Sunday, February 04, 2007

Discussing the Apocalypse at Trinity Institute

"Talk of the Town" in this weeks New Yorker magazine includes a piece entitled "End is Near Department" by Rebecca Mead reporting on the recent Trinity Institute's "Apocalypse Not."

The second paragraph gives you a taste of the piece:-

An appetite for smoked-salmon canap├ęs and pinot noir (comment: not reading and discussing the "Left Behind" series) was all that was required of guests at the evening’s gathering, which was held at Trinity’s rectory, a town house on Charlton Street that was built by John Jacob Astor in 1826 and was acquired by the church in 2004, for five and a half million dollars. It joins Trinity’s considerable portfolio—the church owns six million square feet of office space between Houston and Canal Streets. Above the dining-room fireplace hangs a portrait of the house’s current occupant, the Reverend Dr. Jim Cooper, by Thomas Loepp. It depicts him standing on Wall Street with the church and its environs in the background. “There are our dog and cat, and there’s my buddy Mohammed, with his hot-dog cart,” Cooper said.

In the third paragraph, Rebecca Mead mentions the conclusion of Barbara Rossing's talk in which she calls for a novel to be written based on the book of Revelation: “We need a novel whose heroes are rooted on the earth, living in sustainable communities, maybe practicing Permaculture gardening.” Barbara Rossing actually describes the novel as one in which a band of heroes for example rescuing Appalachia from stripmining, engaging in prophetic acts of healing, and speaking truth to power. The earth rescues God's people who are about to be devoured by the dragon in Rev 12 by opening its mouth to rescue and swallow us up.

But the conclusion of her talk is not enough! We need a fuller flavor of the whole talk not a (trivilializing) sound bite (a canape?)

Barbara Rossing's talk available on Trinity Institute's website discusses reading the Bible into the unfinished future in which the earth is God's home that will not be left behind. Taking Moltmann's challenge to adopt ecological economics for the next century, she makes a case for reclaiming the Book of Revelation as a diagnosis of sickness in our world and a vision for healing of this planet. She reframes the discussion not as sin but as illness for which the leaves of the tree of life are for healing. Our unsustainable way of life is coming to an end but not the planet itself.

She does in fact discuss the "Left Behind" series. Revelation is not a count down to the end of this world as novels like the "Left Behind series" imply. The apocalyptic tradition has been hijacked to provide a theology that might be described as "God so loved the world that he sent world-war 3." Armageddon is not the central aspect of Revelation. The "Left Behind" series is fictional in its plot and theology. It is not biblical. In the 19th century when this kind of rapture theology appeared Sojourner Truth critiqued it: "What's nice to come back to a world covered with the ashes of the wicked? If the Lord comes and burns the earth I am going to stay in the fire like Shadrach, Meshach and co. and Jesus will keep me from harm through the fire." Jesus in fact blesses peacemakers and teaches love of enemies.

We need the apocalyptic tradition including the book of Revelation to diagnose "affluenza" (affluence and influenza) in our present western society. We have the disease of More, a disease that is actually idolatrous because its puts us in the role of God. To find healing we need to reclaim the biblical voice of protest. At the heart of Revelation is a prophetic message offering a vision of hope with a sweeping critique of empire and violence against the earth. It has sustained a protest against slavery and against apartheid in South Africa. The word "Apocalypse"means unveiling. When Toto reveals who Oz really is, we see what really is.

What is the truth we need to hear? First Prof. Rossing proposes to go back to the first century and hear the book of Revelation as a call to faithfulness to Jesus, the slain and risen lamb. Hearers are called to an exodus out of empire. The Greek word "ge" means earth. "Kosmos" means world. "Oikoumene" means world and is not the same as the cosmos but actually the imperial world as it is in Luke's account of the census in chapter 2. Revelation says that what will end is "oikoumene," the Roman imperial world and its language of contest and domination. Like Paul, the writer of Revelation says that there will be an end to "eternal Rome." The "ge" will be renewed as God's dwelling place. In Rev 11 God announces "I will destroy the destroyers of the earth" not the earth itself.

What is Revelation's anti-imperial message today? Jesus the slain lamb offers two different political economies of the New Jerusalem and Rome's violence and millitarism. Readers and hearers of Revelation are called to make a choice and come out of the evil empire to God's city of healing and justice. The seven plagues are warnings that work out into the future the danger of the imperial path the empire is taking. Similarly, Scrooge is shown what might happen so that he can amend his life in the present. Chapters 17 and 18 shown the fall of Rome and the horrors of Babylon.

A vision of hope is depicted as the city of the New Jerusalem in chapters 21 and 22 with open gates, ecological renewal, and enough for everyone. God is depicted as dwelling among mortals and God's throne is on earth. There is no rapture to heaven. This is the opposite of the toxic economy of the Roman empire listed in Rev. 18 including human slaves. The new economy centers around the tree of life. In the middle of the city is a paradise of green space and a river flowing out from the throne of God and the lamb. The water is freely given for all. The leaves of the tree are medicine for the nations.

Use of the Columbia river water has been much discussed. The Roman Catholic bishops got everyone to agree that this water is the water of life for all of us in the North west.

God's will is not to destroy but to heal is from the leaves of the tree of life. This is a striking image. How can we take to heart this image of the tree of life and the medicinal leaves for the healing of the world including its cities? Warmongering is heating up the planet. Revelation wants to lay on our wounds and the wounds of the world the leaves of the tree of life for healing and downsize our ecological footprint to heal the brokenness of the world.

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