Crisis management


Many of you may well have received an email that reputedly originated with Dr. John Tisdale, a popular biblical interpreter, that “interprets” Revelation 13 in such a way as to equate Barack Obama with the Beast of the Last Days/End Times. There’s not really any shortage of critical debunking of this foolishness, but since it’s come up again, and since some of my buds are actually using this whole situation as an example in a book they’re writing on the way religion is used and abused in this country, I need to take aim not only at “Tisdale’s” initial email, but at the reactions to it as well.

At the risk of perpetuating the myth, here is the email:

From: —
Subject: interesting
To: —
Date: Monday, October 20, 2008, 10:53 AM

If any of you are Obama supporters — this is not meant to offend just thought it was interesting. 🙂

Subject: Fw: Rev. 13- (about the beast)

This will make you re-think: A Trivia question in Sunday School:
How long is the beast allowed to have authority in Revelations?
Revelations Chapter 13 tells us it is 42 months, and you know what that is.
Almost a four-year term of a Presidency.
All I can say is ‘Lord, Have mercy on us!’
According to The Book of Revelations the anti-Christ is: The anti-Christ will
be a man, in his 40’s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with
persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal….the prophecy says
that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace,
and when he is in power, will destroy everything..
Do we recognize this description??
I STRONGLY URGE each one of you to post this as many times as
you can! Each opportunity that you have to send it to a friend or media outlet..do it!
I refuse to take a chance on this unknown candidate who came out of nowhere.
From: Dr. John Tisdale
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Dear Friends,
As I was listening to a news program last night, I watched in horror as Barack Obama made the statement with pride. . .’we are no longer a Christian nation; we are now a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, . . .’ As with so many other statements I’ve heard him (and his wife) make, I never thought I’d see the day that I’d hear something like that from a presidential candidate in this nation. To think our forefathers fought and died for the right for our nation to be a Christian nation–and to have this man say with pride that we are no longer that. How far this nation has come from what our founding fathers intended it to be.
I hope that each of you will do what I’m doing now–send your concerns, written simply and sincerely, to the Christians on your email list. With God’s help, and He is still in control of this nation and all else, we can show this man and the world in November that we are, indeed, still a Christian nation!
Please pray for our nation!

Ok. First off, there is a problem of perception that one of my friends has dubbed “apocalyptic narcissism,” as good a term as any for the idea that every generation of Christianity, including the first century of the New Testament and the events it describes, has believed that it is the one that will experience the events of the last days and the return of Christ. In fact, I’ve seen it now a couple of times in my life time, and I’m only 35 years old. No doubt I’ll see it a few more times, God willing I live long enough.

Here’s the point. Revelation is a prophetic book in the Jewish sense that it speaks to the current situation by use of metaphor and hyperbole. It is not a book that foretells the future, “prophecy” in the Christian sense. It is, however, a blistering critique of empire in the tradition of the prophetic “oracles against the nations.” If Revelation foretells anything, it is what “empire” always has coming, which is ultimately collapse and usually replacement. Revelation is better understood as a kind of psychedelic, Jack Kerouac-ian vision of the author’s present, which was around 90-100 AD/CE.

More importantly for Barack, though, is this business about the anti-Christ being in his 40’s and of Muslim descent and who will deceive the nations with smooth-talking. First of all, there’s nothing in Revelation that the anti-christ has to be in his 40’s. Secondly, Revelation does not predict Islam, let alone a Muslim anti-Christ. All of my studentsknow that Revelatio, as a text describing the end of the first century realities of early Christians, predates Islam by over 500 years. Islam is nowhere predicted in the Bible, although many Muslims hold that Muhammad is anticipated in the gospel of John (where the “spirit,” pneuma in Greek, is translated as “‘ahmad” in Arabic). the point is that there is no evidence at all in any book of the Bible that the Anti Christ will be a Muslim. Frankly, it angers me that this myth is gaining more and more steam, it seems. It needs to be debunked, and fast. There have been many anti-christs in western history, and I would venture to say that most of them have claimed to be Christian.

