie.) And from the moment there is nothing to hope for, there is no longer anything to recieve... but the opposite of hypocrisy is hope.... Now, once more, when God pronounces judgement or makes the diagnosis known, he immediately appeals, counsels, exhorts... give up as the price of what God gives, your present riches. It is that which makes it possible for God to give the remedy for sight (to see yourself such as you are in truth), which is to say deliverence from hypocrisy and committment to the way of hope...

"If Jesus Christ is so harsh, so rigorous, it is to lead this church to lucidity, to awareness, and thereby to conversion (the change of orientation and meaning.) The severity of the Lord is the only means to produce hope....

"Although [Jesus] announces his disgust for the one who is lukewarm and hypocritical, he comes to this door in order to be received. It is not the church at the end of its faithful pilgrimage who ends at the door of Paradise guarded by St. Peter; it is Christ who comes to our door, and when he arrives our door is shut."
So who opens that door? Certainly we're afraid what might get in, if we leave it unlocked, in this neighborhood--but we also know that unlocking it is something we'll need to do. Slowly our fingers unclench from the knob... It's no credit to us, we're so reluctant. And that's perfectly all right.

For God's will to be done, means to have what truly matters to us.

kwakersaur defunct

It has been a delightful run but it has come time for old grey beast to be put out to pasture. I remain here, as always, your friendly skripture study blog servant. But the kwakersaur is gone.

Edit your links accordingly.


According to my original action plan, we pause after the letter to Laodicea and ask if this is helpful for folks. Revelation was iffy for a few of us when we started.

Do we continue? Do we find another project?

Speak, for your blog servant listens.

September 22, 2006

trustworthy and true

Each letter is a miniature Christology. For Laodicea, Christ is:
the Amen, the trustworthy, the true witness, the Principle of God's creation

This sounds enormously like the gospel of John's logos which in turn sounds an awful lot like the Sophia of the Proverbs.

These are all amazing titles. But they all sound remote. Wisdom. Truth. True Witness. Logos. The Word. God's blueprint for the cosmos -- looks to me like the construction workers reading the engineering specs upside down.
This sounds like a God for intellectuals. A God for folks for who getting all your notional ducks in a row before you act is the be all and end all. In other words, this is a God for folks like me. And from raw experience, I have learned one of the character flaws in folks who value wisdom over all else, is good old analysis paralysis. Hold off deciding, hold of acting until just one more fact comes it but all the facts are never in. Life goes on and the facts pile up. Need to be arranged. Placed in their cubbies. Examined like precious gemstones. You are neither hot nor cold, but only lukewarm.

It really is easier to point a finger outward than into the mirror.

Of such folks Christ says, buy from me the gold that has been tested in the fire to make you truly rich, and white robes to clothe you and hide your shameful nakedness, and ointment to put on your eyes to enable you to see . Those facts are not the fine gold we think they are. And the intellectualism we hide behind doesn't really hide our nakedness. And our kind of wisdom doesn't necessarily help us see any further.

Christ changes by the end of this letter. I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share a meal at that person's side.

This is no longer the abstract First Principle. This is a God who is for us and with us. A God of relations and relationships. A God who meets us not in facts and figures but in warm moments shared.

Knowledge -- in this life is about control. Promises of power here are to those who prove victorious.
Anyone who proves victorious I will allow to share my throne, just as I have myself overcome and have my seat with my Father on his throne.

Power is firstly shared, a power with God and not a power over God. And not, as in the threats, God's power over us. And it flows from the quality of our relationship to Christ. And it is founded on our ability to resist the worst aspects of our greatest strengths.

September 20, 2006

Is This What We Wanted to Hear?

Once again, our author tells us: "This is Christ speaking." And as before, we have to decide whether this really sounds like Christ--to consider what his words mean and whether they match our understanding of Christ's nature. However we may decide, this should clarify our understanding of what "Christ" means.

"Since you are neither hot nor cold..."--This sounds like Jesus speaking in a royal capacity, but I have not been able to find it in the gospels, not even Luke, even by searching online. I could imagine him saying it in his earthly life, pleading for human support and never receiving what was needed--but the saying, despite the word "lukewarm," simply isn't in there.

So. Christ or Accuser? Do these spirits resemble each another that much?--or do they simply express one divine nature in different ways?--Or maybe we're prone to confuse two fundamentally different spirits?

