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Blog Entries

Interview with A People’s Theology

Find my latest interview on A People’s Theology

I recently had an interview with the @peoplestheology (https://twitter.com/peoplestheology) podcast on my new book and what the book of Revelation can teach us about how to resist empire and what it means to build the multitude. Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Here is a link to stream online https://overcast.fm/+LZTq_-P90 but you can find it on iTunes and any place podcasts are available.

Categories
Practices Productivity Quaker

Elizabeth Gurney Fry's Checklist

I’m am interested in checklists, setting annual goals for myself, and working on specific habits I want to create or break. For example, I am currently working on a 2020 goal of “building a consistent habit of exercising.” So far I have been successful at this goal, going to the gym 4-5 times a week in 2020, because the goal is about the habit, not about a particular benchmark (lift x pounds, lose x pounds, etc.). In fact, I just finished the very interesting and inspiring read, “Atomic Habits,” which goes into greater detail about how habits can be formed and broken.

Imagine then my delight when I came across Quaker and prison reformer Elizabeth Gurney Fry’s journal entry (at age 18) on rules for her own behavior (I came across this in Barclay Press’ fantastic Illuminate Bible Study series on Paul’s letter to the Romans).

May 8th, 1798, Elizabeth records in her journal some rules for herself:

I want to set myself in good order for much time is lost and many evils committed by not having some regular plan of conduct; I make these rules for myself:

First – Never lose any time; I do not think that lost which is spent in amusement or  recreation, sometime everyday; but always be in the habit of being employed.

Second – Never err the least in truth.

Third – Never say an ill thing of a person, when I can say a good thing; not only speak charitably, but feel so.

Fourth – Never be irritable nor unkind to any body.

Fifth – Never indulge myself in luxuries that are not necessary.

Sixth – Do all things with consideration, and when my path to act right is most difficult, feel confidence in that thy power alone is able to assist me, and exert my own powers as far as they go.

Description: Extract from the diary of Elizabeth Fry
Date: 8/5/1798
Source: Norwich Millennium Library holds a complete diary of Elizabeth Fry that can be viewed on microfilm by the public.   

Not only is it pretty amazing to find a list like this from a member of my faith tradition from a long time ago, but these rules are inspiring and challenging. These are things I too can and need to work towards.

Categories
Blog Entries The Biblical

Revelation as Resistance: Moral Imagination in an Age of Empire

How would you answer if I were to ask you, “What one book of the Bible are you least interested in studying, reading, discussing, or teaching others about?”

When I considered this question in the spring of 2013, as the pastor of a Quaker meeting in the Pacific Northwest, I knew the answer before I got to the end of the question: Revelation.

As far as I was concerned, this was a text of terror that even this bible scholar and hopeful liberation-theologian and Quaker preacher could not resuscitate. If there ever was a text that baffled me, and even more, repulsed me, especially in the way that “Christianity” had used it – it was Revelation.

Let me back up. I came to this question in a roundabout way. I grew up Catholic and then non-denominational, Evangelical Christian. I went to an Evangelical college, took a whole class on Revelation for Heaven’s sake. Even while I could debate pre and post-millenarian viewpoints with the best of them, I was critical of the concept of the rapture, turned off by the Scofield Bible, and scorned Dispensationalism. To top it off, the Left Behind Series happened, and September 11th happened, and countless predictions and judgments spewed forth often with the help of national press. When it came to Revelation, I negotiated release of the whole at the expense of surrendering this one small letter. In my view, it was too far gone. And not worth the fight.

Jump ahead a few years. As a pastor in a Quaker community in the Pacific Northwest, I became more and more influenced by liberation theology through the help of some friends, the work of the Poor People’s Campaign, the work of the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary. I began learning how to read the Bible from the margins, alongside people who were on the margins. 

Then, by good fortune, I was invited to participate in one of Parker Palmer’s retreats for younger leaders. I jumped at the chance. I knew who he was and knew that many Friends looked up to him, but had not yet personally connected with his work. During that weekend retreat, which was one of the most impactful retreats I’ve ever been on, Parker Palmer said something that stuck with me. When talking about how he arrives at topics for writing and research, he said, “I only write books about things that truly baffle me, things that keep me awake late at night.” He was saying that it is the unfamiliar, the puzzling, perhaps even the things he’s resistant to that motivates his curiosity, and animates his work. I loved that. I felt both challenged and freed to see preaching as a way to “lean in” to my bafflement. 

So back in my study, during the spring of ’13, I thought I’d try out this new practice of Holy Bafflement. In prayer and reflection, I asked the question stated above: what in the book of the Bible that I’d least want to preach? What is the book that most baffles me?

