We have gotten to the bit of revelation that you probably recognize. This part of the Revelation story is set up for, is perfect for creative interpretations, for imagination, for storytelling, for images, for fan fiction–the practice of writing stories about other people’s characters and putting them into places, situations, relationships, experiences that they wouldn’t normally be a part of. It has resulted in. Like Draco and Hermione in Harry Potter, or really Harry and Draco. Or putting 2 characters from different universes in a relationship, like Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings.
So it probably shouldn’t surprise us that time and time again folks of putting compelling ideas and characters from the bible into contexts they just don’t belong and in some really interesting ways. Sleepy Hallow put their horsemen in ancient warrior outfits from different places and times. Supernatural turn them into these guys who look more like they’re going to sell you a used car than end the world. And Good Omens brings them in on motorcycles and this might be my favorite because everyone makes the horsemen, well, men. But not Good Omens.
These are just a couple of shows that deal with the end of things. There are other shows that talk about the end of the world and never have horsemen in it. But the theme and the point remain the same–apocalypse is the end of the world, of all things good, so it has to be thwarted. Our TV and movies have been showing us an end of all things that has no real hope. Things will end in violence and destruction and pain and suffering and they will end–someone might stop it for now, but it will come back and it’s going to end. And I think we’ve bought into it. I think some Christian groups have bought into really hard, but even we have some to see this book, this part of the story is scary. I get it.
Let’s go back and do that thing there we contextualize the text. Rome, end of the first century. They had continued their expansion, their reach, their empire. Rome had recently acquired Britania. The first horse. And while their leadership remains a little unstable but, they were just able to defeat this ragtag rebellion in Jerusalem, and then taught them a lesson about acting up with the destruction of their city and their temple. Because don’t forget that Rome had a very particular and totalitarian view of peace–stay in line or die. Of course, the large the empire the harder it is to maintain that kind of peace. The second horse.
And as the empire starts to destabilize resources get harder to acquire, trade becomes more difficult, inflation sets in. There becomes an imbalance between the wealthy and everyone else, some go without while others throw feasts. The third horse. The response to the resource shortage is to do your best to get more, grow more, produce more, clear more forests, and what you have are overworked fields and people, famine, and death. People migrate to the cities for resources and more people in close proximity might just breed disease and death. The fourth horse.
I’m not saying it happened exactly that way, but I’m not saying either. And I imagine when Rome finally did fall under the weight of its own hubris, and the Visigoths, it felt like the end of the world.
But don’t forget, Apocalypse means Revelation, means unveiling, means exposing. Who was left out of society? Why were there slaves and how were they treated? What was the treatment of women? Where does power lie? How is it used? Abused? Who does it hurt?
Did you know, Christians are not the only ones with a story of the end? Norse mythology, again, where Thor comes from, tells the story of Ragnorak–not quite like the movie but the battle of the end of gods and men. Yes, there is a battle but when it is over, from the tree of life comes Life and Vitality to begin anew.
When Rome finally fell, there was an unveiling, an apocalypse, and the world as it was known, wouldn’t be the same and a new age was born.
I, it may be pretty clear, am one of the people who think that the story of Revelation is true because it repeats itself again and again in our world. Conquest, end of peace, financial instability, destruction of earth and creatures. Again and again.
On the 9th of this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changed released a report and it’s devastating. In case the extreme heat and the flooding and the fires and the hurricanes and the extreme cold isn’t enough to tell us that there is a problem, the report tells us that we will reach 1.5 degrees of climate warming, an amount that sounds insignificant but people must smarter than I tells us that it will cause catastrophic weather and climate changes that will affect the lives of everyone. And beyond that, will cause changes we can’t reverse.
We, humans we have been complicit in systems and structures of this age, have conquered the earth. We have cut down the trees, stolen its resources. We have built, expanded, pillaged, abandoned. We have destroyed the balance of the earth that would hold all things in peace. We have created systems where a few have more resources than everyone else on the planet, and millions go to bed hungry. Where the wealthy create bunkers and armies for the coming times of uncertainty and we… wait for them to save us. We have farmed the earth until it cannot grow, we have fished until the rivers run dry, we have graveyards of coral fields, oil fields out of lakes. We have brought famine. We have made wearing masks political. We have brought sickness. We have turned off the news at the destruction of life because it is too hard to watch. We, humanity, are the horsemen.
