My intellectual effort has led to this: a full explanation of the final book of the Bible, John’s Revelation. I am not capable of a deeper expression of my compelling sorrow and hope.
A friend from yoga started following my blog recently, and yesterday we were chatting about it before yoga class. I was surprised by his statement that he always understood the Christian message to be that humanity was the focus of healing in the world, rather than a virus to spread corruption. I was about to ask him about the source of his understanding when a stranger interjected and began to tell me that I was wrong. He kept at it, point by point, until I got frustrated and told him, “Look, I am doing the work.”
This was the framing for Rachel Maddow’s profile of Steve Bannon’s career as a video producer. His recent work includes a metaphor on global warming – a crazed scientist locks a bunch of steamy bodies in a sauna and slowly raises the temperature, causing an unnecessary panic.
In the context of this blog, the more outrageous offering is a reality series that recasts the male protagonist of Duck Dynasty as the prophet of the Second Coming. Some would be outraged by this travesty, others would be frightened, but I see it as an opportunity.
Bannon, like many in the media industry, understands the power of dreams. Shared ideas are spiritual points of contact that link a target community. Seeding people with phrases and images allows other kinds of thoughts to be projected into their souls. This is something that I trained my sons to resist. When they complained that an unsettling thought wouldn’t leave them alone, I offered “Close your eyes, calm your thoughts, and form this question in your mind: ‘Where is this coming from?’ Now tell me whose face you see.”
Bannon has co-opted the conservative message with his alt-right media machine. People that celebrate freedom and independence now subscribe – sometimes violently – to his program that seeks to deny those rights to minorities. It appears that he now wishes to do the same to Christianity, whose political messaging is currently diffused across competing denominations.
But as one among a growing number that believes that Revelation teaches that the returned Christ is already at work among us, I must consider how much Bannon’s power play will affect that process of manifestation. I am happy to share that I have powerful reasons for believing that it will further it.
You see, people may subscribe to an illusion such as the one that Bannon is constructing, but ultimately their concern is for the actual conditions of their life. This is the huge difference between Christ and illusionists such as Bannon: Christ actually loves his community, and is invested in their strength. This means that the community builds strength through relation with Christ, rather than losing it.
But how does Christ break through the barrier of illusion spun by Bannon and others? Because his investment in truth gives him focus and strength that the illusionists cannot rival. Illusionists are lazy people, seeking to take power without giving anything in return. Christ focuses only on service to his community, and so disciplines himself to act in a way consistent with their benefit. There is no pause in his determination, no rest until he has manifested his will for service to them.
What killed him made him stronger.
So all that Bannon will succeed in doing is to create a nexus in spirit that will allow Christ to send fulfillment all the more rapidly to those that are held captive by illusion. Once that message is received, Bannon will lose his power over his captives, and be cast aside as irrelevant.
This is just a specific example of a greater principle: spiritual power is conscious and intelligent. It seeks conditions under which it can anchor and spread. That means that it must work in concert with truth, for without truth its anchor will not be firm. Truth is perceived fully only by those that love unconditionally – that is to say, without thought of personal reward. For, if we think of personal reward when seeking the truth, people will seek to protect themselves from our appropriations by hiding from us.
This then, is what makes Christ inevitably the most powerful person on earth: power seeks truth through love. As the avatar of unconditional love, eventually all power will accrue to him.
When contemplating the selection from among the disciples of the Apostles, Luke records [6:12]:
Now during those days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.
Now this is an interesting proposition for prayer: the junior partner in the triune turning to himself for wisdom. Illogical, even bizarre? I can understand it only by assuming that Jesus was a pseudopod emitted from the Holy presence, not in possession of all his spiritual faculties.
Of course, as a demonstration it is instructive to read of the devotion and trust that Jesus invested in the Father. If he was moved to pray, how should not we as well? And conceiving of him as a man, I would not rue Jesus that comfort.
A common elaboration of the Crucifixion is that it was not just physically agonizing, but also spiritually devastating. We have the great heart-rending cry:
Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani?
There was no answer, because there could be none. God took on flesh because it was only through flesh that evil could be healed. Once Jesus assumed that burden, it was his and his alone.
The angels cannot change their nature – it is the grace and curse of humanity to possess that capacity. Thus God testified to Cain:
Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.
