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a prayer for those within empire

Last weekend I ran an event for TEAR Australia called “Come Out, My People!”: Learning to Journey Out of Empire. It featured, among others, my friends Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson speaking about the reality of empire in the Bible and in the world. They spoke about the need to discern God’s call to come out of empire and embody an alternative way of life.

This is a prayer I composed for the evening. It is a prayer for those of us living in the midst of empire who are trying to follow God’s call out of it. All present prayed it together, and I thought it may help others who are trying to live in God’s shalom amid the brutality of empire.

MCA

———-

Brueghel Tower of BabelCreator and Sustainer God,
we cry out to you from Babylon,
from empire built upon the land of people both like us and different to us,
from empire made possible by the murders and injustices of past and present.

We recognize that you have called us out of empire.
Out of a spirituality of domination and oppression.
Out of a story of exclusion and competition that leads to violence.
Out of the worship of false gods that demand our praise and obedience.

You have called us to be part of a radical alternative to empire.
Called to a spirituality of shalom and justice.
Called to the biblical story of embrace and welcome that leads to peace.
Called to the worship of the God that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

And you have sent us into empire, in the world.
To witness to another way of justice, mercy and faithfulness.
To transform the slave economy that violates the bodies of both rich and poor and the earth itself.
To take the time necessary in a speed-addicted world to be friends, lovers, parents, carers, gardeners, advocates and peacemakers.

Creator God, our refuge and strength,
we confess we are complicit in the evils of our age.
Breathe on us as we commit ourselves to the way of Christ individually and as a community
to live in your story for the world;
to take up the heavy cross that we cannot bear alone;
to struggle for peace and justice;
to seek fullness of life for all creation;
to pray for your kingdom come.

Amen.

Matt Anslow, July 2013

beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 4)

Other parts of this series:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury

Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross

In the previous parts of this study I have discussed two of the malevolent characters in Revelation, namely the Beast and the Great Prostitute, representing on the one hand military might and violence and on the other luxury and economic exploitation respectively.

These are powerful critiques on the part of the author. But critique and challenge are not enough for faithful discipleship—we also need to embody an alternative. With this in mind, what positive model does John give us to follow? What hope do we have in the midst of a world of violence and greed?

OUT OF EMPIRE: THE LAMB AS A MODEL THEN AND NOW
We must remember that in Revelation Rome is simply the then-current manifestation of empire![1] Though John himself was not envisioning future empires, such as those in our time, the images can nonetheless be indirectly applied to them because the phenomenon of empire is, as John knew, an ongoing reality. The challenge for us is to identify empire and “come out” of it.

If we are called to come out of Empire, what does this mean exactly? What models does John give?

I want to suggest that John offers us very strong models, but unfortunately they are often unacknowledged or ignored. One of the most important images is that offered as an alternative to the powerful and monstrous Beast and the seductive and inebriating Prostitute: The Lamb in Revelation 5. Read the rest of this entry

beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 3)

Other parts of this series:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross

Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury

Hans Burgkmair the Elder: ‘The Whore of Babylon’, 1523

In this, the third part of this study, I will discuss another of Revelation’s major characters, the Great Prostitute of chapter 17-18.

A PRIVILEGED MALE SPEAKING HARSHLY ABOUT A PROSTITUTE?
Now, before I begin, I must follow the wisdom of Howard-Brook and Gwyther[1] and comment on the fact that it is a privileged male from the First World who is about to talk about a prostitute.

Indeed, John’s negative use of the image of a prostitute has, in some circles, been very controversial for its patriarchal and sexist depiction. Feminist biblical scholar Tina Pippin claims the disembodiment of the Prostitute in Revelation 17:16 “points to the ultimate misogynist fantasy!”[2]
Pippin’s point is that these images can be quite dangerous, particularly in the hands of man who can exert power over the bodies of women. Howard-Brook and Gwyther point to the example of the church’s burning of women as “witches” as the consequence of taking these depictions as the “word of God”.[3]

It will not do for a male like myself to simply say that this language was a product of the time. This would be to pass over, and even excuse, the real pain, violence and degradation that many women across the world have felt because of the use and abuse of such passages. I must acknowledge this pain. My only response is to say that the images of women used by Revelation were not produced with the intent to legitimate violence against women. Faithfulness to the text requires that no reading ever contradict this intention.

Ultimately the image of the Prostitute in Revelation, though a product of a different time, is not about human women: as we shall see the image represents a city and an empire.

Revelation 17:1-14 (The Great Prostitute) Read the rest of this entry

beauty and the beast: empire in the book of revelation (part 1)

Over the weekend I gave a series of Bible studies at the Black Stump Festival entitled Beauty and the Beast: Empire in the Book of Revelation. In these studies I attempted to set out a fairly cursory overview of some themes in the Bible’s most misunderstood book by zooming in on three key characters—the Beast, the Prostitute and the Lamb—and applying the resulting interpretation to empire today.

