The Number of the Beast

NOTE: Headline corrected. How could I have not seen that?

I confess to not being much of a prophesy guy. I was once caught up in the whirlwind of dispensationalism — as I note, its a really good faith for geeky, misfit, and overly intelligent high schoolers — but have not been for some time.

I don’t scour scripture and try to discern the future. Aside from the promise of our redemption, of Jesus returning, and signs of that (which seem to trouble every age since he ascended), and the subjugation of the pagan, gentile world the Christ (whatever that might mean), we have few promises.

Well, and this: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” If we are penitent thieves.

However, while I don’t believe scripture does much pointing to a specific future, it does allude to itself. Which is why I find it curious that no one, so far as I know, has made this comparison.

In Revelation 13, we have a description of two great beasts, and it’s the second beast, “rising out of earth” with “two horns like a lame and it spoke like a dragon.” This is the beast that does great signs, and forces all — “both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave” — to take its mark on the right hand or the forehead so that “no one can buy or sell” without the mark. This is the beast of which John says:

This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666. (Revelation 13:18 ESV)

Six-six-six. A dreaded number attached to Satan and the Devil and all sorts of evil. Yeah, okay, it’s 616 in some manuscripts, but most have 666.

And so, we count letters, do obscure forms of numerology, try to discern who this person might have been historically and who this might be pointing to now.

But what if this is simply … an allusion to something else in scripture? We find ourselves now in 1 Kings 10, after Solomon has just received the Queen of Sheba:

14 Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, 15 besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land. 1 (Kings 10:14-15 ESV)

There’s that number, 666. This is apparently a lot of gold. Solomon is wealthy, powerful, righteous, draws people — like the Queen of Sheba — to him. His kingdom is impressive, his army large, his palace ornate. “The like of it was never made in any kingdom,” the author of 1 Kings writes.

What if John’s number in Revelation doesn’t name a person, but rather alludes to the kind of power the Second Beast has, the power that echoes that of Solomon, a power that draws all to itself. Solomon too was a man, a man who possessed much wisdom yet also turned from the Lord.

It’s not a perfect parallel, or even a good one. It alludes, it hints at, and little more. Perhaps this second beast will be seen as Solomon-like, wise and forbearing, wealthy and powerful, but a persecuted of God’s people, of the lamb and all those who follow. I suspect the two beasts are likely allusions to Vespasian and Titus, the father and son Roman generals who waged war on Jerusalem and destroyed the city, who then both, in turn, became emperor of Rome.

But the 666 may be an allusion power and wealth, and all that it means, and all that it brings.

ADVENT 12 / Tired of Waiting

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)

Oh yeah?

It feels like God is slow. It feels to me, right now, that God has forgotten his promise. To me. To others. That God has just simply walked away.

Last week, I learned a terrible thing. A young woman who had been texting this ministry, a teenage girl living in an abusive home, frightened of her dad, had contacted one of the people here. Not me. She read this blog, and then read my blog (I’m Charles, if you must know), devoured it, took some hope in all I’d written and said. And was beginning to get the courage to run away, to leave home, to find safety and protection.

It was too little, too late. Her father beat her to death.

Not slow? Not wishing any should perish? BUT SOME HAVE PERISHED! Many have perished, and many more will die, frightened and alone, at the hands of those who mean them nothing but harm.

There are days when I don’t want God to be patient with me. With the suffering of the world. I just want it all to be done with.

There are days when I do not care if I am delivered or redeemed. When I wish I had never been baptized, never heard Jesus speak of love in the midst of terror and death, when I wish I’d never heard a promise and never believed.

But I do believe. I cannot help it.

I am, however, tired of waiting.

ADVENT 11 / Words Matter

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34 ESV)

Words matter.

It matters what we say, because what we say reflects what we think, what we feel, what we understand, what we truly believe and confess. It what we say publicly to people, about them, what we conclude. Because in our words and thoughts and feelings are the buds from which will flower and bear our fruit.

Good fruit or bad fruit. A tree is known by the fruit it bears.