I knew instantly. At that moment, I wanted to take it back. It was almost as though God had been waiting for me to ask the question. I reflected in the silence about what was coming up. I felt God’s prompting, “Don’t you think there are others who have looked at this text in different ways? Aren’t you curious about what is possible here?”

That began my journey to understand not just what Revelation was about, but more importantly, how to read Revelation, and what the text was trying to do some 2000 years ago? Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance is the result of this long journey. It is grappling with my own identities as a white, straight, educated male living in the American Empire, learning how to read texts written by and for the poor as a person with plenty of privilege that led to a much deeper conversion. One that helped me see this text, and many others like it, not as some paranoid dream or bad trip, but a liberatory manifesto of God’s people living under oppression. 

“Something very strange happens when happens when this text is appropriated by readers in a comfortable, powerful, majority community: it becomes a gold mine for paranoid fantasies and for those who want to preach revenge and destruction.”

-Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (Revelation: Visions of a Just World)

In the time since, I researched and studied many other scholars who have already traversed Revelation from new perspectives, primarily liberation theologians, and feminists biblical scholars, and worked on translating this into sermons and reflections for people who are wrestling with what it means to be both victims and agents of empire. Following this, I’ve been invited to preach and teach Revelation in meetings and congregations as diverse as Liberal Unprogrammed, Programmed meetings, and Baptist congregations. Apparently, there are baffled people hungry for new interpretations of Revelation everywhere! The most fun I’ve had recently was working with a group of Quaker college students where I now work to read and study the book together and wrestle with its overall meaning. 

What has captivated me and others about this “unsalvageable” book of the Bible? I can assure you it is not because we think it offers the key to unlock the secret code of the Trump administration, or what we can finally do with Hilary’s emails. Nor do I believe it predicts that the 1000 year reign of Christ’s judgment is now upon us (though it does sometimes feel like there could be more judgment pointed at a few!). Nor is it meant to help us determine who the real infidels are. (I know this is how this text has been used and abused against so many people I and you love, and probably against some of you reading this right now.)

I am sorry that a text of this magnitude has been co-opted to do so much harm. I hope that in some small way, this work can help repair the breach. I also hope that this approach can help Christians everywhere become far more critical of empires everywhere.

Therefore, instead of Revelation being a book about “evacuation theology,” to use Rob Bell’s phrase, I argue that the book of Revelation has nothing to do with predicting when the end times will happen, and everything to do with how small, marginalized faith communities survive and resist empire.


How might Revelation help us in thinking about moral imaginations in our own day and age?

The author of Revelation identifies as John, a pastor and prisoner of the Roman Empire on the Island of Patmos, an Alcatraz like prison where Rome kept its prisoners. Like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama, Pastor John scrawls his letter and has it smuggled out of the prison cell to his seven churches in Asia Minor. The letter – we now know as Revelation – called the early Christians to be more faithful in their resistance and to not give in to the ideology of the Roman empire, even if it meant death. It is urgent. It is apocalyptic. Its position is that the followers of the Lamb will not comprise with empire. Full stop. In John’s case, these seven small Judeo-Christian congregations lived under the oppressive Roman imperial regime; in Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s, it is Southern clergy tempted by white supremacy and middle-class safety. Feminist Scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza was the one who suggested reading John and King side by side, to note their parallels, to note their shared contexts, and challenges. It was reading John and King together that I realized to make it about end times is to gut Revelation of its real power.

I’m convinced that this 1st-century letter is a challenging and fierce plead for these marginalized faith communities to not assimilate into what Wes Howard Brook calls “the Religion of Empire,” but to remain rooted in and have one’s moral imagination shaped by “the religion of the Lamb that was Slain:” an image that is meant to spark non-violent resistance – “the War of the Lamb,” not some end-times paranoia. 

To put this simply: we are not the intended audience of Revelation.

Revelation is a pastoral letter read allowed in the early church’s gatherings and is addressed to specific communities under specific concerns; I believe when we start from this place it can become useful for us in a new way. It takes about an hour and twenty minutes to read out loud all together, a long sermon for us, but one that was meant to provide shape to the early Christian moral imagination, counter-imagery to the imagery of the religion of empire. I see Revelation offering four counter practices and outline them in Resisting Empire if you are interested in digging in deeper.

According to the author of Revelation, the church is to not just offer a counter-narrative and counter-practices to the religion of empire, it is to create a community that can exist within that counter-narrative: to resist and refuse assimilation into empire demonstrates faithfulness.

This leaves me, and I hope you, with lots of questions about how we resist empire in our world today?

  • What does it mean to be faithful to “the Lamb that was slain?”
  • Where have we already assimilated, and what does it mean to come out of empire?
  • How do I grapple with the reality that I am both agent and victim of empire?
  • Do I treat and think of others in ways that creat mob mentalities and scapegoats, or do I see all human beings in all their complexities as children of God?

