Eschatology

Mumford and Sons: Eschatological Banjos

Mumford and Sons in New York on Feb. 6., Marc D Birnbach / Shutterstock.com
Mumford and Sons in New York on Feb. 6., Marc D Birnbach / Shutterstock.com

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Mumford and Sons. I suggested that the Wednesday concert was, for me, a festival of devotion. Friday's concert, however, was something else. It was an eschatological event. Not transcendent, though others have used that word to describe it, but immanent, apocalyptic, eschatological. There we were gathered all in one place, as the Bible story goes, and the place exploded. Cathleen said more than once that the Holy Spirit was present. I love it when shows differ from night to night. I love it when the audience brings something new. I also wonder how such a noticeable distinction at a concert can be a helpful reminder for all of us who plan liturgies.

My wife is an actress. She will do the same show five or six times a week for six to eight weeks. The same play. Every night. But what she will also say is that it is never the same play every night. Actually, she has said that if you do it right it should never be the same piece twice. There is no such thing as a repeat performance if one understands repetition is not exact duplication. 

Similarly, a live concert is not a track on a CD. One does not show up to a concert and press "play." No, it is a singular performative event. Even when, as with Mumford and Sons, the set list is similar and the choreography (yes, even Mumford and Sons have a couple of staged bits) is the same, the concerts still feeldifferent. Why? Well lots of reasons, but mostly because they are different.

Hope Three Ways

THE CINEMA YEAR came to a magnificent crescendo with three films filled with what the world needs now. Hugo, Take Shelter, and The Mill and the Cross have little in common on the surface other than their quality; look deeper and you may find love-filled, theologically profound, hopeful invitations to live better.

Take Shelter is about a man terrorized by nightmares of impending doom and eventually unable to function as a loving father and husband. It’s a powerful portrayal of individual trauma and communal ignorance that takes very seriously the conventional—and counterproductive—response to recent global uncertainty. Toward the end is a sequence that could be seen as a representation of what mystics call a dark night of the soul. Then something like a conversion experience happens. Without easy answers, Take Shelter’s refusal to caricature mental illness and its embrace of the gifts of wounded people make it both a realistic and comforting story about fighting to become more human in a dehumanized world.

In The Mill and the Cross, that dehumanization appears in rich close-up, for this film takes place inside a painting, “The Way to Calvary,” the Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel’s astonishing reimagining of Jesus’ walk to the cross through a 16th century European valley. Filled with indelible images of brokenness and love, The Mill and the Cross constitutes a religious icon. Two scenes continue to reverberate long after watching. In one, a hopeless woman observing her “heretic” husband’s execution does nothing but weep, because she lives at a time when tyranny is unquestioned. In the other, the clumsy peasant dance that writer-director Lech Majewski uses to stand in for the resurrection evokes the hope that artists such as Bruegel demand of us: to recognize that the privilege of being alive is worthy of something better than what we often give it.

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New and Noteworthy

The Alpha and Omega

Revelation is perhaps the most abused book of the Bible, often used by conspiracy theorists and imperial-minded governments as a divine handbook for how the world will end. In A History of the End of the World, journalist Jonathan Kirsch looks at the fascinating ways this Bible bookend has influenced civilization, from the apocalyptic literature of John’s time to the present moment. Substantial and well-written. HarperSanFrancisco

Inner Nonviolence

In Personal Nonviolence: A Practical Spirituality for Peacemakers, Gerard Vanderhaar marries the personal and the political by approaching peacemaking from the foundation up—that is, focusing on a spirituality of nonviolence. In a warm and conversational style, Vanderhaar asks what interior stability will we rely on as we resist and challenge the principalities and powers, and points to the life of Jesus. A good introduction to nonviolent living. www.paxchristiusa.org

Changemakers

The Social Entrepreneurship Series, produced by Ashoka’s Global Academy for Social Entrepreneurship, focuses on visionaries with ideas that have made a positive and effective global impact on social ills such as poverty and corruption. The 16-program DVD series includes interviews with Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, Peter Eigen, founder of Transparency International, and Alice Tepper Marlin, founder of Social Accountability International. dvd.ashoka.org

Rainbow Economics

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2006
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Eyes Wide Open

It is tempting to believe that Americans were truly changed after the horror of Sept. 11, that we are now less likely to lose ourselves in the contemplation of either Jennifer Lopez's navel or our own. It is tempting to believe that the deaths of so many ordinary people—workers, parents, business travelers, couples returning from family reunions and weddings—has led us to take the words of Psalm 90 to heart: "Lord, make us know the shortness of our life, that we may gain wisdom of heart." But only time will tell.