So what we say matters. What we think matters. What we feel matters. What’s in our heart matters. Because from all this spring our deeds, and the deeds that matter, as Matthew notes, are simple ones, acts of kindness and mercy and in a cruel and merciless world — food for the hungry, a cup of water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, and company for the sick, lonely, and imprisoned.

It is hard to work deeds of love and mercy when your heart is cruel and unkind. The heart will out. Thoughts and feelings will out.

Jesus says our words and our deeds will be measured. We will be judged on the basis of what we say and do.

So our words matter.

Guess Who’s Coming to Repent and be Baptized…

Jennifer and I were worshiping this morning as what we have taken to calling The Church of St. John-in-the-Wilderness, a good Anglican name attached to a number of churches, though the first one that comes up online is somewhere in India.

Right now, it’s just Jennifer and me, using the 1979 version of the Book of Common Prayer, a slowly expanding of form two of Holy Communion, which we celebrate at home (though honestly, I lobbied for worshippers at Starbucks this morning). We call ourselves Anglicans on purpose. The Lutherans have wounded us too much to go back, we’re not Catholic, and we have yet to find a church here in Moses Lake that takes worship — liturgy — seriously.

Four praise songs and a long, meandering sermon that is more conservative political piety do not a proper worship service make. Nor does the formless, shapeless and very unserious semi-liturgy we’ve experienced in far too many churches in the last few years.

Honestly, the only places where I’ve felt liturgy is taken seriously are Orthodox churches and the Latin Mass. And several of my friends’ ELCA parishes.

At any rate, we’re self-proclaimed Anglicans right now (and not Episcopalians, for reasons I will keep to myself for the time being), until some bishop somewhere decides to follow the lead of two ELCA bishops and toss our asses out as well.

At any rate, I was reading the texts for the Second Sunday of Advent this morning, and noticed two things.

First, in the Gospel reading.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? …” (Matthew 3:7 ESV)

So okay, John the Baptist is in the midst of the wilderness, hanging out on the banks of the River Jordan baptizing the rabble when who shows up but “many of the Pharisees and Sadducess?” The religious establishment, following the people out to this wilderness, to take a dip in the water and repent of their sins.

They were coming to be baptized. To repent. I’d never noticed that before.

We don’t know what John the bug-eating, rambunctious holy mess tells the ordinary folks coming to him from Jerusalem and Judea and all around the Jordan, when they show up. But in Matthew’s account, he has special words for the religious leaders. “Who invited you?” he demands, as if somehow they hadn’t been told about to this repentance party at the river on purpose.


He then makes a special demand of them, these uninvited religious leaders. “It isn’t enough merely to speak words as you get ready to go under the water, or live in the confidence that merely being descended from Abraham is enough. Bear fruit.”

To the religious leaders, he tells them — repent, and then live like you mean it. He doesn’t deliver this same warning to the ordinary folks who come the repent, at least not in Matthew’s account. He may very well be the kind of stern, crazy man you cross to the other side of the street to avoid (he always come across that way to me), but from this, it seems he baptized all who came without much question.

And even here, after he warns the religious leaders of his age to take their repentance seriously, and live like they really are penitent, John appears to baptize them.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11 ESV)

When we talked about this at worship, Jennifer looked at me and said, “Even religious leaders. We need to remember that.” Because right now, she and I have almost no patience for religious leaders — bishops and pastors and the like — and I’d just as soon as consign them outer darkness or the fires of Gehenna or some deep, dark part of Sheol as think of them twice.

God’s grace is also for the powerful, for those who have wronged as much as those they have wronged. I think John is right to demand of these religious leaders that their repentance manifest itself tangibly in their lives in ways it may not have to in anyone not given the responsibility of religious leadership.

Which leads me to the second thing I noticed, in the epistle reading, which wasn’t technically part of the reading for the week, but I read it anyway.

1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (Romans 15:1-3 ESV)

I love this, this talk of obligation and self-surrender. I love this because it’s hard and I hate it. I don’t like bearing with the failings of the weak, and there are times when I’m not terribly patient for the failing of those around me. (My poor wife bears far too much of the brunt of this…) I’d rather yell at people to keep up with me, rather than have to slow down and walk with them only as fast as they can.