I want to draw on one simple example from Revelation as a means of opening up these questions further: the importance of liturgy in shaping social order. Liturgy means “the work of the people,” and is about the kinds of things we do together that shape us in ways that mirror the empire or the Lamb. In other words, the book of Revelation reveals that there is a contrast between the “liturgy of empire” and the “liturgy of the Lamb.”

On the one hand, the Roman Empire has its own ceremonies, rituals, symbols, language, mantras, and sacrifices or “scapegoats.” These helped it to maintain its boundaries over and against other nations and wicked others. This is a liturgy of extraction, one that pulls people away from the suffering of their neighbors and the world around it. It distracts and displaces.  

On the other hand, Revelation reveals the Lamb that was Slain has its own liturgy as well. This liturgy is one that is shaped and formed by non-violent resistance – the image of the Lamb slain, rooted in silence, and pulls the worshippers into the presence and awareness of the suffering other. In Revelation, worship centers the victims of empire [7:9-17]. This liturgy has no need for boundaries of us vs. them in order to create social cohesion; it is described as a multitude. It has no need for scapegoats because the Lamb was the last scapegoat who reveals the lie of the “scapegoat mechanism,” demonstrating that the scapegoat is innocent. And because it centers the victims of empire it is a radically inclusive and diverse multitude made up of people of every nation, tribe, and language.  

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Revelation 7:9

I believe, with a potent enough liturgy, an entirely different kind of social order can be created, one that has no need for scapegoats, and one that lifts up and centers those slaughtered and disinherited by empire: the prisoner, sex worker, homeless, unemployed, refugee, profiled, displaced, abused, lynched, disabled, bombed, bulldozed, walled-in, walled-out, rejected and refused. To consider that all these things happen to human beings in the name of empire should devestate us.


I know there are plenty who have many different feelings about the Bible; many have written it off and surrendered it to other interpretations just like I did with Revelation. However, in the process of doing this work first in my community and second for the book, I’ve become convinced that Revelation is not about what we’ve been taught, and we lose something very powerful, putting ourselves at risk of not only having nothing to say in the face of empire, but we are made vulnerable to assimilating into empire without these kinds of counterstories and practices.

Early Quaker loved the book of Revelation, and I think it was in large part because its imagery and language helped them to identify the religion of empire in their time. How might our imaginations and practices be reshaped by this text, in ways that we have lost due to our dismissal of the text? I have grown and learned a lot and have so far still to go to understand more fully. But for now and if nothing else, I am helped to know that for 2000 years, there have been followers of Jesus existing within and resisting empire leading the way for the rest of us.


Get “Resising Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance” Below


Ways to Connect with Wess: If you like this post and/or have feedback you think I should know about feel free to connect with me on Twitter and Telegram @cwdaniels or subscribe via email by clicking here.

*Photo credit Christopher Dombres

Categories
Blog Entries Poverty Sermons

Beastly Economics & King's Vision for the Poor People's Campaign

“…we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing‐oriented” society to a “person‐oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered…True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice, which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Beyond Vietnam” (April 1967)

This is a sermon I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greensboro on 2020-01-19.

Today, I want to talk to you about two things that may at first seem unrelated – Martin Luther King and the Mark of the Beast from the book of Revelation.

I know the concept of the Mark of the Beast has been greatly misused, misinterpreted, and misaligned by Christians over the years, but before you crawl out of your skin or run out give me a few seconds to try and show you why it has been misinterpret it so badly.

As you’ve already heard this morning, I’ve been researching and writing on the book of Revelation for sometime and have just published a book on the subject called, “Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation.”

My argument is that we need to reject the “evacuation theology,” (ht Rob Bell) version of Revelation. You know the one where people in the church says, “Who cares, it’s all going to burn anyway, and we – the people who are on the right side of this theology – are going to escape.”

Revelation interpreted this way is a text used to predict not only some future trauma, violence, and scapegoating of those the elect deem wicked.

If you follow the path of an “evacuation theology” interpretation then you can displace the Mark of the Beast into some future person or technology, a chip, a credit card, a country’s leader (usually some other country’s leader), etc. All we need to do is identify whoever has the mark and then we’ll know they’re a bad guy or are doing bad things. But this makes it way to easy to dismiss what it is actually saying.

I see Revelation being about how a marginalized group of faithful people were being guided to resist the Roman Empire at the end of the first century. It had nothing to do with evacuation theology and everything to do with resisting, surviving, and not assimilating into empire. Here you the early church made up predominately of Jewish and Gentile Christians living under Roman occupation. As Jews, as Christians, as the poor, they were themselves the marginalized. And Revelation tells them that God is with them, God is on their side, and that their work was to resist empire and follow God no matter the cost.