We like love that refuses to condemn us--but we don't remain content with indiscriminate love. It sounds too much like "blind" love, the sort we typically send back, marked "Addresee unknown, not here--Return to sender."

This speaker says "I reprove and train those I love." That's a scarey sort of love. It isn't just the potential S&M sound of it we fear; this sort of love could give us a chisel and a big block of marble and tell us: "Go for it!"

Coming from earthly parents, such expectations can aim a kid up the wrong mountain, make him run off to sea instead. What if our statue of "David" comes out like Donald Duck?

Churches hold up divine virtues for our inspiration; then they bring out refreshments and send us home. Friends meetings do it silently--but we have our refreshments and return home much like the others. If we read our history, we learn that Friends were supposed to be different from the world's churches. But I meet God-connected people from a wide variety of religions, while a whole lot of Friends are merely churchgoers, and content to remain that way. (I've recently written at length on all that--and as a friend suggested, broken it into several parts; see

This (for whatever church) is what it means to think "[you've] made a fortune" and still be wretchedly poor in the kind of wealth that matters. This church is the wretched one (as Sweet's commentary puts it): "because of your claim to be rich... not that riches in themselves disqualify, but in biblical idiom 'rich' connotes trusting in riches; 'poor' connotes trusting in God." (Only that trust would make the true wealth possible.)

We seem to trust in letter-writing, organizing skill, and the [tacit] Testimony of Prudence. Not the same thing.

Denial, nonjudgementalism, and charitable thinking are epidemic among us. We're afraid that the Spirit, if it ever broke loose, might march us through the thistles and who knows what? So we sit and wait for God (but only for an hour) and go home relieved. Neither hot nor cold.

All we lack is "Christ," who remains willing, even eager, to come to us. The "evangelicals" are right, you know, except that we (and they) get hung up on the word "Christ" rather than on the reality called "Christ." We're all somewhat afraid, I think, of what that reality might reveal and demand of us.

What does it mean, to "open that door." Who opens, from inside or out, and whose place is this, anyway? Have I really opened it?--or does this really mean: "Keep opening it."

Laodicea (Revelation 3:18-22)

And everybody's favourite:

'Write to the angel of the church in Laodicea and say, "Here is the message of the Amen, the trustworthy, the true witness, the Principle of God's creation:

I know about your activities: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither hot nor cold, but only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth. You say to yourself: I am rich, I have made a fortune and have everything I want, never realising that you are wretchedly and pitiably poor, and blind and naked too.

I warn you, buy from me the gold that has been tested in the fire to make you truly rich, and white robes to clothe you and hide your shameful nakedness, and ointment to put on your eyes to enable you to see. I reprove and train those whom I love: so repent in real earnest.

Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share a meal at that person's side. Anyone who proves victorious I will allow to share my throne, just as I have myself overcome and have taken my seat with my Father on his throne. Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches." '

September 14, 2006

philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)

"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens:

"I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying-- I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

September 13, 2006

true vs false doctrines?

We've had Jacques Ellul saying that this author has a concern for "correct" church doctrine because a church needs "an exact doctrine that permits having an exact practice." It doesn't come down to the notion that "God won't love you if you believe bad things," nor is it about "faith (confessed in a formula)"; it's merely something that a church needs to accomplish its purpose.

"The theological formulation is essential." Why? Because "we find ourselves confronted by the difficult duty of excluding from the Church those who have a theology of compromise with the world."

Why is that a duty? Because compromise with that 'world' is easy, unavoidable, and wrong. Because that world is a smiling liar that sucks the life out of everything it can.

It is the very same world that God made, and "saw that it was good." We are dealing with truths in tension with one another; we really have to use both eyes to see the whole paradoxical depth of it all.

There is nothing wrong with living in a womb; a womb is the proper place for an embryo. This world is the proper place for our development.

One odd visitor to my old bookstore said he was "the Nonprophet", and handed me a vanilla envelope of his writings; I most loved his doctrine that the world is God's manure pile. We grow roses in manure; God grows saints here. Even us; we're still growing.

There used to be boarding schools that promised to "build character" in their charges. Everything I've read about such schools suggests that the characters they built were bullies, victims--and occasionally, despite everything they could do, real heroes. (They hated it, when they got one of those!)

We would like to be real heroes; we would hate to have to become one.