But an apocalypse isn’t the end of all things, it’s an unveiling, a revealing. It’s the beginning of a new age.
Because the horsemen aren’t the end of the story, it isn’t even the climax of the story. We are not given destruction with no hope. We are not given horsemen with as an ending. We are given new life, we are given a vision of the world as it could be and as it should be. A world with equity and compassion and love. A world that reflects the kin-dom of God. One in which God will wipe away every tear, where we will hunger and thirst no more–where the earth and its creatures will live in balance with one another.
Remember, Revelation is a story about imagination, we were given a promise here of a better world so we might imagine it, we might see its promise, we might plan for it, and then strive to bring it into existence.
It can be overwhelming to see the news, the troubles, the earth crying out. It might seem like the end is coming and that there aren’t solutions. We are so busy blaming each other, blaming overpopulation, blaming the generations that have come before us, that we are paralyzed with inaction, we cannot imagine a future a better future. We resign ourselves to this being the best we can do. Some even take what they can while there is still something to take and preparing to take care of themselves and only themselves when the inevitable happens. In the Avengers, the villain seeks to create balance by snapping half of life from the universe.
I think we can imagine a better future. There is time, there is space for the imagination and the new life that comes forth, and it’s happening already, there are people seeing the new life, enacting the new life, adapting to the new life.
There is a podcast called It Could Happen Here. It’s attempting to balance a dystopian future with the hope and guidance of what we can do. I do encourage listening to it, and in case you do, I rely heavily on it for what follows.
There are people imagining a better future and doing something about it. At present, indigenous people hold or manage about 28% but more than 40% of it’s protected wildlife areas. Some 80% of the world’s biodiversity exists under their stewardship. Conservation biologist, Meade Crosby wrote: One of the things that comes across really clearly is that indigenous people are by far the most effective stewards of biodiversity. They do the best job.
- Deforestation rates in the Amazon, the world’s largest carbon sink, were 2-3x lower in indigenous-held lands.
- The Navajo tribe has a deficit of water but an abundance of sun. They have been installing solar panels that provide energy and pull water from that air that can be used to drink.
- The Swinomish Tribe in Washington has created and enacting a plan to protect salmon runs, the tribe is working on the Skagit River to protect spawning beds and is planting trees to provide shade and reduce water temperatures. In addition, the tribe is fighting to block mining operations in the headwaters of the Skagit in British Colombia which could impact waters downstream.
- The Karuk Tribe of Northern California has an Adaptation plan which includes prescribed burning–ease the wildfires that have been ravaging their area
- The Tulalip Tribe of northern Washington’s work has included redirecting agricultural runoff for electricity generation
- The Jamestown S’Klallam has removing invasive species butterfly bushes to help protect salmon.
- The Confederated Salish and Kootenai in Montana are planting seedlings of whitebark pine more resistant to warming-related diseases
- Alaskan tribes are identifying harmful algae blooms warming waters.
- The Northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, & Michigan Tribes are restocking lakes with walleye and yellow perch that can thrive in warmer waters.
The host, Robert Evans, goes on to say: It is so very easy to lose hope when all you consume is a daily drumbeat of bad news. Ocean die-offs and wildfires and crocked deals to piss more poison into the atmosphere. Those stories are important and you should be angry but the bad news is not the only news. Indigenous people have been fighting for generations in the face of genocide and relentless oppression to reverse the damage unchecked greed has done to our climate. What excuse do the rest of us have to give into doom when they could really use our help.
Can we imagine a future? Can we imagine a future where we live in balance? Can we imagine a future where there is enough? Can we imagine a future with compassion and love? Can we imagine the Kin-dom?
I don’t think Robert Evans is particularly religious, but I think his reflections and hope are so very close to ours. He ended his last episode by saying: I believe firmly that the ability to build a better world starts with being able to imagine one. Let’s accept with hard work and above all else love, it is still possible to turn this shi[p] around.
Imagine the future. Can you see it? Believe it. Let us live into that future of love and renewal and resurrection and hope.