Unmasking Liturgies of Empire

One of the things I am currently focused on and really hungry to know more about is the concept of liturgies of resistance. A concept I originally discovered when studying the Book of Revelation. I think this is one of the keys to our ability to resist and survive empire (and the “liturgy of the lamb” is one of the practices I write about in my book that I see from Revelation that are key to the resistances of empire). I also believe that in the majority of Christian churches today, the liturgies have been so de-fanged, watered-down, even compromised by the religion of empire that they are not strong enough to inoculate us in any meaningful way.

What are the liturgies that form us currently? Here liturgy being rituals that we engage in that shape our desires, our language, our imaginations about what is possible and what is “out there.” Liturgy shapes us by telling us we are in a certain story. The American empire fueled by late-stage capitalism is rife with liturgies.

Liturgies of empire (I have been greatly helped by James Alison‘s thinking on this):

  • Shape our desires by the kind of story we see ourselves a part of (if we are the good guys and “they” are the bad guys then we will see our actions as benevolent)
  • Shape what we believe is possible (and what is impossible)
  • Dull our senses so that we are not aware of the suffering of our neighbors
  • Drive us towards seeing the “sacrifice of others” (or scapegoating) as a necessary part of what we do in order to maintain the peace
  • Distract us by excitement, sensationalism, and spectacle that feels good to be on the inside of but keeps us from actually knowing what is going on

Scholar Wes Howard-Brook points out that in Revelation 12 there is a clash between these two liturgies and some of the ways we see these liturgies in use around us:

We are surrounded by these kinds of liturgies from when we pickup our phones and scroll the news or social media, to the ways we rally over and against one another politically, to the policies and procedures of our country and organizations, to our justice system (and all its proceedings and liturgical mannerisms), to what we passively consume whether it be news or other forms of media, to where we live, and how we worship and who we worship with.

In the coming weeks and months, I plan to unpack this further and develop my own thinking around liturgies of empire and liturgies of resistance and as a part of a larger project I am working on. I want to get clear on this subject for myself and I want to share ideas about what communities are doing now to think about these issues. If we are going to resist the religion of empire in any meaningful, we are going to need stronger, more potent forms of liturgy to shape our communities. I want to understand what makes them stronger and I want to know what we can put into action as people who are in this fight.

For today, I invite you to in a reflective manner, consider the above list and think through the places where you may be intentionally or unintentionally participating in “liturgies of empire.”

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

Hope in a time of Empire: The Lynching of Ahmaud Arbery & the Vision of Jesus in Revelation 1

This is a message I prepared for First Friends Meeting where my family and I attend.

Rev. 1:12   Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

Rev. 1:17   When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. 19 Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this.

Revelation Chapter 1

This week has been a tough one for our country.

Besides the ongoing struggle of millions of parents all over the country trapped at home with their children, states are fighting over how and when to reopen. Some people are protesting their state governments, many armed to the teeth, dressed out in camo and face masks, demanding that their liberties are being infringed upon.

Meanwhile, we’ve reached over 1 million Cases and 73,428 Deaths in the US and 263,685 deaths globally due to the virus.

Add to this that fact that this week saw another 3.2 million people filing for unemployment putting the total at 33.5 million Americans (16% unemployment). Many of these individuals have very little hope of returning to full-time work any time soon.

And if that isn’t bad enough, there was another leaked of another black man, this time 26 year old Ahmaud Arbery, killed by two white men – a father and son – in Georgia while out on a jog.

Arbery’s death is yet another modern-day lynching where an African-American is gunned down in broad daylight by white people with no recourse and no consequences.

NY Times author Charles M. Blow put it like this:

These men stalked Arbery, projecting onto him a criminality of which he was not guilty, then used self-defense as justification to gun him down in an altercation that they provoked. Arbery was killed eight years to the month after Martin was killed, just about three hours north.

This “anti-black vigilantism” (Charles Blow) is a recurring cycle that has claimed the lives of so many in recent years, including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Sandra Bland, and so many more.

Why am I telling you all of this?

I want to tell you what is. I want to remind you that in the midst of whatever you may be facing in this moment, these are very real, very challenging and traumatic things happening around us.

This is what it looks like to live within an empire in the midst of a crisis.

And I don’t know about you but when I look at what is, considering all the ways people have been impacted because of the Coronavirus and I begin to look forward into the future, I struggle to find hope.

  • I do not feel hope that the poor will be taken care of.
  • I do not feel hope that African Americans lives will begin to matter in ways that will change our society.
  • I do not feel hope that our leadership has our best interests in mind, are willing to make their own sacrifices, or have the moral imaginations needed to do what is right even if it costs them.

This is the context that we read Revelation 1.

Many of you know I have a thing for revolution, not as a book predicting the end of the world as it has often been co-opted to justify, but rather – as one friend put it – kind of 1st-century “Rules for Radicals.”

You want to be a radical Jesus person, here is how to do it.

In Revelation 1, John tells us that he knows what it is like to live in the midst of an empire

I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

John then describes this vision he has of Jesus.