This is a very different reading of Revelation that what we’re used to isn’t it?

If we look back at it then, the Mark of the Beast is not about a little birthmark or an implanted chip, it is a critique of an entire economic system that is set to exploit the many for the benefit of a few. Revelation is unveiling and critiquing the economics of empire, arguing that it is out of alignment with what God intends for the world. In fact, Revelation 13 mostly uses the language of “image of the beast,” rather than “mark” to say that these kinds of imperial systems try to make people into its own image. To be make in the image of the beast is something extremely different than to be made in the image of God.

As it says in Chapter 13:

15 those who would not worship the image of the beast [would] be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark…

Rev. 13 is an ancient critique of an economic system that is based on exploitation, one that is far-reaching and impacts everyone, and one that is opposed to how God intended the world to work.

Unless you go along with the “beastly economics of empire” you will not have the right to buy and sell, and are liable to be killed.

Credit http://kairoscenter.org/

Beastly Economics in our Day and Age

Let’s turn now to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If you’ll go back with me to March 18, 1968. On that day, King visited Marks, Mississippi. There he witnessed devastating poverty. Marks was at that time located in the poorest county in the country and what King witnessed there moved him to tears. While touring Marks, he witnessed school children who had nothing more than one slice of an apple and a couple crackers to eat all day and other children without basic needs like shoes. It is well-chronicled that King wept as he walked through the streets of Marks.

You know it is beastly economics when Children living in the richest country in the world go without basic necessities.

A couple days later he announced what he called the Poor People’s Campaign saying:

“We’re coming to Washington in a poor people’s campaign. I was in Marks, Miss., the other day, which is in Quitman County, the poorest county in the United States. And I tell you I saw hundreds of black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear.”

How A Mule Train From Marks, Miss., Kicked Off MLK’s Poor People Campaign

The Poor People’s Campaign was to be a fusion of the poor in this country across race lines; people caravanning across the country to setup camp on the Mall in DC and create a city they called “Resurrection City.” There they would form a committee of 100 people to lobby for an economic Bill of Rights with five planks, including:

  • “A meaningful job at a living wage”
  • “A secure and adequate income” for all those unable to find or do a job
  • “Access to land” for economic uses
  • “Access to capital” for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses
  • Ability for ordinary people to “play a truly significant role” in the government

King knew that beastly economics needed to be challenged, resisted, and corrected. He understood that underlying the creation America’s economic system was slave labor that has persisted and disadvantaged those without previous access to wealth and power (Via Wikipedia).

Signified in that visit to Marks, Mississippi, King realized that Civil Rights could not be fully secured until they were able to take on a Human Rights lens.

In one place he said:

“What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger.”

And In another he remarked:

“We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power.”

King understood something very deep about our own country: we can pay lip-service to “rights” for some while blocking equality in other spheres of our society.

In other words, one of the ways our underlying philosophy and commitment to beastly economics as a country shows up in who and how we prioritize our spending.

In his sermon at Riverside Church, “Beyond Vietnam” he critiques war just not on grounds of non-violence, he critiques war based on the underlying racism and economics that fund wars.

“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

It was this turn towards a critique of beastly economics, and the threat of uplifting the voices of the poor that ultimately got King assassinated.

To resist empire out of faithfulness to something bigger, something more generous and loving, something more universal will always be dangerous.

My Friend, and bible scholar from the Kairos Center at Union Theological Center, Colleen Wessell-McCoy once pointed out that there are many ways to think about poverty (see an interview I did with Colleen on this subject here):

Poverty comes by way of an accident (it is no one’s fault, the system is basically fair); it comes through bad behaviors and bad choices (remember those unjustly labelled “welfare queens”); it is destiny, spiritual, even to be desired (Why take away someone’s destiny?).

But Rev. Dr. King, a pastor in the black church stood in the biblical prophetic tradition alongside the book of Revelation, understanding that there is another way to understand the origins of poverty and that is that poverty is systemic.

Poverty is the result not of a broken system, but of a system that is working. Poverty is the result of beastly economics (see Taking the Widow’s Mite: Economics from A Christian Perspective).

Building the Multitude

King knew that one had to resist this reality of beastly economics as though it were the only one possible, and instead bring people together across racial and class lines, empowering the poor to bring about the changes necessary.

King stood in a long line of actors and agents challenging “the religion of empire” and worked towards building what he called the beloved community and what Revelation calls “The Multitude,” one rooted in a vision of abundance for all people and all creation.

For our part today – what does it mean to be of this multitude, to be a people of love, goodness, goodwill and faith, willing to follow God in the face of empire no matter the cost?

King, in the Poor People’s campaign, reignited this prophetic thread and that work is not done yet.