Jesus was the culmination of this seeking after strength. He arose out of a culture devoted to the seeking after purity, and chose to allow sin into his heart so that its consequences could be healed.
The bulk of the BIble demonstrates the difficulty of this accomplishment. The men raised to greatness always struggle with their frailty. Jacob’s lust makes him little more than a seed dispenser to two competing sisters and their handmaids, and his favorite Joseph leads monotheism into subjection to a polytheistic culture. David succumbs to desire, clearing the way for marriage by sending his friend into battle to die, and Solomon again opens the door to polytheistic practices.
This recidivism illuminates the challenge of loving unconditionally: to be merciful is to grant power to those lacking the ability to discipline their behavior. Every parent confronts this in the two-year-old and adolescent, but somehow we believe that grace given by God is proof against this corruption. To the wise, though, the recidivism of the Bible is the greatest possible proof of God’s compassion for us. He pursues the loving embrace even against the evidence of our unfaithfulness.
Of course, in demonstrating the infinite depths of divine compassion, the heroes of the Old Testament are problematical role models. This came to a head in Islam, which largely sanitizes the evidence of personal frailty. A Muslim scholar disputed with me over David’s betrayal of friendship, explaining that the sanitized history was enforced by Muhammed’s (pbuh) son-in-law, Ali, and justified in that opportunists used David’s behavior to justify their own lecherous license.
The consequence of this idealization of Biblical heroes is that the program of monotheistic escalation (the only God worth worshipping is perfect and infinite) extends to the heroes of the Bible. They are no longer human but gods themselves, immune to temptation and error.
So what of Jesus, absorbing the burden of human sin on the cross? We know that he showed reluctance and despair in the event. This supports my sense that divine love comes at the first possible moment. In the New Testament as in the Old, the manifestation of grace is subjected to pressures almost certain to destroy it. Among those are the unfaithfulness of those to whom salvation is offered. Returning to Nazareth early in his ministry, Jesus is astonished by their cynicism, which makes him unable to offer power in any great measure.
So I conclude: as monotheism is the pursuit of a truly human god, in that pursuit Jesus is truly our god, struggling against our sinfulness while healing us so that we may sin again. Paradoxically, as we approach more nearly to his grace, that struggle intensifies. The assault on his virtues are more focused, the wounds more intimate. As God cried out again and again in the Old Testament, would we not expect Christ to be tried by anger and fear?
Even perhaps, at times, to be overcome by human impatience and frustration?
My son Greg can become exasperated with me. As a young adult, he is concerned naturally with social acceptance, and seeks for answers to the problems of his generation in the conventional wisdom brought forth from the past. When he has had enough of my contrary pronouncements, he retorts:
You speak with a great deal of assurance, Dad!
Yes, who am I, to assert that I know better than all these others?
For me, the situation is far more ambiguous. My assurance is necessary to those that I attempt to comfort. To those seeking hope, how else can one speak? They need to believe that you believe in the choices that you are offering them.
But to believe that you represent the truth is far different than believing in one’s own authority.
To those familiar with the Yu Gi Oh cartoon series, I can offer a meaningful image. In the cartoon, the young hero finds himself in conflict with evil, and struggles to the limit of his abilities to overcome it. In the lurch, a larger self – ancient, powerful and wise beyond any human reckoning – comes to the fore.
Thus, to my intimates, I speak of myself variously as a “test particle” or “bait” or “a point of contact” or “a beneficiary of a privileged perspective.” So I’ll be dreaming about a troubled baptist, and suddenly I’ll see the scene as though looking over my shoulder and another presence asks “Is that you, John?” I’ll be driving to the aquatic center and have a cardinal from 400 miles away land on me with shame and grief regarding the priestly pedophilia scandal. I’ll wake up at midnight to a pope announcing “I am your father, and I am going to die and leave all this power to you.” I’ll be listening to the opening lyrics of He Reigns, allowing my mind to wander over the continents, and a Muslim leader shows up to say “Here’s another billion people for you to manage.”
To those that don’t understand the challenges of loving, this might seem all very exciting. Having carried the heavy burden of being blamed for things done in my name, to me it’s far more ambiguous.
