Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tribulation Force

“Every generation loses the Messiah they did not deserve.”
Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

Another of the texts we read during Advent (this year in the Daily Office) is the Book of the Revelation of John. Revelation is one of the better dream texts in literature. Like all good dream texts, it’s not an easy read. It tests Jeremy Taylor’s first rule of dreamwork: “All dreams speak a universal language and come in the service of health and wholeness. There is no such thing as a "bad dream" -- only dreams that sometimes take a dramatically negative form in order to grab our attention.” (

It’s easy, and perhaps even important, to heed the warnings conveyed in nightmares, but if that is all I do, I will read Revelation as did Timothy LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, those self proclaimed “doctors” of prophecy and literature, and authors of the Left Behind series. If there was ever a hateful book about the God of love, this one’s it. This is a series about war. War gives men an excuse to use everything up, to kill for the cause of peace. It is the nightmare that warns that our instincts are clouded and sick, that they have come completely detached from our wisdom. The fantasy of the Left Behind series is that the Tribulation Force need not wait to get what it wants: SUV’s, guns, and every high tech and natural resource guzzling gadget – all for the sake of God! It’s an absurd idea in every way, of course. I mean really. If the world is coming to an end, are oil tankers and refineries going to continue to hum as usual? Will batteries remain charged and power plants generate reliable electricity?

As I read Left Behind, the story of “salvation” plunged me into primal terror. I realized that these books said far less about what will or will not happen when civilization crashes than they had to say about civilization right now at this very moment. It is not Rayford, Buck and Bruce who are throwing caution to the wind and burning up the earth, it is I. It is I who am dropping bombs on Baghdad and supporting a world in which a gas glutton Hummer becomes a status symbol and I can feel like a commando right here on the home front.

And so I get to the quote which begins this passage. “Every generation loses the Messiah they did not deserve.” It springs from a belief among certain Jews that the Messiah is in fact born every generation, but because we cannot deal with it, we lose him. He goes mad, or descends into addiction, taking on the very sins and despair he or she has come to heal.

Jews, of course, don’t believe Jesus was the One. For one thing, the Messiah, once come, never leaves. Jesus was crucified and if he came back in the Resurrection, he did not remain with us. We got half the lesson. Jesus ascended into heaven saying, “I’ll be back.” And so, for Christians, the question hangs: is he with us always or not? Are we open to the lives and the faiths of others? Do our daily lives reflect the wonder of God's love? Do we heal? Do we practice (if not always achieve) the peace that passes understanding? I mean, Jesus loved those most quarrelsome Greeks! But I look around me today, and I see a church divided, who does not seem to love much of anybody, and I wonder.

This breaks my heart. I think it may be one of the fundamental reasons we have Advent.

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