Here’s another point. I actually provided the link from which the initial respondant commented on about Barack “proudly” commenting that we are no longer a “Christian nation” in a blog earlier in the summer. As i tell my students, the country was never founded as a Christian nation. And whatever Christian principles influenced the Deist founders of the US were there, they were not the same discursive points of contemporary American evangelicalism, which is what this email assumes. Evangelicals may presume that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, a point that may well be the, but they also seem to have an assumption that Christianity is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, which is most definitely NOT the case. In any event, this quote actually misquotes (deliberately, probably) Barack in the Call to Renewal speech. I don’t know where the emailer gets the idea that Barack is “proud” of this. But Obama actually said that we are not only a Christian nation. This changes the meaning completely, and he is exactly right. In the 1700s, insofar as people were religiously diverse at all, it was all a variation of Christianity; Puritan, Catholic, Church of England, and so on. Obama’s point is that this is no longer the case, and in fact has not been the case for a long time. Read the actual speech for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

As another colleague of mine points out, concerning the idea of the US having any kind of official religion (which, Constitutionally, we do not), the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli expressly prohibits acts of hostility between the US and any Muslim nation. Note the first clause here:

“”Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

1797. Think about that. The Founding Fathers, who supposedly established a Christian nation, were still in the halls of Congress.

Barack Obama is not the Beast, he is not the Anti-Christ, and he is not the fulfillment of any biblical prophecy whatsoever.

In the last couple of years, it seems like the rhetoric of “evil” is making an unwelcome return in politics and casual conversation. In this week’s debate, Tom Brokaw asked McCain and Obama, point blank, whether Putin’s Russia is the “Evil Empire,” invoking Reagan’s notorious comment from 1983.

To their credit, neither McCain nor Obama took the bait, for which we can only be thankful. Obama’s answer was to the effect of “No, they aren’t, but they are engaged in evil behavior.” McCain refused to answer completely, saying that affirming Reagan’s description would reignite the Cold War, and denying it would be tantamount to condoning or endorsing their present aggression in Georgia. Obama’s response, as usual, was more nuanced and I think more descriptive, but I have to ask: How is this different from us, either individually or collectively at the national level? All of us are eminently capable of evil, even – especially – when we think we’re doing the right thing or, as Gov. Palin might say, when we’re doing the work of God. At the national level, both candidates recognize the main problem in the Russian – Georgia issue: energy. Both condemn a military act against a non-agressive, non-threatening sovereign state that just happens to be significantly and strategically located to advance the aggressor’s own national interests. How is this categorically different from the US’ action towards Iraq? I think Obama knows that it isn’t, really; if you really watched him in the first debate, he suggested as much, but of course to come out and say that would hand the election to McCain/Palin. But the Bush Doctrine has an answer on why “we” are different: “they” are evil, and we’re not. “We” are doing the work of God, and they aren’t. End of discussion. (BTW, to McCain’s answer, I’d have simply pointed out that saying “No, Russia is not the Evil Empire” doesn’t condone their action, anymore than I’d condone my kids’ objectionable, even potentially evil behavior.)

I think Tom Brokaw should know better than to ask a question like this, but I guess it shows how far we’ve sunk when we can only think of people, religions, and nations who do things that are opposed to our own interests as “evil.” Maybe this is part of the “Christian nation” illusion. I’ve heard too many times that any religion other than some version of Christianity is “evil.” Any state that has its own brand of nationalism that isn’t exactly compatible with American Republocracy is “evil.” “We,” however, are exempt from evil, since we’re the Kingdom, the new Jerusalem, the Chosen People.

I’ve had enough of this rhetorical self-righteousness. Evil is resident here. And it has apartments in the individual soul. And so how about we start making sure we’re aware of this plank in our eyes, even if we can’t get it out, before accusing everyone else. Ultimately I would really prefer it if Brokaw and others would simply leave the category of “evil” to God, and let us concentrate on what “the good” entails, because we aren’t doing so well with that either.