I have been asked by quite a number of people for a copy of my notes. While my originals would have been quite indecipherable to anyone but me, I have attempted here to provide a rough version of my study in prose form. I don’t intend these to be highly detailed, much less scholarly, since they were given as a Bible study for all ages. Still, I hope they help out some of my readers.

Before getting into the notes I want to recommend a series of posts entitled Reading Revelation that my friend Josh Dowton has started writing over on his blog. Josh is doing his PhD in Revelation, and is far more knowledgeable on the subject than am I. His posts will no doubt be very helpful for those wanting to understand more about Revelation (and it happens to be great timing that he is currently in the middle of writing them!) In truth my many conversations with Josh have been a big influence on my own understanding of Revelation.

My original study was in three parts, but I will split these next posts into four:

Part 1—Revelation in Context
Part 2—The Beast: Might and Power
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury
Part 4—The Lamb: The Witness of the Cross

Part 1: Revelation in Context Read the rest of this entry

pentecost and the subversion of empire

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel (1563)

In the Bible there are perhaps few images of “empire” more poignant that that of the Tower of Babel.

This narrative tells the story of an attempt to build a city and a tower with its top in the sky. This is of course no mean feat – the building of such a magnificent tower, historical or otherwise, is an accomplishment of considerable time, effort and determination. Read the rest of this entry

imagining: the most revolutionary thing we can do

A few days ago I posted a song of mine, entitled “Imagining”, on the Art of Resistance website. I thought I would post it here also:

Here is the blurb I wrote about the song: Read the rest of this entry

sickness and healing (part 1): “sin causes sickness”?

Yesterday I went to the Sunday gathering of a church affiliated with my old church, of which I was a member up until a few months ago.

I had a great time. It’s a reasonably small group (40-50 adults), and with lots of old friends present good times were had all ’round.

The preaching topic for the day was healing. My friend Barry was sharing with us, and noted that in his experience this topic, more than any other, caused division in the church (even more than tongues). I’m not sure if it’s the most divisive issue, but I take Barry’s point about its divisive potential.

In the course of the morning Barry got us to break up into groups to discuss the issue of healing – What is it? Does it still happen today? What about when people don’t get healed, etc. etc.

I wasn’t planning on writing about healing on this blog, but following the group discussions and the subsequent public reflection a number of people asked me to write a post on it.

It turns out one post has become two. I could never hope to comprehensively outline healing in two posts of course, though I will speak into two concerns that were raised throughout the morning that people discussed with me; the first was a claim made that sickness and disease has to do with sin (this post), and secondly that if people are not healed and they die they are in fact healed because “they go to be with Jesus” (next post).

“Sickness and disease is related to sin”? Read the rest of this entry

rethinking bible “heroes”: how wise was solomon?

In my last post I looked at the character of Joseph in Genesis and suggested that perhaps he became a far more sinister character than is often thought.

I also suggested that the way we perceive some Bible characters could have more to do with our taste for imperial theology than with thoughtful reflection.

In this post I will turn my attention to Solomon.

Solomon

Most Seasoned Bible readers are aware that Solomon did not, as is often said, “finish well.” He married a lot of foreign wives for the sake of international diplomacy and compromised himself with their gods.

Despite this ending it is often thought that Solomon ‘started well.’ But how true is this? By comparing aspects of Exodus and Genesis with Solomon’s story in Kings we might be surprised by what we find. Read the rest of this entry

how does God’s kingdom relate to ruling powers?

How should Christians relate to ruling powers?

Depending on your interpretation of different sections of the Bible you might say the different authors push for:

  • Submission (the conclusion many people come to when reading Romans 13, for example, or perhaps Ezra-Nehemiah)
  • Prophetic critique and nonviolent resistance (as found in much of the prophetic literature or Revelation)
  • A middle option
  • A blend

But what are we meant to do in our contemporary world as Christians? Should we simply do what we understand early Christians to have done in relation to ruling powers?

That is to say, how do we anticipate God’s transformative kingdom on earth, now, in the midst of a world of ruling powers that very often act contrary to God’s purposes? Read the rest of this entry

jesus and hell (part 3): matthew 13:42 in context

Michelangelo's "Last Judgement," the Sistine Chapel. Influenced in part by Dante's "Inferno."

In the last two posts we have looked at the apparent teaching on Hell in a number of verses in Matthew, in particular 13:42:

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 13:40-43)

Part 1 looked at the language of weeping and gnashing of teeth. I concluded that weeping and gnashing of teeth were not related to afterlife, but rather represented mourning and anger/violence in a very “earthly” sense. Such actions were in fact responses by people to God’s judgement of them.

Part 2 looked at the language of the blazing furnace, and also of the outer darkness. My conclusion was that the burning furnace also has nothing to do with afterlife, but rather with God’s judgement of the rich and mighty on earth for their injustice, namely death. Concordantly darkness refers to the grave, also death.

(…The reasoning for these conclusions can be found in the relevant posts.)

I wanted to spend this final post of this series looking at the context of Matthew 13:42, and how it fits into a wider narrative. By this I hope to show that my conclusions so far are faithful to the text, and also why exactly God is judging these people. Read the rest of this entry

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