How might we honor King’s challenge to us to have a revolution of values that touches all aspects of our lives?

How might we honor King, in this long thread of prophetic witness against systems that creates economic conditions that are so harmful to human flourishing, and instead work to build the multitude.

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Blog Entries

A Five Week Series on the Book of Revelation

I’m looking forward to leading a 5-week series on Revelation & my book “Resting Empire.” We started this past Sunday at First Friends Meeting here in Greensboro. If you’re close by and interested in joining is, you are welcome.

We will be covering these topics:

  • Quaker and Liberation ways of reading the Bible. How our social location and identities (ie. race, gender, class, sexuality and abilities) impact how we read the text and how it reads us. The social location of Revelation and the Bible and how that impacts how we understand what it is about.
  • The religion of creation and the religion of empire. How Empires use scapegoats to build social cohesion and Jesus as the final scapegoat, proving once for all that “the scapegoat is innocent.”
  • Imperial economics vs. how God gives a preferential option for the poor
  • How liturgy is used within Empire as well as within communities of resistance and what kinds of liturgy build up our resolve and witness against empire.
  • We will dig into the concept of the multitude not just as a nice “all inclusive” vision – which I think it is also that- of humanity but also how Revelation’s conception of the Multitude actually means to center all the victims of empire.
  • And if there’s time: the role of the earth and animals and creation within the resistance to Empire and God’s moral imagination for what is possible.

I’m convinced that a liberatory reading of Revelation is going to be a key tool for persistence, resistance, and community building in the years to come as we see American Civil Christianity continue to grasp for imperial power and ultimately fail. I believe that Revelation is not only a text about how to resist the empire, it is what it looks like for the church to refuse “Christian supremacy.”

If you’re in town and this is of interest join us this Sunday. If not and you want to see if this reading can be of use to you and your community here is the link to my book.

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Blog Entries DIY Reviews

Activities For New Year's Eve

When we had the idea of throwing a small gathering at our house for New Year’s Eve, we did the initial planning around food and drinks, the traditional (for us) stuff: pork, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, etc. But not one to want to do just the expected things, I talked to Emily about coming up with new activities like we did last year for the gathering. I think it probably says something about my personality that I feel like if we’re gonna have people come together we should do something creative and meaningful, as if talking, connecting, eating isn’t enough!

Reflecting on the Decade

I had the idea to do some kind of decade timeline, but it was Emily’s idea to wed the decade reflection with Godly Play-esque questions. These two things came together well and so we decided to make this the main activity for the evening. It seemed like a good opportunity to invite reflection with friends on the decade, so we laid out some brown packing paper, added dates, and lines, and some questions on the dining room table.

Here’s what it looked like:

We added questions on index cards to prompt reflection for this “Decade in Review.”

  1. You favorite moments and events
  2. Important changes, accomplishments, failures, and losses
  3. Landmarks for human history
  4. What could you do without?

The results were pretty fantastic. Our guests dropped in and out, adding favorite memories, babies being born, moving to Greensboro, weddings and more. It was nice to see how the timeline shaped up with some of our friends, but it was also interesting to see how this then became a conversation piece, prompting people to ask questions and notice things.

Individual Reflections for the New Year

We had other, more personal, activities written on index cards and sitting out on the table for folks to engage with (shown above). These activities were based off of ones we did last year. We set out a bunch of different art supplies, magazines, cardboard, etc. so that folks could craft and engage with the activities as they saw fit. Here are those prompts:

  1. Write a letter to someone you want to thank for being their for you or write a letter to your future self
  2. Get rid of something
  3. Pick a word or theme for 2020
  4. Create a deck of cards: use images, quotes, words, affirming you in the coming year
  5. Make blackout poetry (with pages from One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

Not everyone did the activities, which was fine, but it was nice to have these out as an option and I noticed many people tried at least one thing. It helped to break up the conversations, time, and it created some opportunities for some great storytelling. And if nothing else, we had a good time.

Here was a card a friend left behind for us.

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Blog Entries

A Call to Work Outside Our Circles – Friends Journal Article

The Marriage of William Penn and Hannah Callowhill, 1696. Ernest Board (1877–1934). @ commons.wikimedia.org.

In this month’s Friends Journal, I have a little piece in response to the NY Times article from Teresa M. Bejan, “What Quakers Can Teach Us About the Politics of Pronouns.” That article is useful and made its rounds on the Quaker Internet pretty thoroughly. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you read it. My piece is less a direct response to the points she makes about pronouns, I support the use of inclusive pronouns and even the alternative “Friend” in place of a pronoun, that Peterson Toscano has suggested elsewhere and that the Public Universal Friend utilized.