I’m supposed to be working on the dissertation, but I’ve gotten bogged down in some nasty German linguistics. Last night I was doing some reading designed to kind of “wind me down” and came across what I see as a prophetic comment from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison. So much for winding down. I’d love to hear some thoughts on the implications of this for the church today. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

“And we cannot be honest unless we recognise that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur [even if there were no God]. And this is just what we do recognise – before God! God himself compels us to recognise it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering”.

PS – Thanks Jack.

Caught between…Well, I did it. I went. Feeling spiritually downcast these days, I went to one of the local Southern Baptist mini-megachurches in the area for an evening service tonight. I just needed to do it. I sucked it up, decided that I didn’t have to have a “high-church” experience tonight, or traditional baptist hymnology on an organ, but wanted to be with people who genuinely love their image of God and Christ. Most of all, I just wanted to sing contemporary praise music. I can’t explain why, and even if I could, it would be in forced academicese.

I ended up sitting next to the Associate Pastor, who I actually know a little bit. When I arrived, about 5 minutes after the start of the service, and joined in with the singing. We shortly broke into small prayer groups.

All I really want to note is how contemplative this was. I don’t believe that I have experienced such a moving spirit of prayer since I was at Glastonbury Abbey.

Being a practicing Christian, or of any other faith tradition, and a professional academic scholar of religion really is to be caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, especially when one’s family doesn’t really see what the fuss is about, as much as they might try. It can get pretty lonely between the stone and the wall.

It was a good night. A good, good night.

armageddon3.jpgStdogbert alerted me to this little piece from Reuters earlier in the afternoon and suggested that it might be blogworthy. Yep, sure is; any time an American President gets involved with trying to bring peace to the Middle East via a resolution to the Israel-Palestine contest, there’s going to be something to talk, write, read, or blog about.

This sudden interest by Bush in the Middle East peace process is remarkable. Obviously, every President has had an interest in it and they all have been involved to varying degrees, but given the circumstances going on in Iraq (and perhaps Iran in the disturbingly-near future), for Bush to start pandering peace, especially by appealing to Jesus’ beatitude to being peacemakers, when he has so much blood on his hands in the region is hypocritical and disingenuous, or just plain clueless. (My guess is it’s the last.) What fascinates me, however, is how an evangelical President like Bush is going against the old grain with this little peace-making visit. Whatever else the Bush Presidency may be remembered as, I certainly will not-so-fondly remember it as the Presidency who tried to help God out in bringing in the so-called “End Times.” I don’t think any other President has done more that, at least on the surface of things, seems to speed up the timetable to Armageddon in the Bob Hagee-an, Jack van Impe-an, Hal Lindsey-an sense.

Not too long ago, during a call for congregational prayer requests, a fellow in our church asked the pastor and church to pray for peace in the Middle East. The pastor took the opportunity to give a little mini-sermon/lecture that reflects the dispensationalist, Jack van Impean form of End Times politics. His response was something to the effect of “Well, I’m not sure that we can really do that, [name], because the Bible tells us that there will not be peace in the Middle East until the Lord Jesus returns. No matter how many Presidents, ambassadors, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and humanitarians argue for peace and work for peace, it’s just not going to happen until then, and so I think that anything we do that tries to make peace there is just getting in God’s way. But I’ll pray for Jesus’ return and that he comes soon so that we can have peace in Israel soon.” Many evangelicals, particularly those reared and raised and under the continued influence of more traditional, 1950s-60s evangelicalism, and practically all self-proclaimed fundamentalists would agree with the pastor’s assessment here. Not too many “new” or “younger evangelicals” would, however.

Probably not surprisingly, I don’t agree with this at all, because this is not what the Bible says. But that’s not the point here. The point is that Bush’s visit looks like he’s breaking rank with the older mainstream evangelical tradition he has sought to uphold as his standard for his Presidency. Just for once, for whatever motives, he is appealing to the Christian beatitude of peacableness as represented by Jesus rather than the imperialized and horrific vision of the Revelation. I have to give him credit for this.

