Gabriel Douglas, Eastbrook’s Middle School Pastor, continued our series on the book of Daniel, “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. As Gabriel mentioned, this was an interesting message as I asked him to preach at the pivot point of the book of Daniel on the nature of apocalyptic literature and why it’s significant in Scripture.
In her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris writes a chapter entitled “Apocalypse,” that sheds light on the journey we have been on at Eastbrook in our series, “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith.” She begins with a quotation by poet Czeslaw Milosz: “I have lived in apocalyptic times, in an apocalyptic century . . . My work to a large extent belongs to that stream of catastrophist literature that attempts to overcome despair” (from an interview by Robert Faggen, “An Approval of Being,” in Books and Culture).
Not long ago, I found myself preaching to well over a thousand people on the apocalyptic texts in Daniel 12 and Mark 13. I would not have chosen to do this, but in a sense the words chose me. I use the lectionary when I preach; I find that it’s good discipline, as it forces me into situations such as this, having to confront hard Bible texts that I would just as soon skip over.
The literature of apocalypse is scary stuff, the kind of thing that can give religion a bad name, because people so often use it as a means of controlling others, instilling dread by invoking a boogeyman God. Thinking about the people who would be in church that morning, I knew that many of them would very likely be survivors of such painful childhood images of God and would find the readings hard to take. So I decided to talk about what apocalyptic literature is and is not. It is not a detailed prediction of the future, or an invitation to withdraw from the concerns of the world. It is a wake-up call, one that uses intensely poetic language and imagery to sharpen our awareness of God’s presence in and promise for the world.
The word ‘apocalypse’ comes from the Greek for ‘uncovering’ or ‘revealing,’ which makes it a word about possibilities. And while uncovering something we’d just as soon keep hidden is a frightening prospect, the point of apocalypse is not to frighten us into submission. Although it is often criticized as ‘pie-in-the-sky’ fantasizing, I believe its purpose is to teach us to think about ‘next-year-country’ in a way that sanctifies our lives here and now. ‘Next-year-country’ is a treasured idiom of the western Dakotas, an accurate description of the landscape that farmers and ranchers dwell in—next year rains will come at the right time; next year I won’t get hailed out; next year winter won’t set in before I have my hay hauled in for winter feeding. I don’t know a single person on the land who uses the idea of ‘next year’ as an excuse not to keep on reading the earth, not to look for the signs that mean you’ve got to get out and do the field work when the time is right. Maybe we’re meant to use apocalyptic literature in the same way: not as an allowance to indulge in an otherworldly fixation but as an injunction to pay closer attention to the world around us. When I am disturbed by the images of apocalypse, I find it helpful to remember the words of a fourth-century monk about the task of reading scripture as ‘working the earth of the heart,’ for it is only in a disturbed, ploughed-up ground that the seeds we plant for grain can grow.
[Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), 318-319.]
Father in Heaven! You have loved us first, help us never to forget that You are love so that this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts over the seduction of the world, over the inquietude of the soul, over the anxiety for the future, over the fright of the past, over the distress of the moment. But grant also that this conviction might discipline our soul so that our heart might remain faithful and sincere in the love which we bear to all those whom You have commanded us to love as we love ourselves.
You have loved us first, O God, alas! We speak of it in terms of history as if You have only loved us first but a single time, rather than that without ceasing You have loved us first many things and every day and our whole life through. When we wake up in the morning and turn our soul toward You – You are the first – You have loved us first; if I rise at dawn and at the same second turn my soul toward You in prayer, You are there ahead of me, You have loved me first. When I withdraw from the distractions of the day and turn my soul toward You, You are the first and thus forever. And yet we always speak ungratefully as if You have loved us first only once.
“The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.
“Most Evangelical Leaders Identify as Independents” – In light of the elections this past week, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) shared a recent study indicating that two-thirds of evangelical leaders identify more as independents than purely with a political party. Leith Anderson, president of the NAE, said:“Most evangelical leaders prioritize their Christian identity over political party identity. Faith comes first whether independent, Democrat, Republican or another registration.” This is all fine and good, as long as this does not mean evangelical leaders fail to clearly address biblical issues with political ramifications.