There are two great challenges to loving, which is to grant strength to the loved one. The first is when the recipient does not adhere to the constraints of loving. Loving them is thus to empower them to hurt others. In consequence, unconditional love moves through our lives like the tide, peaking higher when we honor its constraints, and ebbing when we violate them. The mechanism of this operation is for love to love all things so that it feels the wrongs we commit, and transfers its ministry to those we have wounded. In seeking to serve ourselves, we are indeed our own worst enemies.
The second challenge is far more painful. It is to find the beloved surrendering themselves to us, becoming merely extensions of our personality rather than beautiful manifestations of infinite possibility. A loving personality is surrounded by grateful recipients of love’s strength, and that gratitude amplifies their influence. Unless such a lover is tender, it can overwhelm the weaker links that bind together the beloved, scattering its elements to the spiritual wind.
It is for these reasons that Jesus proclaimed himself as a servant, and testified as to his humble heart.
As if this wasn’t difficult enough, this little pseudo pod of Christ is wrapped up in hostility. The important work to be done is in “binding” and “loosening” things in the spiritual realm, and my interactions with them are at best tenuous. Thus I dream of the great flocks of birds I knew in my childhood, and finding, upon walking out to the deck, that a ravenous dragon is arising from the spot in the ground from which the birds arise. At an Easter service, I cupped my hands around the sun and spread its influence, only to encounter in the asteroids an echo of the ancient cry of grief “No! Don’t kill him!” I receive a visit by an emissary of the two-dimensional race represented as the eye in the pyramid, asking for assistance to travel across the Milky Way, and am warned six months later that the gift of energy caused the output of the sun to drop by ten percent. Or wake, much as I was waken by the pope, to find myself in the midst of a perfectly spherical personality, only to be guided across a great void to a tiny speck, the “most precious place” in its realm, the “only place where life is found”, and to be told “I want to help, but even the smallest mistake would be disastrous. I need people to guide me.”
When I was introduced to the modern interpretations of Revelation, I was told that the first beast, numbered 666, was man. Man, the creation of the sixth day, believing in his own power and being humbled by failure. But not only man was created on the sixth day: in the morning came the livestock. So the correct category is mammalia. This is also the fourth, greatest beast of Daniel’s dream. It is the intelligence of man in service to the destructive Darwinian instincts of our evolutionary predecessors.
The enemy of the beast is the man with the flashing sword of truth coming from his mouth. The birds are his allies. In Daniel’s dream, he is granted dominion over the power of the “Ancient of Days.”
As when he first came, I recognize that Christ – the human perfected by unconditional love – can only become those things that he is allowed to be by those he serves. While he proclaimed his authority in the earlier era, in this era it will be to each of us to proclaim the authority of love in our lives – and thus to receive him as lord in our hearts. He is not our ruler, he is our example. And he is very, very, very close.
Take comfort. Take heart. None are forgotten, even those held captive by those that take refuge in the darkness. There is no hiding from the glory of the light that he brings.
A sin is a sin because it leaves a wound in the spirit of our victim. That extends not only to other people, but to God himself. In both Genesis and the history following entry into the Promised Land, Yahweh cries out against the agony of his association with the people of Israel.
The Law was intended to guide the Chosen People into a path of righteousness – a way of living that kept sin from entering into our relationships. The challenge, of course, was that Israel was surrounded by people that lacked that same discipline. The relationship with God was insufficient to protect them from the sins of others.
In the books after return from exile, a common exhortation among the prophets is that the Gentiles must be allowed into the covenant with God. This flew in the face of Hebrew tradition, which passed the heritage through mothers. But it was intended to entrain a process that would eventually manifest in the spread of righteousness across the face of the earth.
And then comes Jesus to bear the sins of the world.
In common theology, this is seen as an act of retribution. In Christ Alone expresses this with a beautiful gratitude:
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live
But this is to think with the heart of men, not with the heart of God. Jesus tells so many parables of evil-doing that is forgiven by the grace of God. In every case, those stories reveal that it is not retribution that God seeks, but reconciliation.
The truth is approached in the last two lines of the stanza, particularly when seen in the light of Jesus’s promise to those that suffer [Matt. 11:28-29]:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
When offered, this was almost certainly seen as a promise to the few that heard, but on the cross it became true for all willing to receive the healing grace of the father. Jesus opened his heart to all of the sin of humanity, each of us finding a place in the tissue of his compassion. The sun shone its light into its chambers, and brought healing there.