And the thing that makes this especially tough is that all too often it feels like no one bears with my failings. No one slows down to walk with me, no one builds me up. Certainly not all those rotten bishops and pastors who have glared at me in uncomprehending judgment at who and what I am and sent me away without so much as a “can we be with you and at least listen to you?”.

In fact, I wouldn’t be a self-proclaimed Anglican, leader of the smallest denomination (two) in North America, if the Pharisees and Sadducees I had encountered had somehow actually lived out their repentance in a meaningful way.

I want to live in a world of reciprocity — do unto others as they do unto me. But that’s not what Jesus says, and that’s not what Paul is writing to the church at Rome here. There is no reciprocity in this relationship we have with God — we bring nothing to God and can do nothing for God — and so we model that lack of reciprocity. We listen to those who will not listen to us. (Try this with an abused, autistic 13-year-old girl sometime… ) We walk with those who will not walk with us. We comfort those who cannot and will not comfort us. We love those who will not love us back.

I can no more live in a loveless world than you can, and I know that if I give of myself like this, there will soon be nothing left of me. Our very humanity needs and demands reciprocity, and I need to remember the times when I took and did not give, talked and did not listen, received comfort but did not return it.

But at the heart of this relationship God has with us is self-surrender, in which power and privilege and position are given up, in which the strong use their strength to bolster rather than brutalize the weak. It’s hard, and most days I really hate it.

It’s what God does for us, though.

ADVENT 5 / Fire

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.

… when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. (Isaiah 4:4 ESV)

Fire destroys. It doesn’t usually clean.

Unless you consider that fire can be used to clear away that which is unneeded, unwanted, unsightly, embarrassing, inconvenient, and downright troublesome. Think Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism,” which never lets a good crisis go to waste. The upending of the meagre lives of the poor in some kind of calamity — tsunami or hurricane (there we go with the water again) or financial crisis — always manages to be the means by which someone who is rich becomes richer, one more tool the powerful use to get and keep their way.

Fire destroys. It lays waste. And what is left behind … is rebuilt upon. By those who have means. To the exclusion of those who don’t.

Sometimes the fire is set on purpose.

There is also the fire of revenge. For many years, I wanted nothing more than to douse the whole wide world with something flammable and set it alight. I wanted to watch it, and everyone in it, burn. Down to nothing. I wanted to put an end to humanity and my misery and my loneliness and the cruelty of the world. I was angry, enraged at a world that had let me suffer, had made me suffer, at a world that seemed to exist somewhere between a callous indifference and calling all it had done to me righteousness.

Give me a match. Because fire destroys.

The people of God … have sinned. We have worshipped that which has not saved us, and cannot save us. We have sacrificed the bodies, spilled the blood, valued as nothing, those whom God cherishes, those whom God has not asked us to sacrifice — orphans, widows, the weak, strangers, foreigners. We have been indifferent to their fate, to what we have done to them, called our cruelty righteousness so we can enjoy our ease. And God tells us … payment is coming, in the form of a terrible fire which will consume everything. A divine vengeance which will burn to the ground all that we have made with our hands, all we venerate, all we value.

It will destroy. Little will be left. It will clean. And in that fire, we who survive … shall be made right.

ADVENT 4 / We Were Gathered

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.

And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matthew 24:31 ESV)

Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be gathered?

Memory dims and fade, but I still remember intensely that beautiful Tuesday morning in September, 2001, when the ordinary gave way to the extraordinary, when death rained from the sky, when men and women tumbled to their deaths, when smoke turned the sun to blood and toxic dust filled the air.

We the elect, those unfortunate enough to have been there that day, were gathered, a mob of humanity, under giant towers slated for destruction, watching, helpless, while people died.

Nameless. Faceless. Placeless. No distinction between us mattered. Unable to protect. Unable to be protected. All equal as we stared at the end of the world.

Is it a good thing to hear the trumpet, to feel the wind, to know that heaven is being folded up and we are, all of us, being brought to one place? To face death knowing we can do nothing? The we have done absolutely nothing?

Is it a good thing, in the face of death, to hear the voice of Jesus speak: “My love is all that matters.”? To know that as the world falls down around you, something bigger is present, and has spoken, and means it?

Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be gathered?