“Anger erupts in Egypt after massacre of Christian pilgrims” – Last Friday (November 2) near Minya, Egypt, a city south of Cairo, two buses carrying Coptic Christians were ambushed as they left a monastery, leaving seven people dead and wounding nineteen others. According to news sources, the Islamic State in Egypt has claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Bonhoeffer’s Answer to Political Turmoil: Preach!” – Ryan Hoselton’s offers a meaningful exploration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s preaching in light of the national and global turmoil related to the rise of The Third Reich in Germany. Leaning into Bonhoeffer’s sermon, “Overcoming Fear,” delivered on January 15, 1933, Hoselton illustrates Bonhoeffer’s distinctive pastoral response to his circumstances. This reminds me of another book that I read a couple of years ago, Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich, in which Dean Stroud points to a number of examples, including Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, and Martin Niemöller, who spoke God’s word powerfully in the midst of political strife.
“A New Guild Aims to Equip Women and Amplify Orthodoxy”– Christianity Today reports on The Pelican Project. “Two year ago, Karen Swallow Prior started fielding phone calls from women who all expressed the same desire: to find community among women united in their orthodox belief….A few months later, about 20 women from across the country met together to talk and pray about how to practice orthodoxy in the public square and how to equip the church to better disciple women in their midst. The group launched publicly this week as The Pelican Project.”
“Judah Smith Launches Church ‘in the palm of your hand’” – This past week, Judah Smith, pastor of Churchome (formerly ‘City Church’) announced via Twitter that the church’s latest “site” would be through an app on your smartphone. This move, listed as on of the locations on the church’s web-site, is dubbed “Churchome Global.” This is the utterly unsurprising to me, as it seems like the next logical move beyond online small groups or campuses resulting from the disincarnate, gnostic, North American evangelical church’s focus on “connection” and “reaching people.” Once again, this faddish push fails to realize that the “ends” do not justify the “means,” which violate the essential incarnational communion of an enfleshed Savior. Studies have shown that online “connection,” whether through social media or other means, usually contributes to increased levels of loneliness, stress, and depression. It is one thing to share information or resources online, but it is another thing to promise church (sanctorum communio) online.
“Sandals on the Ground: My Pilgrimage with the Sonnet” – Jeanne Murray Walker writes about the challenges of hitting a wall as a poet, and how returning to the writing the classic form of the sonnet helped her. “That sunny fall morning was the first time I realized that I might not be a writer anymore. Or more terrifyingly, that I couldn’t write. After all, there does come a time in some writers’ lives when they inexplicably run out of ideas. Or words. Or metaphors. Or perhaps—this seemed like a dimmer possibility—something had depleted my passion to write….After publishing thirteen books, winning prizes and fellowships, and enjoying a career teaching poetry, I felt suddenly alone and terrified about my future as a writer.”
“CCDA President Noel Castellanos Resigns” – “On Tuesday morning, CCDA [Christian Community Development Association] announced that Castellanos had resigned prior to the 30th annual gathering, but the ministry’s board decided to wait until afterwards to announce his departure in a ‘sincere effort to keep the focus on this tremendous milestone as well as honor the life and commitment of our founder, Dr. John Perkins.’ Castellanos, who led the Christian justice ministry for more than a decade, spent the past two years engaged in a reconciliation process with former coworkers, according to CCDA.”
“Advent Resource Guide” – The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has pulled together this wonderful compilation of resources as we near Advent. You will find helpful resources for singing, preaching, visual arts, intergenerational worship, children’s ministry, and so much more.
“Freddie Mercury’s family faith: The ancient religion of Zoroastrianism“ – In light of the recent movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, about the English rock band Queen, this piece on lead singer, Freddie Mercury, took a religious spin. “It might come as a surprise to some that Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara. He came from a Parsi family that had roots in India and he was a Zoroastrian by faith.”
[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]
Eugene Peterson, in the midst of writing on four models of pastoral ministry, offers one he says he has always aimed to be like: the apocalyptic pastor. It is a wild phrase but a needful word for us today as pastors in the North American church. May we have ears to hear.
American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition. None of these marks is remotely biblical. None is faintly in evidence in the gospel story. All of them are thoroughly documented diseases of the spirit. Pastors are in great danger of being undetected carriers of the very disease we are charged to diagnose and heal. We need the most powerful of prophylactics — something like the apocalyptic prayer and poetry and patience of St. John.