This surrender has its dark side: Jesus, bearer of a perfect, spotless heart, allowed sinners to take up residence in it. He embraced the world in his love, knowing that to love is to give power to others. While his will washed against the tide of sin, he knew that some would use that power to hurt others – turning his power against his own heart. Thus his declaration of its humility: he knows that his heart cannot heal us without empowering us to create suffereing.
To complete the work, then, his heart will be broken: some among those he loves will have to be cast out into the darkness. As he says about the power of loving in the parable of the talents [Matt. 13:12]:
Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
But for those that have, to “pick up your cross” is not to bear the burden of sin. It is something far more joyful and hopeful. It is to offer yourself as a tool for the healing of others. It is to allow the love that fills you to pass through you to those that suffer with fear, filling them until they, too, fear no longer.
It may seem unfair, to be required to heal those that hurt us. Only keep in sight the outcome of his agony carried for these millennia (again from In Christ Alone):
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
It reared up again last night as I left Barnes and Noble, where I had been continuing my study of C#. As I walked to the door, a grace-filled young lady came to my attention, and a surge of sexual predation boiled up from deep within me. It took only an instant to beat it down. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. I know where it comes from, and we’re locked in a visceral struggle that threatens the survival of us both.
For the last fifteen years, every time that I engage seriously the thought of entering into an intimate relationship, a powerful female voice at the deepest layers of my consciousness throws women at me, cackling “See, he’s just like other men. All that he wants is sex.” This was a serious problem in my relationship with Jamie Grace, as in dancing with other women, I would place myself in service of their joy. That would work itself gradually into a series of lifts that would terminate with their legs wrapped around me and their yoni pressed against my abdomen. What observers of such scenes failed to report to Jamie Grace was that I immediately drew a line and backed out of the dance.
I have made it through the next twenty-three pages of Sera Beak’s Red, Hot and Holy and now find myself filled with grief and shame. I know that I must continue to slog through the work, and will see it to the end, but what I perceive now is the slow breaking of this grace-filled woman’s will to Mystery.
The battle lines are laid down for all to see in Chapter 11, titled “Red Night of the Soul.” The setting is her “Cosmic Family Therapy.” In this experience, Sera is invited to allow a group of intuitives to model the psychic tensions that have led her into a dark night of the spirit. The stage is set with stand-ins for Sera’s family, but her parents rapidly fade from view. The scene is instead dominated by a pool of blood, into which a man stands on a chair to adopt the posture of the cross. Ultimately, Sera finds herself on the floor, immersed in this pool of blood, curled up in a fetal position. The therapy session breaks off at that point, as Sera offers rather proudly, with this comment from the facilitator: “You’re pretty out there.”
In my book “Love Works”, in setting the stage for the passion that brought Jesus to the cross, I observe that in reading the Gospels, I sense a grim change in Jesus’s attitude towards his ministry with the death of John the Baptist. John was the only man that heralded openly the Savior’s presence, and as a result was jailed by Herod. Herod feared to destroy John, who was beloved by the people. But John continues to proclaim truth in the court, eventually denouncing Herod’s marriage. As is well known, Herod’s wife sends Salome to seduce her father through sensual dance. In the creepy finale, Herod’s lust moves him to offer his daughter anything, and – at her mother’s prompting – she asks for John’s head on a platter.
The women of the Jewish Sisterhood decry the paternalism of their tradition, but the influence of Beak’s “Red” spirituality is seen throughout the Bible. It is in the line of Hebrew inheritance through the mother. It is Leah sending out her sons to slaughter those that submitted to Dinah’s sexual adventurism. It is Judith using sex to defeat Holofernes. (What is it about sexual temptresses and severed heads?) It is in the Book of Esther, devoid of any mention of God, in which the “Whore of Babylon” grasps the knob of the Persian king’s “scepter” and leads her people into the seductions of royal power that culminated in Herodian corruption of the Law.