If Bush’s effort here is doomed to fail, as I think it is, it’s not because it’s foretold in the Scriptures that it will, but that it’s just too hard of a sell. It’s because Middle East leaders can’t trust him, or the US in general, and that is simply because the track record of US involvement in this part of the world isn’t exactly worthy of trust. For that, we can’t blame the Bible, but only those who think they are doing what it says God wants them to do.

scaffolding.jpgFamily of four looking for church home that meets a majority of the following: 1) Church should willingly and unashamedly call itself a “Christian” church, meaning (2) it follows a local theology that its leaders and board members affirm as thoroughly Trinitarian and which (3) finds its central identity in the biblical concept of a called community that (4) engages the world, rather than insulates itself against it, is (5) committed to biblical and prophetic justice, and which (6) contests “the powers” of state, bureaucracy and empire with prophetic voice and action and which (7) maintains active and aggressive vigilance against its own potential complicity with those powers. Church should be (8) Gospel- and missional-centered, (9) unafraid to name sin for what it is and (10) promote and teach the contents of Scripture as the Church’s “norming norm” even while recognizing the (11) necessity of critical reason, ecclesiastical tradition, personal impact, and interpretive flexibility among other churches throughout history and throughout the world in different circumstances from its own. Prospective church’s worship services should be (12) highly liturgical, with preference given to (13) weekly celebration of the Eucharist/Communion/Lord’s Supper and (14) worship in a building that actually looks like it has a sacred history and participates in the holy. Preference given to prospective applicants who demonstrate willingness to (15) ordain both men and women to ministry but which does not do so out of bureaucratic convenience or as political statements; applicants who refrain from ordinations entirely also considered. Churches claiming to have all the answers, or which lead members and attenders to think that they have all such answers, need not apply. To apply, email Aedificium Librarian at link provided on this page, or leave a comment below.

http://img.timeinc.net/southern/events/news/images/ThanksgivingFeast.jpgThis time of the year evokes a lot of emotions and feelings within us. For some of us there is a sense of nostalgia for being close to family. For others, we might feel the almost magical warmth of Christmas events and the coming of the New Year. For others, we start feeling the excitement of the beginning of college hoops, football bowl games, the merciful end of the Orange’s football season, and so on. We feel the closing of once cycle and the new beginnings of another with the annual celebration of Harvesting and of sharing the abundance that God has given us with others, as in Thanksgiving meals and the giving of gifts during Christmas. With this time of year, one season of our lives comes to a close, and another begins.

We celebrate Thanksgiving this week, and with the Thanksgiving season we also enter a few others as well. We enter, for example, the Christmas season; I would imagine that, if you’re like me and my family, you’ll be starting to decorate your house, pull out the greenery, and finally succumb to turning your radio dial to Sunny 102.5 for non-stop, 24/7 Christmas and holiday music.

Related to this is, of course, the “holiday shopping” season, which in reality starts now around Columbus Day rather than Black Friday. And it is fitting that, with this being a seasonal crossing between the old and the new, the Holiday Shopping season participates in this cycle in that there is no other time of year when we are in the full-fledged mode of “Out with the old, and in with the new!” With the Holiday Shopping season, we are absolutely bombarded with advertising assuring us that we really do need NEW and IMPROVED! “this-that-and-the-other-thing.” We’re sucked into the idea that we have to have to get rid of something that might be perfectly good and replace it with a new item. The whole season can awaken the cynic in us that not only starts questioning whether our new and improved lives and gadgets are really any better than we had it a year ago. The omnipresence of advertising and of commercial icons (Nike “swoosh,” Coke, Pepsi, etc) dulls our ability to recognize that which is truly new from the simply repackaged, and when the truly new does finally arrive, we often fail to recognize it, and be thankful and grateful for it. We would feel much better, I think, if the truly new would really advertise itself as such in such a way to shock us into recognizing it, so that we CAN respond appropriately with blessing and thanksgiving.