One vital message of the Christian tradition, I think, is the discovery that who we are doesn't matter. It matters, of course, crucially, and yet we "can not by taking thought add one inch to our height," nor one second to our lives, nor one watt to our halos. Nor, if we could do that against God's will, would things be better. God provides the virtues and grows us to fit--but doing whatever small thing he calls for at the time is more important than any of them.

The structures of this world provide stories for us to fit into. At first we let ourselves fit in; we do horrible things or wonderful things, anguish (or not) over what we can be proud (or ashamed) of, and it's all just drama. It's expensive, painful drama, and if we can rescue anyone from his role in it, we should.

And then there's another story: what God is really doing in this world. Both stories happen in the same place, contain the same people in the same events, but one is "this world" and the other is the Kingdom of Heaven.

A church's job, by this model, is to free people from "this world" and guide them toward the Kingdom. (To some extent, a church is also called to the remedial work we call "charity," doing whatever task we're given to mitigate the suffering of this world. This is literally "God's work" or it becomes mere vanity, so that too requires finding the Kingdom.)

The gospel, or "good news", then is that the Kingdom exists, and we live here. This is our natural home; we have to be traveling constantly to get here but God is constantly leading us this way. Those other things, all that we've been taught were important--They're too heavy to carry with us. They aren't necessarily evil--though some truly are--but the point is to put them down, to carry instead whatever God gives us to carry now.

I wrote a short piece last month at yearly meeting--a slightly different take on "What is 'the gospel' that Jesus told the church to spread?" You might think of this as another way of saying something too obvious to easily understand (a "Quaker dharma talk"):


The gospel, we are told, is the saving power of God.

This is not to say that the saving power of God is dependent on our belief in some doctrine called "the gospel," rather that the gospel that must be announced is that God can and will save us. This gospel needs to be announced, not because God needs it to save us, but because we need to believe in God's power rather than in false remedies that can only worsen our condition.

Faith saves us because it enables us to act in accord with God's will.

So far as we lack faith, we know of no choice but to conform ourselves to the ways of the world, and hence to struggle futilely with false hopes and fears.

We can turn to faith, it appears, only when we recognize that our misplaced trust in the world and our false selves threatens not only our own lives but all we hold dear.


Did that sound like 12 steps for egoholics? Hmmm. "Hello, I am an ego. I am proud of how well I write what God has so patiently explained to me through many long years of wonderful, awe-ful life. It gives me something to do, and I hope the results will help someone."

I've drifted far from my intended theme: "Has Friends' lack of an explicit doctrine been an obstacle to carrying out our God-given mission?" My answer: Yes!

Our lack of doctrine has also been useful. My "gospel", either version, is essentially from Jesus' teachings, but it isn't what the general run of Christians call "the gospel." When such Christians try to say what they do mean, they (like me) get statements which only make sense to someone who already understands in those terms. It's good that Friends are not diverting our attention from the Truth to our various ways of putting it.

We do have one implicit doctrine: that God's love and teaching are freely available, and we have found sitting together silently helps prepare us to receive it.

But since we have failed to explain this well even to our own members, we now have 'Friends' who think "it's a dangerous mistake to think God is trying to communicate with us."

And we should be wary of doctrines that lead anyone toward "compromise with the world;" we need to struggle to understand what that means. This, especially, is where we've been insufficiently vigilant.

September 10, 2006

Can Anything Good Come Out of All This?

All this stuff about "doctrine..."
While we believe we should learn from other people's religions, that isn't an option for these people. Their politics are religious and their religion is political; there's no separation of church and state in their world, and they aren't imagining there ever should be.

Rome claims to rule the world by the power and favor of their gods; Israel insists that only Yahweh rules. If Jesus is Lord and Savior, then the Divine Caesar isn't, and to burn a little incense on his altar is a lie, disloyalty to the true ruler.

When Jesus returns--"soon!"--The whole political structure of the world is to be overturned.

How can these people believe that? What are they--crazy? Are they merely responding to a sense that the world we live in is intolerably corrupt and oppressive--Or are they already experiencing a new, different order of the world, and living within that?

The appeal of this book is to people dissatisfied with "The World" as it is, those of us who "hunger and thirst to see right prevail," and don't often get to see it. This is our chance to imagine it happening at last, to point and say: "I told you so; I told you so!" But it is so very hard on the stunt folks ("Cast of billions! Incredible carnage! Godzilla visits Washington; film at 11:00!")

