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.
Creator 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.
Matt Anslow, July 2013
Other parts of this series:
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! 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
Other parts of this series:
Part 3—The Prostitute: Seduction and Luxury
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 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!”
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”.
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
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.
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
Now, discourse about “empire” is anything but unique to this blog, for it has been a common theme in theological discussion for a long time now.
I am aware that this language about empire is not familiar to everybody. Indeed a number of people have recently asked me the question, “what is (an) empire?”
The term empire is often used by people, especially those with a heightened social conscience, to simply denounce systems and institutions that they find dissatisfactory. Such a use of the term is rather haphazard and imprecise, leaving it vulnerable to baseless usage. Equally common is for people to define empire according to its characteristics (violence, economic exploitation, propaganda), but such characteristics generally tend to represent more a description than a definition, and are helpful but not sufficient. Read the rest of this entry