Apocalypses

Posted: 23 November 2010 in Everything Else...
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Plural.  Not “The Apocalypse!” (always capitalized or with an exclamation point or both as here), but apocalypses.  Everyone has their own cherished one about how it all comes crashing down.  In simplistic political terms we have the apocalypse of the right: big government snatches your rights and reduces you to serfdom; the left: big business snatches your rights and reduces you to serfdom; the greens: climate change fundamentally alters the world and, you guessed it, we all end up as serfs.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not rejecting any of these scenarios and I think there is a cautionary tale (and even more than that) in each one.  The overwhelming, allegiance building, war making state is a big problem and in its aspiration to be “god” it will do most anything to maintain its preeminence.  Examples, at this late date, are probably not required.

Big business is, well, a big problem.  Too big to fail is simply too big.  Corporations are not cool, cute, visionary (no, I am not going to link you to the ads for Apple, Geico and Chevron respectively).  They are bent one thing: increasing shareholder value. That is why they exist.  In addition to the employee/agent problems, they care not at all for you, me or any employee who has sacrificed her life for the company name.

And global climate change is real and we are helping it along. Sure there are plenty of real and functional “deniers”… but come on!

Yes… there are good reasons for these apocalypses and some bad things are going to happen (I am basing this on a rather cursory historical analysis).  The problem with proliferating apocalypses is that, after a while, we can’t bear to think about them.  While a small minority of highly devoted people make apocalyptic narratives of one sort or another their cause célèbre, the rest of us just get overwhelmed.  We have too many horror stories about “the end”.  (In fact, we even have a sub-genre of science fiction– the “post apocalyptic”–that gives us the potential “logical” outcomes of what various of the extant apocalypses suggest.  My personal favorites in this sub-genre are The Road and World War Z: an Oral History of the Zombie War).

So… enough apocalypses already!

Or not.

See the simple meaning of apocalypse is “to lift the veil” or “to reveal” something that is hidden.  This is what John, a well-known master of the genre (and, unfortunately, widely attributed with giving us the gory sub-genre) was doing in his famous letter to seven faith communities in Asia in the first century.  He was revealing something about the heinousness, the bankruptcy, the violence and the dehumanizing forces of the Roman Empire (at least that’s what most scholars believe he was doing).  He lifted the veil so that those communities could take courage.  He told a story of violence, death and betrayal (things that the faith communities had, unfortunately, experienced first hand).  He also told a story about how it was all a charade.  How the great power Rome was merely a fleeting entity getting its 15 minutes of fame (okay 30 minutes) on the global stage of history.  He used apocalyptic language (a-ha) to veil his own unveiling and tell his readers that a time was coming when all the wrongs they had experienced would be righted.

Apocalypse.  Unveiling.  Pulling back the curtain.  Revealing.

I think we need more  of these kind of apocalypses.  We need more unveiling.  We need to hear the truth about how what was once a crime against humanity became standard operating procedure for the US government in the so-called global war on terror (talking about torture here).  We need to see more truth about how a handful of bankers and traders could make billions (that’s right “b” not “m”) creating (they only could make this up) “securities” that created only insecurity.  We need more truth about how civilians, the purported beneficiaries of all these wars, are the ones that get killed in such massive numbers. We need more unveiling…

We need more apocalypses.

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Comments
  1. Lisa Schirch says:

    Thank you John, er, Robb. We need more prophets who can not only say the truth, but weave together the truths about the apocolypses.

  2. Brian Gumm says:

    Very clever, Robb: In the first paragraph I was about to skip right to the comments and take you to task for conflating “apocalypse” with “eschaton”…but then you pulled the ol’ switcheroo on me! We almost had a foot-in-mouth incident up in here.

    My challenge: While I do have deep sympathy for the social/global concerns you name and for which you ask more apocalypses, I wonder…whither the role of the church? James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World” has been rocking my world for the past week and his descriptive sociological work has really helped me see the ways in which Christians in America can subsume the faith beneath a more primary social-political ideology. I won’t push it any further here because of the limits of blog conversation, but I do highly recommend the book, especially since you and I have happened to share some reading this year.

    • robbdavis says:

      Hey Brian! It has been a while. I read Hunter’s book in the spring and even had an email exchange with him about his portrayal of the neo-Anabaptists. I can tell you about that some other time. Your question is a good one. I think (and suggested to Hunter) that his call in the final essays of the book for Christians to undertake a “faithful presence” is very similar to what Yoder calls Christians to in “The Christian Witness to the State.”

      I tried to lay out my positions on this in a series of blogs (that I have not gotten back to given some new responsibilities I have taken on) here entitled “Advocacy Done ‘Christianly’: Faithful Witness in a World of Dehumanization”. If you read parts II and III you will get a sense of where I stand on these issues. In fact, you are right to call me on this issue because I really feel the best location to approach the state is “locally”, based on faithful living in a place. The examples of the need for “unveiling” that I chose all concern a very high (and therefore abstract) level of engagement. I DO feel that there is a need for “revealing” at that level but how to do it while maintaining faithfulness and humility (AND with a concern for the offending party) is hard. In fact, I would enjoy more discussion about how we should think about this.

      If you get a chance to read parts of that (unfinished) series on advocacy I would appreciate your thoughts. The writing is rough and unedited but someday I would like to turn it into a book…

      Thanks again. I need to get back to your blog too.

      • Brian Gumm says:

        See? We keep reading the same books! 🙂 Glad to hear you’ve read it and even engaged w/ Hunter. I’m trying to convince some folks here at EMU to get him over here for some lectures/discussion (heck, he’s only an hour away!).

        I’ll check out your advocacy posts. I do tend to resonate w/ the local emphasis/practices while still trying to unveil at the more macro/abstract levels. The big learning for me is how to manage expectations and level of energy expended at those levels…which tend to sacrifice local faithfulness…which you’ve already pointed out.

        If you check out my recent posts, you’ll see that I’m using Hunter to take a look at some Church of the Brethren issues/concerns. I’m preparing a paper on that for a class but also a symposium in the spring.

        Always great stuff here, Robb; thanks!

      • robbdavis says:

        Great minds… I have “rssed” your blog so I can do a better job keeping up to date with it.

        I think you have clearly named the tension we face: “The big learning for me is how to manage expectations and level of energy expended at those levels…which tend to sacrifice local faithfulness…”

        This is where things can get confused and messy. I think maybe we should think about “ordaining” those with a call to engage at the higher level of advocacy (truth telling) and find ways to both encourage and keep them connected to the local. I need to think about this more. Thanks again.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brian Gumm, CJP at E.Mennonite.U. CJP at E.Mennonite.U said: Fun convo w/ Robb David on apocalypses, advocacy, and faithfulness: http://t.co/lGNXLqo […]

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