A true church, like this book, calls for repentance and offers comfort, in the face of the history of human suffering. It claims that history to be meaningful and in accord with God's intention. "What an appalling description of God!" we say. But as a portrayal of human experience, it fits, so far, the sort of history we've always made--as well as the news and other entertainments we in fact choose to watch.

A wide range of doctrines may elicit repentance, offer comfort and meaning. But they don't necessarily convince. In the long run, only truth can do that.

The function of a church (like the function of a poet) is, therefore, to tell the truth. Our truth is necessarily incomplete and partial, like its human containers, but each day's measure of truth serves to nourish us and renew our minds.

A wide range of doctrines may light up different facets of truth. So why does the Christian vision of truth so often favor tunnel vision?

Any religion implies a political stance--because it inevitably says something about our place in the world and the ethical implications of that. Christianity began as a messianic movement within Judaism--a movement to replace a cruel and exploitive pagan occupation with a true theocracy. Loyalty and commitment to the movement were the key issues; "belief" as we understand it was not the point until later, when the movement was hijacked by the death of its Messiah--but the church got the notion that "faith" meant "belief" and "belief" meant uncritical acceptance.

Now we're left with this prestressed religion, under enormous tension.

There's a core which is implacably subversive, wrapped in other doctrines and interpretations that make it a marvelous tool for oppression. (But this is how the coconut reaches land and roots itself, after miles and miles drifting through bottomless ocean.) There's the tension between God's benevolent rule and the inscrutable justice that subjects whole nations to the mercies of a George Bush--and I don't understand it; but I can't deny either reality. Jesus dies but he goes on to conquer the goyim--who keep him imprisoned, struggling futilely, in their hearts, while they go on killing him wherever he raises his head.

You can do things in the tension between opposites that you can't possibly accomplish by clinging to one side or the other. In particular: Any description of reality that doesn't stretch is doomed to break.

The author of Revelations is right in the middle of this tension. He works for the Ruler of Heaven and Earth, but the puny secular authorities have imprisoned him on an island. He considers all the rulers and peoples of the world to be in rebellion against God--even the churches that represent God to His people are confused and lax--but he sees all of this as bound within God's ultimate intention.

I consider his peculiar obsession with orthodoxy (whatever that means to him) as functional for his time. I don't have to share it, and it doesn't have to stop me from considering his message.

Does the concern with doctrine still apply, in this time and place? That's a subject for another post.

September 09, 2006

Letters to the Churches (david/kwakersaur)

I thought I would find these letters more enriching/interesting than I have. Instead they pose issues for me which I'm going to try and address here. I think the solution to the issues lies in understanding revelation as a myth (in the neo-formalist sense) and the recipients of these letters as living tragically (again in the literary sense). This calls for a whole mess of really academic background. I have tried to address that background on my blog -- in a VERY long posting. I hope this one is shorter.

These letters seem to be addressed to churches (or rather their angels) who have gone astray (as the author of Revelation views it). The crimes of which they stand accused, over and over again, come down to eating meat sacrificed to pagan idols, or listening to the Jews, or those advocating adoption of the Jewish laws and regulations. In other words, John seems to to enjoining these communities to remember who they are, and to tighten up and clarify their boundaries -- to live in a divided world -- us and them.

My issues are twofold. First, as near as I can figure, the teaching of Jesus and the preaching of Paul, was aimed at relaxing those boundaries not tightening them up. Secondly, when I look to Quakerism and also to other churches I have felt a part of, they have been communities that did not have a strong us/them sense, and who allowed their boundaries to be appropriately fuzzy. Even though I consider myself a Christian, and value the Christian heritage of Quakerism, and even challenge those who deny the present day Christian character of Quakerism, even so, I value the contributions of post-Christians and neo-pagans. And I do not want to see an Exodus of them anymore than I want to see an Exodus of Christians.

So how do I resolve this? I am not (yet) ready to reject this book as spiritually unworthy.

This apocalypse is a myth. The people of thse churches believed in the providence of God. They believed Christ Jesus was God's emissary to earth, that they were God's chosen ones, that they would share in Christ's reign as join heirs with him to God's kingdom, that they would participate in the divine nature. Meanwhile a pagan world empire persecuted them, their fellow Jews rejected them, people were dying. Apocalypse was offered as a sign of hope to bridge the gap between their convictions and the their perceived reality. The world really is in God's hands, we just have to persevere.