I was more interested in the Quaker response to the article, as described here:

As readers of this blog, I think you will enjoy both the New York Times article and the Friends Journal response.

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Featured Sermons

Sermon: The Birth of a New, Contrast Community

This is a message I gave at First Friends Meeting in Greensboro on December 22, 2019 following Revelation 12 and Matthew 1:18ff. Here is the recorded version of the message.

Rev. 12:1   And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman eclothed with fthe sun, with fthe moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and gwas crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great hred dragon, iwith seven heads and jten horns, and on his heads kseven diadems. 4 His tail swept down la third of the stars of heaven and mcast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child nhe might devour it. 5 She gave birth to a male child, oone who is to rule1 all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was pcaught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for q1,260 days.

Rev. 12:7   Now war arose in heaven, rMichael and shis angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And tthe great dragon was thrown down, uthat ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, vthe deceiver of the whole world—whe was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Matt. 1:18   Now the birth of uJesus Christ5 took place in this way. vWhen his mother Mary had been betrothed6 to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child wfrom the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling xto put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, yan angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and zyou shall call his name Jesus, afor he will save his people from their sins.” 22 bAll this took place cto fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

Matt. 1:23    d“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name eImmanuel” 

 (which means, God fwith us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And ghe called his name Jesus.


Birthday Stories

In our family, the advent season is extra special. M, our middle daughter, was born on Nov 27, 2009. Just a few days before the start of advent on the liturgical calendar.

L, our oldest daughter, was born on December 19, 2007. She was due on Christmas, but thankfully Emily’s prayers were heard and she was born 6 days before. Now she doesn’t have to comete for spotlight with the Son of Man.

As you can see advent is special in our house the baby Jesus notwithstanding.

Advent is a time of waiting that anticipates arrival. It is very much like the Quaker concept of “expectant waiting.”

There is so much build up to the moment of birth.

One of the practices that we do each year with the kids is we have a special birthday dinner where the kids pick what they want to eat. Sometimes we make a meal, sometimes we go out to eat, but in either case, over dinner Emily and I pitch in to tell our celebrant their birth story.

  • L’s is focused around the anticipation of our first child. Her birth made us parents and changed our lives as a family.
  • M’s birth involves being born in water.
  • C’s involves time and patience.

Each one is special. Each year the details remain more or less consistent – thanks in large part to Emily’s high functioning memory – but they also sway and adapt as we get to know our children more and more.

These stories would change dramatically if there was a traumatic loss, a separation, hopes or promises broken.

Can you think back to your own birth story, and how your family talked about these earlier parts of your life? How has that story shaped you over your life?

Beginnings matter because because they tell us where the rest of the story is going. For better or worse, they orient us to the future.

Both pain and promise are often found within origin stories.
Birth stories have the power of building up or tearing down.

Christmas is the origin story of the church and it matters whether to us it is a sweet and quaint little story, domesticated and pretty, with Mary and Jospeh smiling happily as she gives birth in a stable; or if there is a build up to Revolution and change. If Mary and Joseph are refugees who are on the run and homeless, if there is both hope and fear in Mary’s eyes not just for what is now, but for what she knows is to come, then the story is very different.

If you have a crèche in your home, which we do, which origin story does it symbolize? One in which Jesus is a cute baby or one in which those living on the margins of society, living under occupation of the Roman Empire find hope and revolution?

Origin stories shape who we are and who we are becoming.


This is why I like Revelation 12 as an advent text, as strange as it first appears.

Why on earth would anyone read Revelation for advent? Besides the fact that most of you know I love the book of Revelation as a text that teaches the early Christian community how to resist and not assimilate into Empire, besides that, It was Jaimie, she told me to do it.

Actually – when she asked me to preach she wondered whether there was a way to look at Revelation 12 in the context of advent. Admittedly, this was not something I’d ever considered doing.

But lay Revelation 12 alongside Matthew 1, read them together as dialogue partners, perhaps two parents telling different versions of their child’s birth story.

Revelation 12 is the like the revolutionary’s crèche.

It is known to scholars (Blount) as a “cosmic combat myth,” while others talk about it as an example of myth and a counter-myth.

Here in Revelation 12 we see two competing birth stories, one portent from heaven signified by a pregnant women giving birth and a second portent signified by a great red dragon waiting over her, ready to “devour her child as soon as it was born.”

“Portent” – comes from the greek Semion as in semiotics – meaning signs. Similarly a portent, which I know is a word you all use in normal, everyday conversation, but I had to look it up – means:

“A sign or warning that a momentous or calamitous event is likely to happen.”

Sounds very similar to how we use the word “advent.”

In other words, Revelation 12, is an apocalyptic commentary on the original birth story reminding us that this birth initiated a cosmic conflict between the powers and principalities, between what Biblical scholar WHB calls the “religion of creation” and “the religion of empire.”

