Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Revelation 18) transports me to my daily walk through the woods with my trusty canine sidekick, Charlene Darlin’. This summer the walks have come to include lots of bell-ringing and singing, in efforts to keep the local bear population at bay. Everyone else on our mountain has sighted the bear family, but I haven’t spotted them. I have heard what is probably one or more of them romping through the laurel thickets around our garden. All the talk of bears this summer makes me think of a sermon I heard years ago from Kim Momaday, a Kiowa Indian who was the featured preacher at a summer Peace Camp. She was telling a story about a hunting party and a bear, and how in this story the hunters backed away from the bear when they found it, because its medicine was too strong to approach. For me, just knowing that a mama bear and two or three of her adolescents are nearby when I walk gives me a slight understanding of what Kim Momaday was talking about. There’s an aura about these animals, a power, a strong medicine that definitely gives me pause and would prompt me to backpeddle if I ever did come upon one.
When I read the chapter in Revelation today about the fall of Babylon, it gave me the same feeling. It’s strong medicine, maybe too strong to walk right up to and capture its meaning. I suspect John’s vision was written for a people whose persecution was so complete that they were listening to the apocalyptic prophecy from inside the belly of the bear. I’m not sure it was entirely meant for the ears of people living in relative comfort and ease. Unless we want to take some strong medicine. All the merchants and manufacturers and traffickers of Babylon’s goods throw dust on their heads as the house of cards comes tumbling down to utter ruin. The jig is up. The dainties and the splendor is lost, and it only takes one hour for all the wealth to be laid waste. Today’s technology and the practice of automated high-speed computer trading on Wall Street lends credibility to the possibility that this fantasy of John’s could come to pass before our eyes. Like the hunter in Kim Momaday’s story, John pictures the witnesses to this destruction having to stand far off, in fear of the torment of the the falling empire, as they weep and wail and mourn its demise. The screeching eagle sound of ouai! ouai! punctuates their lament.
Like the hunters in the Kiowa story, I’m keeping my distance from John’s vision, and will not draw any arrows to fire off obvious conclusions to what it might say to our current economic crisis. The complete and total devastation and destruction envisioned by the prophet is medicine too strong to swallow. No more music. No more artisans of any trade. No more dazzling lights. All tossed into the sea, along with the magnates who invested in them. And yet John also gives a word of hope for the faithful. Come out of her, my people, the revelator says. Withdraw your participation, your complicity from this system of exploitation and oppression and concentrated wealth. And rejoice. I wonder what this means in this world we live in, for those of us who claim faith in Jesus. While I’m not all that enthralled with the dainties and splendor corporate capitalism promises, I do find myself firmly entwined in this system. I like its music. I like its art. I like the dazzling lights of its technology. Maybe coming out of Babylon is a gradual withdrawal, like weaning oneself off a powerfully addictive drug. Maybe leaving Babylon is a process of scaling down and living more into my local community, getting to know my neighbors. Maybe it’s taking more walks in the woods with Charlene Darlin’. Maybe it’s learning more Kiowa stories.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you in your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.