JUDGES And So It Begins

A reading from Judges, the third chapter.

7 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. 8 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. 9 But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. 11 So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. (Judges 3:7-11 ESV)

And here is Israel’s condition. Our condition. Israel has turned away from serving/worshiping עָבַד God, and has embraced the false gods of Canaan. Of its neighbors. Idolatry, serving and trusting and sacrificing to and telling stories about gods who have not saved Israel and cannot save Israel. This is Israel’s chief sin, its primary sin, the one for which the people of God will suffer conquest and exile — will be subjugated for time — time and again.

Othniel is of good character. He is an upstanding citizen, with a good pedigree. Caleb was one of the twelve scouts send to examine the promised land, and alone with Joshua, he was confident Israel could take the Canaanites. It makes sense someone like him would be the first “judge” שָׁפַּט (judge, lead, govern), the first one to redeem and deliver Israel, to defeat its enemies.

This establishes a pattern. Israel sins, and forgets God. Israel succumbs to sin — God gives Israel over not just to its sin but to foreigners, who conquer and rule it. They become the visible, tangible consequence of idolatry. Israel cries to God, God listens, and raises up a savior, who then fights for Israel, defeats its enemies, and there is “rest” for a time.

For a time. Until Israel forgets, and gives itself over to sin — again.

And God raises up a savior, to fight for Israel — again.

This is who Christ is. A redeemer, raised up not only to redeem the people from their sin, but also defeat their enemies. However, Jesus is no temporary savior. The rest he gives us is permanent. We do not need earthly champions anymore, our redemption is real and right now. Even if we do not see it, it is real. We live it. Right now. Even when we fail to trust God, when we turn for protection to those things which cannot save us, we are redeemed.

We cry out, and God hears our cries. But we are already saved.

SERMON It May or May Not Be Okay, But I Have Hope

A reading from the Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 29:

1 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. 3 The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: 4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:1–14 ESV)

I want to tell you things are going to be okay.

But I can’t. Because I don’t know if they are.

I don’t know what okay means with the election of Donald Trump. I know that many of my queer friends, many of my friends in mixed-race marriages with with mixed-race children, are terrified, and many with disabled kids are as well. They fear for the future, and rightly so. Because it isn’t just Trump himself, it’s many of the people he brings into office with him — Chris Christie, Rudi Giuliani, Newt Gingrich could only best be described as callous and indifferent — who are also short-tempered, petty, vindictive, and intolerant of dissent. Sheriff David Clarke, who may find himself tabbed to head a department like Homeland Security, has for months now called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist movement” and predicted a BLM alliance with the Islamic State to topple the U.S. Government.

And what do we do with terrorists? What has Trump said we should do with terrorists? Arrest them. Torture them. Kill them and their families.

These may just be words, but words mean something. Trump’s 2005 boast that he grabs women “by the pussy” has a terrifying resonance given the ministry I do. Words set actions into motion. We’ve had a little taste of what life in Trump’s America looks like, and I suspect Trump and his regime, if they are magnanimous at all in victory, won’t be for very long. We have every reason to believe his government will be a punitive, authoritarian one eager to arrest and brutalize and condemn people.

Alex Jones may yet see FEMA Camps at work.

So no, I have no idea if it will be okay. At best — at best — the American Greatness Trump supporters seek hearkens back to an era which did not welcome and did not include many of the people I love and care about. I have no idea how this will end, whether this will be a bumbling and incompetent government or merciless and brutal. I have no idea. None at all. There is no future to discern here1.

When God spoke through Jeremiah to the exiles of Israel, he didn’t promise them things would be okay either. Consider where Israel was. They had been invaded, subdued, Jerusalem the holy city besieged. Judah was defeated, conquered, and carried into exile, told by their captors to sing and dance and entertain them with their strange new stories. “By the waters of Babylon, there was sat down and wept, and we remembered Zion.” Zion was gone. Not just far away, but reduced to rubble.

There were prophets telling them “soon and very soon now,” that within two years God will break Babylon and the exiles will go home to live and rebuild. And to someone in a strange place, frightened, traumatized by war and conquest and dislocation, living admidst hostile captors and conquerors, that seems good news! Just hang on a few months, all will be reversed! We will be going home! Our defeat will be undone! We can hope again!

