The presidential race has invited all kinds of rash predictions. “If that candidate gets elected, it will be a disaster.” “If that candidate is president, I will move to Canada.” In each case, the prediction of a future disaster is supposed to convince us to act differently in the present. “The election of a certain candidate would be so awful, that we must stop it. Or I’ll move to Canada.” Key parts of our political discourse are predictions of a dire future if a certain candidate is elected.
If this is your first Advent, or if it has been awhile, let me catch you up. Advent is the season of expectant waiting before Christmas. It’s a time to wake up, slow down, sit still, listen, and wait. A kind of expected, engaged waiting, with one another. And the first Sunday of Advent — celebrated on the four Sundays before Christmas — always starts with apocalyptic end-of-world scenarios.
Again, an odd way to start. But I think there is wisdom in it. The ancients saw fit to remind us of the harried, violent world into which the Christ child was born. Which, if we are honest, is also like the world in which we find ourselves.
Violence, brokenness, and heartache can take many forms. Each of us experience the heartache of recent weeks. Maybe it was a year-long affair; or Paris; or a lost job; or mass gun violence; or depression; or Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Ill.; or Garret Swasey in Colorado Springs, Colo.
I have just returned from South Korea where I did an academic lecture on premillennial dispensationalism at Hoseo University. My very basic overview of the five aspects of Premillennial Dispensationalism: tribulational views, millennial views, dispensational categories, the Darby system, and biblical interpretive perspectives created quite a stir amongst students and faculty, which only goes to prove the impact that premillennial dispensationalism has had on the Christian community worldwide. I chose this topic in honor of the recent reissuance of the Left Behind movie.
Since the movie came out on Oct. 3, there have been numerous blog responses. I point you to two in particular that reflect my own views on the details of the biblical text and its interpretation:
- Nobody Is Getting 'Left Behind' (Because the Rapture Is Never, Ever Going to Happen)
- Why ‘Left Behind’ should be... left behind
Given these interpretations of the theology found in the Left Behind series I would like to take the conversation to the next level.
What has not yet been said in any blog that I have read is that premillennial dispensationalism is an elitist theology.
I was asked to contribute a chapter to a new book called Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. The volume, an edited compilation put together by Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant, takes on many of the weird texts in scripture that we either gloss over or completely ignore because they’re just too … well, weird.
Of course there are plenty of spiritual oddballs to choose from, but as soon as I got the invite, I knew I wanted to write about the book of Revelation (note that there is not “S” at the end; there is no such book as Revelationsssssssss in the Bible). Suffice it to say that my relationship with the last book in the bible is a little bit complicated. In fact, it ruined my potential career as a lifetime Baptist. A number of you may have heard bits or pieces of the story about how I got kicked out of church as a teenager, but may not know all the details.
Well kids, you can blame it all on one freaky Bible book, one intransigent teenager and a floppy-Bible-wielding youth minister. But although the experience pushed me out of church for a solid decade, it didn’t forever ruin my search for the divine. But this particular story isn’t about that. It’s about how I got one particular youth minister so red-faced and flustered that he cussed me out and almost hit me square in the noggin with the Good Book.
Editor's Note: Spoilers ahead! You've been warned.
Over the past eight episodes of The Leftovers, HBO’s latest drama based on Tom Perrotta’s play of the same name, viewers have been treated to a case study in grief and faith in the midst of a life-changing event. Unlike the Left Behind series, which incorporated Christian triumphalism with terrible theology, The Leftovers examines the deeper human and spiritual issues of what would happen were two percent of the population to suddenly disappear. It is powerful and beautiful and really hard to watch (especially Episode Five). It asks the question: does life go on when your world is changed forever?
The show offers a variety of responses to the Sudden Departure of October 14: Kevin Garvey, the police chief who seems to be losing his mind after his wife leaves him for a cult and after his father needs to be committed; Nora Durst, who’s lost her entire family, so she keeps everything exactly as it was when the Sudden Departure occurred; Rev. Matt Jamison, Nora’s brother whose faith has been shaken because he was not taken; the town dogs who have become feral; and finally, the creepiest citizens of Mapleton, the Guilty Remnant, or the GR as they’re “affectionately” known.
This past week’s episode gave us a greater understanding of the GR. Although the nihilistic views of the Guilty Remnant are quite different from those of Christianity, I was struck by their powerful and strategic mission of witness. The cult was formed out of the recognition that everything changed on October 14 and that to pretend otherwise was foolish. The group, in their white clothes, their silence, their stripped-down existence, bears witness to the fact that they are living reminders of what happened. They are fundamentalists about their cause and willing to die for it — even if that death comes from their own hands.
“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)
Many of us are blessed enough to not know what it is like to be hungry, to regularly miss meals, or to consume a diet void of essential nutrients for a healthy life. But now, millions of our brothers and sisters here in the United States may, sadly, be facing these situations because of a reduction in their food stamp benefits.
Starting Friday, all households receiving food stamp benefits will see their food budgets shrink as a temporary increase expires. A family of four could lose up to $36 a month in food stamps (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).
For thousands of years, select groups of Christians have thought their generation was Earth’s last. Even the Apostle Paul thought Jesus would return in his lifetime. But Paul didn’t have the audacity to pinpoint an exact date for what we call the Rapture. Harold Camping, on the other hand, did.
Apocalypse Later: Harold Camping vs. The End of the World a new documentary that premiered June 8 — exposes wrongful and conflicting beliefs about Jesus’ return by sharing Camping’s concrete opinions of those who didn’t follow his beliefs of the apocalypse. Declaring their spot in hell, Camping was certain that those who didn’t follow his apocalyptic views would spend eternity in damnation.