Now what threatened their faith and their faith communities? Why paganism and Judaism. Eating meat sacrificed to idols was collaborating with the enemy God sent Jesus to save us from.

Is paganism what most threatens the church today? Is worshipping alongside Wiccans, agnostic post-Christians and Zen Buddhists really a serious threat in 2006?

In my opinion the threat to the Christian faith today comes from power brokers who will use Christian langauge to secure power and gain support for policies while ignoring the gospel and the Sermon on the Mount in exercising that power and in implementing those policies. It comes from the implicit and uncritical acceptance of ideologies in our pop culture.

Eating meat sacrificed to idols today, does not mean worshipping with pagans, or eating halal or kosher foods. It means Britney Spears, Sponge Bob Square Pants, As the World Turns, political campaign buttons, ipods, blogging, the Da Vinci Code, monopoly, Howard Stern, Batman and Robin, and Noam Chomsky.

Sardis: Revelation 3:1-6

"And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

September 06, 2006

And to the angel of the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29)

"And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:

"I know your works-- your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.

But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.

But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call 'the deep things of Satan,' to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; only hold fast to what you have until I come.

To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end, I will give authority over the nations; to rule them with an iron rod, as when clay pots are shattered -- even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

September 02, 2006

Ellul exerpts & etc

..."And Jesus Christ calls [Pergamum] the very throne of Satan. I believe this is actually the sign of the conflict between Revelation and civilization. Here Jesus is the bearer of the sword. There is no synthesis or reconciliation possible between Revelation and the great works of human civilization.

"Certainly this church is good in that it remains attached to the name of Jesus Christ, which is to say that it rejects the imperial cult... This church refuses to compromise in that which concerns the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless the church is judged severely because it tolerates false doctrines....As far as prostitution is concerned, that means either it is a matter of sacred prostitution or else that there is found here again the image common to the Old Testament according to which to go toward idols is a prostitution. In any case... the accent is then put upon doctrine and the way in which it is practiced. Works do not suffice nor faith (confessed in a formula.) An exact doctrine that permits having an exact practice is also necessary[!!!] ... And we find ourselves confronted by the difficult duty of excluding from the church those who have a theology of compromise with the world (under its various aspects, all more or less religious.)

..."As far as the new name is concerned, engraved upon the white stone, it is not the name of the individual, nor the baptismal name, but very clearly the name of the Lord, known individually as truth. And we find the mystery of the transformation of the person: there is a new name upon the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. And nevertheless we know, obviously, the name of Jesus Christ! But are we certain of knowing who Jesus was? And then it is the name that each risen one receives; it is total communion with Jesus Christ. Then if the name is the expression of the spiritual being, do we know exactly who we will be when our heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh?..."

I know, while I count us all friends, we aren't all Friends here. But I want to emphasize that this does have implications for the theory and practice of Quakerism. As Robert Griswold pointed out eloquently in his recent Pendle Hill Pamphlet, our movement is not supposed to be about doctrines, but about our experience of spiritual truth. But in (rightly) refusing to impose doctrines on one another, we have somehow lost our ability to proclaim the reality and primacy of the spiritual world.

How will this be worked out?

Revelation 2:12-17 (Pergamum)

"And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:

"I know where you are living, where Satan's throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.

But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.

September 01, 2006

synagogue of satan

the slander of the people who falsely claim to be Jews but are really members of the synagogue of Satan

I want to know who these folks are. My two working theories are:

  1. Christianity by this point has more or less separated out from Judaism; and a sizable local Jewish population is using political strings to persecute a small Christian minority

  2. Similar situation to what Paul describes; a group from within the Christian group is imposing all sorts of rules and regulations on new converts claiming they are the "real" faithful.

I simply lack the historical knowledge to know which is going on here. Or whether something else is that I have no handle on.

Clearly things have reached a point where persecution to the point of death is a real possibility. I find the phrase even if you have to die, keep faithful fascinating. The speaker doesn't actually know that someone will have to die. Yet this is supposedly the resurrected Lord speaking. What might that mean?

The speaker speak with authority only about promises: those who prove victorious will come to no harm from the second death, but not about earthly events yet to come.