But God is having none of it. Because that is not what real hope looks like here.

Build houses and plant gardens, God says. Marry and have children, and give them in marriage. Seek the welfare of the city — this strange city, this foreign city, this enemy city, this home of your conquerors — where I have sent you into exile. Pray for it. It’s success will be your success.

You’re going to be here for a while, God tells exiled Israel, amidst your enemies and your conquerors. So build, plant, beget.

In face of hopelessness and fear, in the face of uncertainty, humiliation, and defeat, God’s command to us is: build, plant, beget.

This is what hope looks like. Not “hang in there, everything is going to be okay,” but: build, plant, beget.

This is not an easy hope. It is not a happy hope. It does not promise quiet, easy, untroubled lives. And it is given to people who will never live to see it realized. It is little different that the promises given to Abraham — descendants, a land of his own, and a blessing to the world — promises he never saw during his lifetime but took hold of tight and believed anyway (though he wasn’t always entirely faithful in that either). We, my sisters and brothers, may never leave this place, this exile, this Tel Aviv — Summertime Hill — that we have cobbled together on the banks of the Euphrates.

We may never see Zion again. We may die here. Our children may die here. And their children may die here too.

None of that matters. We still have hope. We are still called to build, and plant, and beget.

Because we know something else. Babylon is judged. God has promised we will be delivered. We will not be here forever. “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope,” God says. “I will bring you back to the place from which I have sent you into exile.”

Seventy years from now. A long fullness.

And so we wait. And live. In hope. We build, and plant, and beget.

Because Babylon has been judged, and she will fall. We have that promise too. Babylon has been judged, and been found wanting, a place of violence and brutality, of lecherous corruption, of immorality and debauchery. “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence and will be found no more … And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth.” (Revelation 18:21b, 24)

Babylon has been judged. It has already happened, even as we weep in exile in its midst. Babylon has fallen, even though she stands tall and strong, her armies invisible, her treasury bursting.

And we have already been redeemed. One who was faithful and true lived and preached and healed and died and rose from the dead, facing down that very power which has carried us off, dying at its hands, and showing us that God’s response to faithfulness is not success, but resurrection. (Just as God’s response to sin is not damnation, but resurrection.) I’m certain in the Garden of Gathsemene, Jesus wanted it to be okay, to know it would be okay, and he realized — it wasn’t. And it wouldn’t be.

This is hard faith. And a difficult hope. It is sometimes a hope of bitter determination. I wish I could say no one will suffer and no one will perish and no one will have to resist great evil. But I don’t. I can’t. I have no idea how terrible things will get. I have no answers except the ones God gave to Israel in exile — build, plant, beget.

Build. Plant. Beget.

In a difficult and uncertain time, that is what hope looks like.

  1. With all the talk of Nazi Germany, Trump reminds me more of Mussolini or Napoleon III (who was the first real modern dictator), and their use of power on opponents and dissidents was real but fairly restrained. Both regimes ended badly, however, in war, conquest, and ruination because of wars they started or joined. Something that should also give pause. ↩︎

The Golden Rule Still Applies

Well … THIS wasn’t supposed to happen.

And yet it did.

I confess, I thought the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States nigh near impossible. I didn’t believe Americans — particularly so many white Midwesterners — would make that choice. Turns out, I was wrong.

There will be many things to say over the next few years, about race and class and elite failure, but I’m not going to worry about any of them today, except to note a tweet from a Trump fan who follows me:

Turns out that “you’re a racist/sexist/bigot” STILL isn’t an argument.

No, it isn’t. Progressive talk on race and gender not only failed to convince, it angered and alienated what is, right now, a majority.

I don’t know how Americans who stand on different sides of this talk to each other — frankly, I doubt we will, and the slow-motion civil war we’ve been living through gets a little faster and a little warmer. The time of talking is likely done.

I won’t expect much from a Trump regime, being as it will be staffed with the most amazing collection of third- and fourth-rate intellects the modern world has seen, save for a kind-of official or legal lawlessness, a desire to expand power and use it as capriciously as possible and as viciously as what decency remains will allow. But the GOP (such as it is) controls Congress, the presidency, and soon the Supreme Court. They will get their way. According to our rules, they have earned it.