Apocalypse Later tells the story of Camping, a man who had to let go of his pride and face the reality of joining the dozens of others who have wrongly predicted the end of time.
In the documentary, historian and New Testament scholar Loren Stuckenbruck refers to the apocalypse as a “literary genre,” a “mode of thought,” and “a social movement.”
The film is emotional and shocking, contrasting the scary, more literal interpretations of fundamentalist Christians with the more nuanced hermeneutical approaches of academics like Struckenbruck. The juxtaposition reveals that the tensions and battles that Christians face might not be against those who will be “left behind,” but rather between Christians themselves.
Two years ago, radio evangelist Harold Camping was predicting the end of the world. Now, longtime aides say his false predictions are likely to result in the end of his California-based Family Radio ministry.
The Contra Costa Times reported that the ministry has sold its prominent stations and laid off veteran staffers, with net assets dropping from $135 million in 2007 to $29.2 million in 2011, according to tax records.
The newspaper said Family Radio has sold its three largest radio stations, and saw its cash on hand drop from $1.5 million to $282,880 in 2011. Since the incorrect prediction, donations have dropped 70 percent, ministry insiders told the newspaper. Records indicate the network took out a loan to keep going.
We in our era have accomplished something no other civilization would have considered possible — or desirable. We have taken human wastefulness and self-destruction to never-before-seen levels and we have distorted our scriptures to justify even celebrate — our own destruction.
Whether it is fracking (with its own legacy of toxic waste) the Keystone XL Pipeline (with its virtually guaranteed oil spills across prime farm land) accompanied by the largest population ever seen on the face of the earth — with its attendant garbage and sewage — we are seeing threats to our climate, food supply, economy, and quality of life on a level never seen before in human history.
Historically, theologies (and philosophy) have put a brake on human avarice, violence, and unbridled destruction of the environment.
Reflection and restraint, for millennia, have been the twin pillars of historic conservatism.
Whenever I talk with people about Jesus and nonviolence, a curious thing happens. Someone will inevitably raise his hand (and it’s always his hand), call me a wuss, and then accuse me of making Jesus-Christ-Our-Lord-And-Savior into my own wussy image.
First, the accusation that I’m a wuss is totally true. No one can surpass my wussiness. I run from confrontation, and if I ever get into a fight my money is on the other guy.
Now, to the second accusation that a nonviolent Jesus is a projection of my own wussy imagination: That is false and, in fact, the reverse is true – a violent Jesus is a god made in our own image. As a self-professed wuss, I would love a bad-ass-machine-gun-toting Jesus who violently defends me against my enemies. I want the Jesus depicted in Saturday Night Live’s sketch DJesus Ucrossed. (A sketch satirizing Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.) As David Henson brilliantly states in his post “DJesus Uncrossed: Tarantino, Driscoll and the Violent Remaking of Jesus in America,” the sketch “pulls back the curtain and shows us just how twisted our Jesus really is: We want a Savior like the one SNL offers. We want the Son of God to kick some ass and take some names. Specifically, our enemies’ names.”
In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.
Eugene Peterson has written more than 30 books on theology and the life of faith in his 80 years, but he is perhaps best known for the one book he didn’t write: The Bible.
Peterson’s “para-translation” of the Bible, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, was published over a span of nine years, from 1993 to 2002. And even a decade after its completion, critics still are debating the merits and missteps of his translation of Holy Writ into idiomatic, sometimes colloquial, modern English. To date there are more than 15 million copies of The Message in print.
During the two-day Q Practices gathering in New York City this week, Peterson talked about the epic translation project he says he still can’t believe he actually managed to complete.
“I didn’t feel it was anything special when I was doing it,” Peterson said. “I can’t believe I did this. Reading it now I think, ‘How did I do this?’ It truly was a work of the Holy Spirit.”
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a surprising addition to the typical summer blockbuster canon -- for one thing, it manages to entertain and challenge, without resorting to gratuitous violence to make its point. But there's a deeper subtext that is even more unexpected -- for this is a story in which we start to lose.
It was fashionable in the late 1960s and early '70s for science fiction films to attempt to out-dystopia each other -- see for example the notion in Soylent Green that post-industrial humanity snacks on itself to survive, the suggestion that only robots can be trusted to look after creation in Silent Running, and the climactic revelation in the original Planet of the Apes that a few generations from now, the nuclear arms race will end in mutually assured destruction. All these point to a simple philosophical idea: that humans cannot be trusted to care for ourselves or the planet we steward.
He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
--Excerpts from Matthew 13
It's been a rough weekend. Watching the devastation that the combination of mental illness and fundamentalism brought to the people of Norway. Watching what the combination of drug addiction and fame brought to a talented singer, who, like so many who went before her, is now dead at the age of 27. Something they don't tell you when you get clean and sober is that if, by the grace of God, you manage to stay that way -- you get a much better life -- but year after year you also watch people you love die of the same disease. So yesterday when I heard that Amy Winehouse had been found dead in her home, it brought me back to nine years ago when my dear friend PJ was also found dead in his home.
I couldn't bear to watch any of the coverage of the Casey Anthony murder trial. I heard snippets of information on occasion: intimations of incest; a car that "smelled of death"; fist fights breaking out as the curious and obsessed (or the profoundly bored?) tried to get a seat in the Florida courtroom.
When evangelical politicians pronounce on topics like the origins of the universe, the results are almost always awful -- embarrassing, infuriating, unwatchable. When a reclusive, visionary filmmaker like Terrence Malick treats the same subject matter, as he does in his new movie The Tree of Life, one is transported. Which is a useful reminder that the mysteries of creation are best grappled with through art. The book of Genesis, after all, begins not with scientific description or theological argument, but with a poem.