Even though we know there has been a conflict between these two religions at least since the time of the tower of Babel, Revelation is telling us that there is something about this birth that brings it to a head.

This is because the birth of Jesus surfaces the possibility of something new. A New, Contrast Community of people who not only do not assimilate into empire and resist its tactics and practices, but one that will actually become a counter-community, revealing instead what God intends for the world. A community seeking to live out Gospel Order.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”

– Rev 12:10

The rest of this chapter describes a battle and victory of those who follow the lamb in nonviolent resistance. The marginalized ones, the ones oppressed and crushed by empire, are the ones who are a part of what the text calls the “kingdom of God.”

And when we go back to Matt 1 and our traditional Christmas stories we see that it is Jesus who is representative of these people, he is one of them, he is born to them. Jesus’ birth story tells of a God who shows up to and sides with the poor and victims of empire. Those who the dragon accuses and wishes to devour.

This is the power of the Christmas story.

It is not for gentle babes, born to a happy and stable nuclear family, it is – as Mary the mother of Jesus sings in the Gospel of Luke – for the:

51 scattering of the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

So long as we read the Christmas story alongside Revelation’s critique of empire, we won’t loose site of the fact that this is an alternative origin story to what it means to be the people of God. What it means to be the church.


A New/Old Christmas Story

Revelation 12 reminds us there is far more to the story and urges us to keep its revolutionary character in front of us. If this is the birth story we are working from, than it cannot, will not become a story that builds up some of us up over and against some wicked others,

If this is the birth story we are working from we will refuse to scapegoat others, because we know that Jesus and his family are themselves on the run as scapegoats of empire.

If this is the birth story we are working from we will find ways to resist economics that oppress others because we know that Jesus was born to Palestinian Jews living under Roman occupation who extorted, enslaved, and were poor because of a system that was working to benefit some at the expense of everyone else.

If this is the birth story we are working from than we will join Jesus in the work of building towards an alternative reality, a contrast community, one that Revelation calls the Multitude, and Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Beloved Community.

This multitude is a re-igniting of what God intended for humanity, a new community rooted in the goodness of creation, the love of God; rooted in the call to love neighbor and enemy alike. This multitude is a community that welcomes and centers the wounded, the betrayed, and others who have been victimized by empire.

It lives in active resistance to empire and empire’s origin stories and myths.

We get to choose which version of the Christmas story we participate in and perpetuate.

We get to choose what the creche symbolizes to us.

Our origin stories matter. And sometimes they need to change.

Let us live into the wake of this revolutionary story by narrating and building alternative communities of resistance, revitalization, and love in the face of empire.

Thank you, Friends.

Queries:

  • What role does origin/creation stories play in the formation of community?
  • What is your origin story?
  • What role does those on the margins and “all of creation” play in the our conceptions of community?
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Are You Ready to Do Your Annual Review? Here Are Some Tips and Resources

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

As we round out the end of 2019 and the last of this decade, there’s no better time than now to reflect on the past and think about goals and priorities you want to have for the coming year(s). When I think about the connection between work and productivity and my spiritual practice, setting time aside for recalibration, deeper reflection, and prayer are really important to me. I have time set aside for my own reflection coming up. As I get into the mindset and consider how I can take some time to look back not only at the last year but also at the last decade, I’ve begun looking for materials and resources to draw on when I do this work.

Here’s a round-up of resources and ideas that you can use as you create your own plan.

1. Step-by-Step Process for Conducting An Annual Review

First and foremost, here is my post from two years ago on “Conducting an Annual Review.” In this post, I walk you through how to structure the annual review, tools you’ll need, some key questions, and more. This is the basic process I will be using this year, though I always adapt it some.

Here’s an excerpt: This was my first time doing an annual review after really designing a system of project management like we did in Building a Second Brain. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, and I did it before reading “The Annual Review is a Rearchitecture,” but I knew I wanted three components:

  • Enough time away to get into a reflective and prayerful space
  • Time to reflect back over all the projects, accomplishments, failures, learnings that took place.
  • Time to build out my goals and vision for the coming year

📝 See: Conducting an Annual Review

2. New Year’s Eve Review Activities – Fun for a Crowd!

If you want to get super nerdy – because why not – we came up with seven New Year’s activities we put out for our NYE party last year and we had a great time.

Here’s an excerpt:

  • Pick a word for the year
  • Create a personal vision board for 2019
  • Get rid of something – write something down from 2018 that you want to get rid of, tear it up, and throw it away. This was an idea from E.M., our 9-year-old, and I thought it was pretty fantastic.
  • Create a deck of cards

📝 See: Seven New Year’s Eve Activities and End of the Year Reflections

3. Books That Can Help With an Annual Review

How to Not Always Be Working by Marlee Grace – An amazing book about taking care of yourself, complete with reviews, and other exercises for you to use in your own reflections.