Neoliberalism has failed us. Utterly and completely. And with it, much of liberalism — the governing creed of the mass, democratic, industrial West — stands discredited. Liberalism has discredited itself. We wouldn’t be here otherwise.

My reasons for thinking this belong to another day.

To the matter at hand. At some point in any seminary class on ethical actions, particularly the effectiveness and morality of violence, the discussion will usually get around to someone asking, “But what about Hitler?” Because it can be assumed that no amount of linking arms and singing “We Shall Overcome” will defeat the Wehrmacht. And no doubt, if life in Trumpestan becomes as bad as many fear, that question will come to be asked about our world as well.

“What if love is not enough?”

Assumed in the question, “What about Hitler?” is the idea that while Jesus spoke nice words, he didn’t have to face modern evil. Mechanized, industrialized, mass evil justified by ideology. This is nonsense, of course, and his death proves otherwise. The Romans knew how to kill, and how to dominate, and how to enslave, and they knew how to justify it all too. They were good at it. They conquered the Mediterranean and maintained their dominance for more than four centuries that way.

But it also ignores where the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” comes from.

Karen Armstrong, in her book The Great Transformation (I think), speaks of The Axial Age, that five century period from 800 BC to roughly 300 BC when nearly all of antiquity’s major civilizations discovered some form of the Golden Rule — love as you want to be loved.

If I remember correctly, Armstrong points out that the Golden Rule became the preferred response to violence, unrest, instability, and uncertainty in by people who were at risk, suffering, and facing death. It was not the response of a comfortable people who felt safe and secure. And it was one of that age’s great discernments.

Israel is given the command to love God and love neighbor in Sinai, when it is a scattered collection of people still lead and fed by God as it wanders aimlessly through the wilderness. Israel is told to find a home in exile and work and pray for the welfare of the place and people they have been hauled off to. Jesus reiterates this invitation — this command — to a conquered people who live under occupation, an occupation that for Israel will not end (and, in fact, will only be intensified following two failed revolts).

We are not commanded to love because it feels good, or because life is easy and comfortable, but because love is the right response — God’s response — to our violence. It may convince oppressors and win them over, one soul at a time, but that is a secondary (and only potential) benefit. The real reason we love is because we are called to. Because God loves even as he surrenders to our violence.

Because the violence of the world is not all there is, and is not all there will be.

Conservative Christians have opted to conquer. They have opted for violence. They have opted for Satan’s bundle of temptations in the wilderness. Despite this, they will find themselves unfed, powerless, and unprotected. The rest of us have to love in the face of what will likely be many difficulties. It will not be easy or pleasant. There is much at risk, lives and wellbeing at stake. And often, love will not seem to be anywhere near enough.

We are still called to love.

Some Thoughts On Governance

So today is election day, and quite possibly the most ugly election in modern American history is going to more or less come to an end.

I say more or less, because if Hillary Clinton wins as forecast, I suspect Donald J. Trump, billionaire (he owns a mansion and a yacht), will not go away. He will linger, and likely proclaim himself the aggrieved victim of some kind of fraud, and then launch into his next venture as the “President” of some kind of ersatz, make-believe “government” that will feature itself on Trump TV.

Or whatever it will be called.

He will play at governing for television, second guessing every decision the Clinton White House makes. Even if congressional Republicans don’t impeach Hillary Clinton, the country will rather quickly slide into ungovernability, Clinton unable to accomplish much (at least legislatively) and Trump able to play at being president without having any real responsibility for anything.

It won’t quite be the worst of all possible worlds. Trump won’t hold real power. But the sense of resentment, and entitlement, on the part of his core supporters is real, and it won’t go away. They want an America ordered differently, ordered in their favor, and they believe that the country will be lost if they don’t get that order. That’s a motivation for drastic action. It won’t simply be content to lose an election.

I’ve long believed that, as Americans, we have invested so much in politics, as part of our sense of justice, good order, and however we identify, that there will come a moment when one side will decide: There is too much at stake to lose.