We’re in luck. Today’s lections from Isaiah and Luke, in particular, give us God’s advertising, and they are so counter-cultural and contrary to our most deeply-seeded common sense that we find it hard to take them seriously. The evangelist reports Jesus’ apocalyptic words in Luke 21 to us on the pretext of prophesying the destruction of the Jewish Temple; he uses vivid imagery the does not, in fact, describe anything in a satisfying, “feel-good” way. Unless we have an apocalyptic fetish, neither should we think of any of these images as anything to look forward to; certainly the earliest Christians did not.

What I want to suggest here is that, far from advertising anything “new,” no matter how bleak and destructive, Jesus here is advertising in no uncertain terms the eternal state of affairs in the world. Really, how can “wars and insurrections,” “nations rising against nations,” empires taking arms against empires, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and other “dreadful signs” from heaven be advertising anything new? Are arrests and persecutions and betrayals of Christians for religious or political reasons anything new?

Advertisements specialize in imagery and depend on our familiarity with their logos, slogans, and products in order to have any effect. In this they function like icons and have tremendous staying power. In Luke today, Jesus employs the truth of these icons to advertise for all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the way the world is today. He refuses to sugarcoat the first century, much like the ancient prophets refused to sugarcoat the state of the world in which Israel and God’s called ones found themselves in. As prophecy from the mouth of Jesus and in the context of his pronouncements on the Kingdom of God, Luke’s description of the world carries the force of the “always already” and “to come” at the same time.

So much for one kind of God’s advertising; small wonder that these things would either be glorified out of all proportion to the rest of Christ’s and the Prophets’ discourses on the Kingdom of God, or these messages are systematically and institutionally suppressed or ignored out of not wanting to appear offensive or pessimistic about the state of the world (this, of course, is the classic liberal, “progressive” heritage). But I should like to remind us all that this is not at all the only advertisement we find; instead, I want to remind us that this season of the old coming to a close and the new day dawning, both in commercial Christmas and Thanksgiving, the season of Advent is even now on our doorstep waiting to disrupt the state of the everyday.

What advertisements do we have to represent and “sell” God’s newness during the season about to break upon upon us? How will God shock us and upset us? We have seen that Jesus’ advertising strategy sells us nothing new, but more of the old; it awakens, evokes, our desire for the New.

The passage of Isaiah is one of the most outrageous advertisements of God’s Newness, a newness that, like Jesus’ Kingdom of God, is always already and to come if we but know where to look, put faith where it belongs, and do what we are commanded to do. And here we see the other element of advertising; the idea that what is being presented is so outrageous, so out of touch with our reality, so absurd to our financial sensibilities that we cannot help ourselves but desire what the advertisement is trying to tell us we want more than anything else. And the most effective ads even cause us to contemplate doing anything, even sacrificing whatever we have or who we believe we are, in order to have what it wants us to have.

What is God’s ad here? Let this sink in, and let it inform our Holiday sensibility here, especially with Thanksgiving, and Advent, and Christmas. There will be a new earth, a new Jerusalem. Not a repackaging in better boxes of what is already there; but utter newness of the earth and the heart of the people of God’s calling. There will no longer be the sound of weeping or tears of sadness. There won’t be any homeless, nor will there be those oppressed or terrorized by life today to cry out for still more deliverance. There will be rejoicing and thanksgiving, because in God’s new world there will not be any infant mortality or elderly men and women outliving their lives or widows or young men who die in war, for there will no longer be wars fought. There will be rejoicing and thanksgiving because there will no longer be the outrage of eminent domain or foreclosures on homes, and those who build will live; those who plant will reap, and those who harvest will eat and have abundance. The big will no longer consume the small, and all will live under their own vine and fig tree.

Is the Advertisement of God’s newness in Isaiah, the Advent of abundance, blessing, thanksgiving, and gratitude, too much to hope for? Isn’t it worth selling ourselves out to God’s newness, to be seduced by this advertisement, to make this an Always Already and speed up the To Come?

Advent and Thanksgiving are both upon us. May we share our abundance in the spirit of newness, and may our Thanksgiving be an advertisement to that which we, as people of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, have always already, and may our expectation of his coming stir in us and in those who know us, a new season of Hope. And Life. And faithful abundance.

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