For a few days, shock and grief made us people under a spell. The relentless noise and clutter of advertising was silenced, and when we turned on our televisions we saw unaccustomed images of people at prayer. Amazingly, we were more likely to hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah than those of the latest teen idol. Our celebrity culture all but vanished in the light of apocalypse, a word that comes from the Greek for "uncovering" or "revealing." In my book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, I said of apocalypse, "we human beings learn best how to love when we're a bit broken, when our plans fall apart, when our myths of self-sufficiency and safety are shattered. Apocalypse is meant to bring us to our senses, allowing us a sober if painful glimpse of what is possible in the new life we build from the ashes of the old."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2002
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Who is Tim LaHaye?

This summer the Evangelical Studies Bulletin named Tim LaHaye as the most influential Christian leader for the past quarter century. The Bulletin, published by the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, selected LaHaye over Billy Graham and a host of other evangelical leaders. "For the last 20 years LaHaye and his wife, Beverly, leader of Concerned Women for America, have been ‘key leaders of the religious right,'" the Bulletin wrote. The Bulletin concluded that LaHaye "rose from the ranks of the [evangelical] movement, then...played a strategic role at key points that have cemented-for good or ill-the direction [evangelicalism] will be taking in the next few decades."

The Institute is probably right, even though many Christian leaders have never read anything Tim LaHaye has written. LaHaye is the coauthor of the Left Behind series of novels about the end times-a remarkable publishing success, with 28.8 million sales at last count. Christian leaders tend to be indifferent to the series and its popularity or dismiss this eschatological fiction as "Christian lite." But LaHaye is a man with a mission, and it is a mistake not to take deadly seriously anything he writes.

Academics often don't recognize how influential authors like LaHaye are with the rank-and-file. Much of his influence on the church and the culture, regrettably, has not been positive. The Left Behind series, written with Jerry Jenkins, is propagating his ideological views to an audience that reaches far beyond his evangelical culture. LaHaye's writings tend to foster both an eschatology of disengagement and the politics of fear.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2001
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Come Out of Her My People

When I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities." —Revelation 18:4-5

The book of Revelation has long seemed under the exclusive control of those who read its powerful imagery as a blueprint for the imminent End. Bestsellers by the dozen lay out doomsday scenarios that revel in the death and destruction of unbelievers and the world they inhabit, while assuring "true" believers of their salvation via rapture. But is this the only way to read Revelation? Could these paranoid fantasies reflect the intention of Revelation's author? More important, do they truly express the Word of God for us today?

Revelation has attracted some strange bedfellows to its list of readers: Isaac Newton and D.H. Lawrence both wrote commentaries on it. Emily Dickinson and Hunter S. Thompson both claim Revelation as one of the texts most influential upon them as writers. And beneath the attention-grabbing interpretations of prophecy writers, a wide variety of readings of Revelation have been produced in recent years from a diversity of scholarly and faith perspectives. Revelation is a rich text. Any one reading, including this one, cannot exhaust its meaning. What we can do, though, is attempt to read it first of all from the viewpoint of the world in which it was written and proclaimed: the world of Asia Minor within the Roman Empire of the late first century of the common era.

The Historical Setting

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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Apocalypse Soon?

It's all too easy to make fun of the extreme examples of prophecy belief that we encounter on bumper stickers and best-seller lists. When people talk breathlessly of the dangers of Universal Product Codes and automated teller machines as signs of the impending Tribulation, giggles and head shaking are hard to repress. But in many ways, adherents of premillennial faith in the Second Coming of Jesus and the battle of Armageddon show themselves to be more astute analysts of our times and exhibit more trust in God than many who fancy themselves "liberal" Christians.

It is important for people committed to the gospel to come to grips with the phenomena of apocalyptic literature so popular among premillennialists, and with the social realities to which their sometimes absurd interpretations respond. We need to examine the roots of apocalyptic Christianity, as well as some of the offshoots of apocalyptic thinking in our own day, including the powerful reports of near-death and alien abduction experiences. Throughout, we should hold before ourselves these questions: How do we know that God is good and truly reigns over our evil-infested world? What expectations do we have that God can and will act to conquer injustice, oppression, and poverty?

When we ridicule apocalyptic interpretations of bar codes and the European Common Market, we are saying a number of things about our attitude toward scripture and about our faith. First, we are properly rejecting an interpretive method that posits a one-to-one correspondence between biblical events and symbols and our own daily lives. When people identify the Antichrist with specific living persons or decipher the code of 666 to refer directly to Ronald Wilson Reagan or Saddam Hussein, they fail to take seriously the scriptural writers' intentions to speak to their own world situations, and suggest that parts of the Bible have had no meaning until our particular generation.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1999
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