If this is indeed the Flight 93 Election, then nothing is off the table, not even force and coercion and violence, if the fate of the nation is at stake.

I admitted earlier this year, there were things about Trump I kind of admired. His anti-elitism, especially given that elites across the liberal/social democratic West have so completely failed in the last two decades, resonates with me. And I still admire, kind of, his utter lack of respectability, and his inability to be shamed.

But Trump’s authoritarianism is the kind of thing that won’t save the nation. It will accelerate whatever rot we’re dealing with, from moral failure to elite failure. He is not Pinochet. Trump is too undisciplined to be a savior, and too capricious to lead effectively. In the end, he is all of the failure we suffer from, incarnate.

Hillar Clinton is not much better, for she too is embossed with failure. And she too will govern by decree as much as she is able. We are headed toward dictatorship of some kind (I won’t call it tyranny, since that word is largely empty of any content in the Anglo-American political tradition), the only question is whether we are on a local or an express train. Clinton gets us there just as surely as Trump, though the nature of the dictatorship will look different.

Most people won’t suffer under what’s coming. And that will be true whether Trump or Clinton presides.

I’ve seen some happy Christian posts on Twitter in the last few days reminding everyone that whatever happens today, Jesus is still King. And this is true as well.

But American Christians approach government as if it matters, as if somehow government somehow has to be a reflection of t5he God-given order, or an expression of how blessed the people of God are. There is some of that in scripture, with good leaders — like Josiah — able to temporarily avert the coming judgement of God.

But only temporarily. God’s judgement on God’s people was cast at Sinai, a consequence of their idolatry and their faithlessness.

For much of scripture, including the New Testament, the people of God are governed by conquerors and enemies. This is our condition. Not the Davidic Kingdom (which has been restored in Christ in any case), but Egypt and Philistia and Babylon and Rome. Despite its misuse as a prod to good and loyal citizenship, Romans 13 is a reminder that even conquerors and enemies are “legitimate” authority who can impose good order and even some modicum of justice in the world. When Jeremiah calls upon Israel to “seek the welfare of the city,” he is speaking to exiles far from home to build and love and have hope amidst the people who conquered and oppress them.

When Jesus tells the Pharisees to render unto Caesar, he speaks not of a co-equal sovereign to whom love and loyalty and bodies are owed, but a competitor, a conqueror, a pretender, a false god, and one who has enslaved God’s very own people.

And one who makes his own claims to bringing peace and salvation to the world.

This is not to say that all political orders are created the same. A Trump victory would likely lead us to places we have not been before, to an officially sanctioned lawlessness that would shred any sense of shared community and solidarity in ways the status quo won’t. A Clinton victory gives us more of the same, and there is a lot to hate about the neoliberal world order. But a Trump presidency would likely be a deluge which would drown all in its path.

It has the potential to be regime change in the worst of all possible ways. And we’ve seen how well that’s worked where it has been imposed.

But the political order doesn’t save us. The political order is capable of giving us only an approximation of justice. The political order can provide some safety and stability that allows individuals and communities to thrive. But it doesn’t always, and it won’t always. No matter how we are governed, or who governs us, we are called to love enemies and conquerors. We are called to be good neighbors to those who oppress us. We are called to have hope in redemption when it seems that suffering and death are the only things that are real. And we are called to do all of things knowing that we may never see that redemption, that we live for children and grandchildren and descendants we will never know.

I know, the spirit of the age, whether we quote Martin Luther King, Jr., or Frantz Fanon, or George W. Bush, or Donald J. Trump, is: “Now is the time, and we are the people.” Maybe.

But we are still only exiles, homeless, a people between creation and eschaton, who live in and with the consequences of choices we never made and hope for deliverance we may never see. Because we, the people of God, are the justice of God, right here and right now, in how we live, how we love, how we hope, and what we hope in.

Not kings and princes and presidential candidates, not greatness and glory or even safety and stability. But love. In the face of violence and uncertainty. And a God who loves, loves us utterly, loves us to the end, and has not left us or abandoned us in our exile, has promised us that even conquerors too will be held accountable. May even become part of the people of God.

Because God so loves the world. A world run and ordered brutally and violently and unjustly. We love. We hope. We live.