In the Christian era, it is priestly celibacy, established not on the basis of ambiguous Biblical verse, but because early bishops used their privilege to secure for their wife’s sons the titles of grace and communal lands of the church. It is, against the backdrop of pedophilia in the Catholic Church, a rabbi offering to an interfaith gathering an anecdote in which he observed that if the choice was between ham and sex, he’d chose the second. The proceedings were interrupted by an angry priest, who stood up to offer that he had two hundred wives, and “they all finish my sentences for me.”
It is my arrival at a Jewish home during Yom Kippur to observe a grandfather demanding that his granddaughter recognize her father as “lord and master”, with the adult women smirking in the kitchen as the girl demurred. It is to awaken to the departure of a coven of women, heralded only by the straggling neophyte, gazing upon me lovingly and announcing “So we’ve won.” It is the pastor at Saddleback Church standing up to announce that he “speaks to Jesus every day,” and my discovery, upon discrete investigation, that it was his wife playing the counterfeit. It is the female minister of my church responding to my trauma at being raped painfully in my dreams with the retort “You’d better be careful with that. Being raped physically is an entirely different matter.”
It is to wade in the deep pool of menstrual intimacy with blood, a pool imbued with all the creative joys of maternity, where men enter only through violence.
Yes, only through violence. Only through self-destructive competition.
So what was the response of Christ to this imbalance between the sexes?
To seize the cross with his broken body, smearing it with his own blood. To carry it to the mount and surrender to death, drowning in his own fluids. To do so while proclaiming forgiveness. To do so in love.
After watching me dance at a pagan ceremony, my minister observed to me that there were still a few Shaker women alive. I eventually came across the Shaker hymn “I Danced in the Morning.” These verses resonate powerfully with the scene described by Sera Peak:
I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame,
The holy people said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped and they hung me on high,
And they left me there on a cross to die.
I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back.
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
But I am the Dance, and I still go on.
During her therapy session, Sera did not see Christ dancing – not in the flesh. He hung there passively, immersed in the blood that he entered through the gift of his submission to spiritual rape at the hands of violent men. It was his soul that danced, imbued with the spirit of Unconditional Love, lighting the darkness, washing away fear, and becoming so thoroughly enmeshed in the healing of women that, despite the long millennia of rejection, they find themselves unable to envision their separation from him, and so their avatars, Kali among them, turn their will to his seduction.
Dear ladies, dear Sera: there is so much more for you than that. Try to see yourselves as we do.
I cannot, and will not, much as I might enjoy it, submit to your redcidivism.
In “Christ is Risen”, Matt Maher encapsulates the message offered by so many celebrants at Easter:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling over death by death!
Come awake! Come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave!
Oh, death, where is your sting?
Oh, Hell, where is your victory?
It is a message of conquest.
But those that have survived a near-death experience tell us that as they drifted into the light, they saw all their loved ones reaching out to call them forward, and behind them shone the loving embrace of Christ.
Jesus did not conquer death: he entered into our greatest fear and transformed it into a conduit through which love is brought to us.
Understanding that conflict justifies evil, I have been negotiating with sin for the last fifteen years, offering the exhortation that love will not destroy it, but bring it into greatness. In that process, I have been assaulted psychologically, night and day, by people that exercise sin to gain power over others. The struggle has been exhausting.
This morning, I find myself in a different place. I turned the problem around: rather than resisting them, I envisioned the light of Christ shining through me, then through them and onto those that they oppress. The closer they press against me, the closer they come to the light, and the more brightly it shines from them.
Maher begins his song with this exhortation:
Let no one caught in sin remain
Inside the lie of inward shame.
We fix our eyes upon the cross
And run to him who showed great love.
Those that rely upon sin for power run in the other direction, of course, and build their castles to wall out the light of Christ. Death is their final tool – the means by which they weed out those that insist upon loving. Every Christian that keeps his eyes upon the cross defeats that strategy: they make death the means by which Christ enters into the darkness, bypassing all the walls of the citadel.
How does Christ protect his faithful? Because even thinking about bringing harm to a true servant of Christ calls him closer. Those that would sin against the faithful must flee their ramparts into the wilderness.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus offered this counsel:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
[NIV Matt. 5:38-39]
And for those strong enough, even more:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of heaven.
[NIV Matt. 5:43-45]
What I see now is: it is the miracle of the cross that guarantees the efficacy of this conduct! Death was not vanquished, it is the very tool by which we redeem one another!