In the Bible there is a type of literature called apocalyptic. It’s a writing style that focuses on visions and cosmic catastrophe, with an almost psychedelic quality about it, as if the author took one too many mushrooms. This is the type of writing we encounter in the Book of Revelation, along with the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and others.
Apocalyptic writing emerged out of the sheer incomprehensibility of history. It rose out of cultural collapse and political despair, as a way of helping people grasp the impossibility of their situation, while at the same time offering them hope after the (metaphorical) storm’s damage was done.
I think we preachers need to reclaim and relearn apocalyptic proclamation. Our own nation is deeply troubled. There is no longer a compelling vision of creating a “beloved community.” We live in a very isolated and dog-eat-dog world of relentless competition. Our robotic wars of resource extraction are moving us beyond traditional categories of morality.
The intentional targeting of civilian populations by the military are now commonplace; the practice of grinding down poor people until they’re in a state of hopeless, inescapable poverty; the increase of trafficking the young into prostitution; the practice of affirming, through capitalistic doublespeak, that sweatshop conditions are just the price of business; the warehousing of African Americans into privatized prisons; the acceptance of homelessness and mental illness as an individual’s bad luck. All of this is a new manifestation of captivity for which we no longer have words.
We have no words because we no longer have a consensus of what is right, true and just. Such incoherence has made our laws and Constitution irrelevant. Our politics is about nothing other than sheer power whose logical consequence will be the crowning of a new pharaoh who will save us by enslaving us.
Such treasonous reversal of American identity is apocalyptic because it marks the end of us as the nation we once tried to be. The idealism that once allowed us to critique ourselves has collapsed. We are caught in a power confrontation of elite winners with the rest of us losers. The elite want to keep spewing old idealisms but their actions betray their ambitions.
Our political leaders are governed by bribes, and our judicial system has so corrupted itself that it can no longer be trusted to render justice. We are now in the birth pangs of a true revolutionary moment, a moment when the elites prepare to pounce on all dissent. We all know that the incoherence of our time cannot continue. We all know that the kids are increasingly out of control, and Papa will come home and lock down law and order. We know what’s coming but we have no words for it. We’re all too afraid of the future we now face.
Indeed, life is apocalyptic now.