Keep Going 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon – A great book about self-care and how to remain creative, especially when you’re not feeling creative.

Essentials of the Enneagram by Dr. David Daniels – As a part of my review, I like to look back and review my number on the Ennegram and review the growing edges and gifts of that number.

4. Some Key Resources for Helping Practice An Annual Review

David Allen’s article on “Horizon’s of Focus,” a great perspective on laying out goals, priorities, projects, and tasks for the coming year. 📝 Download the .PDF here

Praxis Blog from Tiago Forte: The Annual Review is a Rearchitecture and Tiago’s Annual Review Course if you’re looking to spend a little money but go deeper into all of this. As a graduate of two of Tiago’s courses, I can vouche for the quality of these courses, though I haven’t taken this new one.

Shawn Blanc’s Plan Your Year is another good looking and less expensive option that comes with some cool tools you can use for planning. Shawn’s work is also high quality and takes into account mindfulness and intention behind all we do. I’ve taken a couple of Blanc’s courses as well and feel good about recommending this one (I’m seriously considering joining this course).

My friend Fernando Gros has lots of great creative stuff on his blog but here are two where he walks through how to do yearly planning and how to set up annual themes.

Focused Podcast: The Annual Check-In – A work and productivity with a priority towards mindfulness and focus. David Sparks and Mike Schmitz cover their process for personal check-ins.

Jason Shen of Better Humans: How to Run Your Own Annual Review


Ways to Connect with Wess: If you like this post and/or have feedback you think I should know about feel free to connect with me on Twitter and Telegram @cwdaniels or subscribe via email by clicking here.

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2019 – Year in Photos

Photo Descriptions

From Left to Right, Top to Bottom

  1. Living in Greensboro means that we are closer to family and we get to see cousins a lot more. This year we got to celebrate Halloween with my sister Steffanie’s family.
  2. Went to Philadelphia a couple times this year, a highlight for me was being at a leadership conference.
  3. I have been listening to a lot of tech show and Apple podcasts, which is both nerdy and fun, but also having an impact on my efficiency and work. This is an image of my current office setup complete with a standing desk. (Podcasts: MacPower Users, Upgrade, Automators and Connected)
  4. Emily and I celebrated 18 years of marriage and 20 years of friendship and love this August.
  5. In October I turned 41.
  6. Made a bunch of new friends in Greensboro who are religious leadership during an Interfaith Clergy Trip this past year.
  7. Went to Indiana to celebrate the wedding of my good friend and fellow Fuller grad, Dr. Jamie Pitts.
  8. I got to meet Dr. Janette Coleman during Guilford’s commencement this year.
  9. My kids found a sign with my name of it! 😉 This was a sign set out in front of Scuppernong Books for my Book Release party for my book, Resisting Empire.
  10. I went to England to support one of my students who presented at a Quaker Studies Conference a great paper on her research she’s doing at Guilford. I also presented on some new research I am working on.
  11. Did I mention my new book, Resisting Empire, was released!
  12. Saw my uncle and other family who live in Arizona after 25 years!
  13. Co-taught a 3-week class on Food and Faith that was moving, and a lot of fun.
  14. Launched the Fireweed Coffee Cold Brew recipe to great fanfare this summer.
  15. I participate in an 8-month Executive Director Academy with the Center for Creative Leadership this past year that was an incredible opportunity, pushed me in my thinking around leadership, and helped me feel more confident in my work.
  16. Trip to the Smoky Mountains with cousins!
  17. In August, my buddy and I rode bikes up to the Blue Ridge Mountains, but we never made it. I watched him go down on his bike. Thankfully, he was okay, albeit badly bruised and banged up.
  18. Emily and I went to Louisville, KY to visit Bourbon Country and spend time with some good friends. This was seriously one of the best highlights of the year. My favorite of all the distilleries we toured was Rabbit Hole.
  19. We vacationed in Beaufort, NC this year and loved every moment of it. This is a photo of Emily on a boat headed out to the beach at Cape Lookout.
  20. Purchased a new roaster, the Aillio Bullet R1, for Fireweed Coffee Co.
  21. The kids all started their 4th school year in Greensboro. L is now in 6th, M is in 4th, and C is in 2nd. This is the photo we’ve been doing each year since we moved to Greensboro.
  22. I married my sister Catrina at the end of 2018 but L and M loved being flower girls and I wanted to share this!
  23. C at the Over The Rhine Nowhere Else festival in Ohio. We loved it and can’t wait to go back.
  24. That time Westboro Baptist came to protest the college you work at and you are responsible to coordinate the response.