We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursdays at St. Gertrude's Ministry Center
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hope in the Apocalypse

To be honest, the genre of apocalyptic literature has always been a bit distant from my experience and communities of faith. I grew up knowing the stories of Daniel in the lions’ den and in the furnace with his friends, but those were merely biblical stories that stuck out in my mind because of their eccentricity. But perhaps that is what the apocalyptic literature intends to be: eccentric, other-worldly, something you will not forget. It was helpful for me to understand where apocalyptic literature came from. Having its roots in the prophets, the apocalypse is a story of living a threatened faith in the face of occupation, intimidation, and domination. Bruggemann walks us through the genealogy of apocalyptic literature and places Daniel within the tradition of prophetic witness that calls Israel to be faithful. As with Isaiah and Jeremiah, so too with Daniel. The task of the day is not necessarily to resist the captivity of the Israelites, but to remain faithful to biblical faith despite of captivity and exile.

Jim Douglass’ poignant observation, “a way of liberation passes through fire,” finds its roots in Daniel. At first, after reading the book of Daniel, it was difficult for me to understand this biblical figure as a model of prophetic faith and resistance to empire, as Dan Berrigan would have us believe. Daniel is quite clearly a friend of the royal court as he willingly engages the kings, offering to interpret dreams. In my imagination, Daniel appears complicit with the royalty, not an icon of resistance. Herein lies the key difference between the prophets of old and the Daniels living who are living in exile: persecution. Isaiah and Jeremiah were admonishing their own people because they were persecuting themselves (and others), but in the exilic period, the Jews are the ones persecuted. Therefore Daniel’s witness, while not necessarily the same style of resistance as the earlier prophets, is similar in that it is call to faithfulness - just as it was with the message of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Therefore, the faith Daniel exhibited was extraordinary. He was a model of remaining faithful to the covenant, even as a friend of the royal court and even if it meant suffering and persecution by the same court. He was steadfast in his conviction that God demanded a faithfulness that was not corrupted by the culture of the day.

Likewise, we find ourselves in a similar situation today that demands a faithfulness in spite of the dominant culture advertising otherwise. Even in churches and places of worship, faithfulness to a biblical faith - one that demands fidelity to God, a welcoming of the orphan and the widow, a critique of nationalism - is not par for the course. If I understand the faith of Daniel, the the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, the co-opting of faith traditions by a mainstream, consumer-oriented and ecologically destructive culture would be incompatible with people of faith. This is why Daniel refuses to pray to the idol constructed by Nebuchadnezzar and continues to pray in the sure face of persecution because of Belshazzar’s laws. The God of Israel, “the living God, enduring forever (Dn 6.26) is not compatible with Babylon and to pretend that YHWH is, is false. The faithful are encouraged by the visions of Daniel to remain committed in their faith and belief that the God of Israel will usher in the Kingdom. Faith, today, seems watered down - diet and caffeine free; not something that will wake you up. Where are today’s Daniel’s, witnessing for the faith as they anticipate persecution? Who are entering the lions’ dens as they urge their friends and strangers to stay faithful, to keep their eyes on the prize and, most importantly, hold on? Who gives us the kind of apocalyptic hope that the Kin-dom of God is at hand and YHWH will save us? Perhaps Dan Berrigan is one of those who might offer hope, but as he wont to say, hope is on the margins. And if our churches and faith communities are not on the margins, aren’t rubbing shoulders with the Daniels of our day, one might well ask about the authenticity of our hope and faith. If we want to be free, we will go to the margins.

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