Kathleen Norris on Apocalyptic

Kathleen-NorrisIn 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.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 3 November 2018

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.

181029081322-rabbi-myers-super-tease“A rabbi says he first thought gunfire was the sound of a fallen metal coat rack. Then he saw people running.” – Here are some comments from the rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. I grieve with the victims of this attack, as well as for their families and all others affected. May God bring true shalom into the midst of this situation, as well as our nation, and may we join God in bringing it. This continues to raise questions about gun control in the US and how religious institutions should respond to violence.

 

_104109439_mediaitem104109431“Asia Bibi: Pakistan acquits Christian woman on death row” – The BBC reports on a case that is relevant for discussions of religious freedom. While religious freedom is not only relevant for Christians, this case is, as the article indicates, a landmark ruling in Pakistan. “A Pakistani court has overturned the death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, a case that has polarised the nation. Asia Bibi was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a row with her neighbours. She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement. The landmark ruling has already set off violent protests by hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws.”

 

Email_FRutledge_20160105MM_0207“Ruminations: The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone” – Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book The Crucifixion may eventually become even better. How? By her promise to include reflections on James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree as an afterword if there is ever a second edition. “Indeed, had I read Cone’s book while I was still writing The Crucifixion, I would have given significant space to the similarities of lynching and crucifixion because they give emphasis to the argument I have made that shame, humiliation, degradation, obscenity, and dehumanizing were an essential aspect of the way Jesus died. Cone has produced a work that is suffused with a sense of the shame and humiliation of black life in America (‘abused and trampled down’), while yet remaining triumphant over it.”

 

merlin_145504593_9adb15b8-15bb-4d26-af07-ed6521876393-superJumbo“‘God Is Going to Have to Forgive Me’: Young Evangelicals Speak Out” – This appeared in The New York Times on Thursday: “The role of evangelical Christianity in American politics has been a hotly discussed topic this year, intersecting with front-burner issues like immigration, the Supreme Court and social justice. Often the loudest evangelical voices are white, male and … not young. With just days left before the midterm elections — two years after President Trump won the White House with a record share of white, evangelical support — we asked young evangelicals to tell The Times about the relationship between their faith and their politics.”

 

84140“Jan Peterson: My Life as a Pastor’s Wife” – Eugene Peterson’s wife, Jan, reflects on what her life was like as a pastor’s wife. In the midst of her beautiful reflections, adapted from her new book Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith, she writes: ” I’m well aware that being a pastor’s wife brings with it a lot of demands and a lot of time spent serving others. But the amazing thing about service is that it rarely returns void, even if we don’t see the end results ourselves….May we all have the desire to serve God in that spirit. Fiat mihi—may it be unto me. Amen.”

 

84155“James MacDonald Sues Critics After 2,000 Leave Harvest Bible Chapel” – I’ve heard of church divisions getting bad, but this definitely takes it to a higher level than anything I’ve encountered before. “Pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel filed a lawsuit this month against two ex-members and former Moody Radio host Julie Roys, accusing them of spreading false information about the Chicago-area megachurch’s financial health and leadership. The main targets of the church’s defamation complaint are Ryan Mahoney and Scott Bryant, who together run the blog The Elephant’s Debt. The site has culled stories of alleged mismanagement at Harvest since 2012, including claims of as much as $70 million in mortgage debt and a lack of accountability from its elder board.”

 

white-evangelicals“Most White Evangelicals Say Immigration, Increasing Racial Diversity, Harms America” – Can somebody help me understand this better? “A little over a week before the 2018 midterm elections, the Public Religion Research Institute on Monday released its 9th annual American Values Survey. The research shows that white evangelical Protestants are at odds with all other identified religious groups on many questions relating to immigration, race, the #MeToo movement and President Donald Trump.”

 

czesaw-miosz“An Approval of Being” – Here’s an old treasure of an article, as Robert Faggen interviews Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz in Books and Culture in 1997. Milosz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980, and was one of the outstanding literary voices of the 20th century. I couldn’t get over this statement: “I have lived in apocalyptic times, in an apocalyptic century. To live through the Nazi and Communist regimes in Poland was quite a task. And, indeed, there is a whole literature of the twentieth century that is deeply apocalyptic. My work to a large extent belongs to that stream of catastrophist literature that attempts to overcome despair.”

[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.]