It is this wild image of man whose hair wooly white, his eyes are on fire, he has a sword coming out of his mouth, and his voice sounds like the sound of rushing water.

As you hear this description, I wonder what do you feel in your body? I wonder what you see in your mind’s eye?

John is a pastor writing writing from prison to his congregations of Christians, people from the land of Palestine, living under the Roman occupation, and seen as a threat to Caesar because they would not go along with the religion of empire.

  • They knew exactly what it was like to live under imperial empire.
  • They knew what it was like to have their lives discounted, rejected, and threatened.
  • These were the individuals who were burned at the stake, fed to lions, scapegoated for the emperor’s problems, the majority poor and powerless. That is, at least when they are not an organized social movement.

John is their ancient Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Or Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, organizing these poor communities to see and understand what empire really is and to resist it with all their might.

What does pastor John say to his churches in the midst of all of this?

He says, “Here is Jesus.”

The same Jesus who was a poor man, who worked among the poor, and built a movement of poor and marginalized people, and who was killed for it. He stands before us today and is going to lead us through this.

This is the same Jesus who challenged the bogus religion and politics of his time, and offered instead a look at what it could be like to live the Reign of God on earth.

Here is that same Jesus who himself was lynched by the Roman imperial state.

It is this Jesus who lost. Who was crushed. And who rose victorious on Easter Sunday. He is the one who holds the keys to death and Hades. He is the one who has proven that death is not the end and that death has no real power over those whose hearts and minds are set on things above.

Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last.

You want to know the very first rule of surviving an empire in crisis – Follow this Jesus rather than empire no matter what it costs.

This image of Jesus is meant to be an image of hope when all hope is lost.

Criminality was projected upon the innocent Ahmaud Arbery and he was slain for it.

Criminality was also projected upon Jesus was himself slain revealing to us that the victims of empire are innocent.

The empire will stop at nothing to crush the innocents ones, scapegoating them, building suspicion around them, in order to distract us and sustain its own sense of power and identity.

Remembering the innocence of Arbery and Jesus and the way empire plays games with human lives, and not giving in to playing by their rules, that is part of what it means to have hope.

In Cornell West’s book, “Hope on a Tightrope” acknowledges the shape of this kind of hope when he says:

“Yet hope is no guarantee. Real hope is grounded in a particularly messy struggle, and it can be betrayed by naïve projections of a better future that ignore the necessity of doing the real work. So what we are talking about is hope on a tightrope.

Cornel West

Real hope is grounded in a particularly messy struggle. The necessity of doing the real work.

This triumphant image of Jesus is not that of some superhero who bullets fell off of him and he beats the bad guy.

This is the Jesus who received the blows and who was wounded by real weapons of the state.

And he died from those wounds.

That is the one who reveals that the victims of empire are innocent.

That is the one we are given by John the Revelator as our hope. The one who returns to us bearing the weight of the entire tradition with him. This is the meaning of the bricolage of images and symbols, each from different passages in the Hebrew Bible like the book of Daniel, Zechariah, Ps, Ezekiel and Isaiah.

It’s someone said to Jesus, “you and whose army,” and he shows up with all the old prophets (who have been criticizing an undermining empire for generations). A pretty sweet flex if you ask me.

This tapestry woven together in the image of Jesus is a composite of all of the teachings of the biblical account of people sustaining and resisting empire even when it seemed like all hope was lost. Jesus here is embodying the cloud of witnesses of the human story.

This “I am” statement of Jesus in Revelation the whole prophetic tradition comes to bear weight on this moment, this moment of survival, this moment of resistance, this moment of hope.

You can have hope because you are a part of a much bigger story and struggle because it is one that the lamb who was slain has been leading throughout human history. We can live into the reign of God even in the mist of messy struggle, not because we want to, and not because it is easy, but because everything in our bones, and everything in our hearts and in our minds, and our entire faith rests upon the one who calls out to us to not be afraid.

Friends let’s let this shape our hearts and imaginations in the coming days, and allow us to hold on to hope that we can create something better for everyone out of the ashes of our own struggle.

Join The Online Study of Poverty, Empire, and the Book of Revelation in the Time of Covid19

Friends, I am hosting an online study of my new book, “Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance,” and the Book of Revelation in the time of Covid19 and I want to invite you to consider participating.

I am interested in these three questions with this course: how does can the bible be used as a tool for building a social movement by, of, and for the poor; what do you say to people who believe this is the “end times” and use Revelation to justify all manner of bad behaviors and ideas; and how do we as people of faith and good conscience work to resist empire in this moment?

I will run this as a free 6-week online course that will meet weekly for an hour, with some optional readings to do in between. We will use, “Resisting Empire,” and the Book of Revelation as the main texts for the course.

The course is free and you do not need to feel obligated to buy the book to participate (donations are welcome but not necessary).

In this course you will learn:

  • How our own biases, experiences, and interacts with our reading of the biblical texts
  • Various tactics for reading the bible from a liberatory framework
  • What the “religion of empire” is and how it functions in the world
  • Social context and background to the book of Revelation
  • Ways of “resisting the empire” that the first witnesses of Revelation would have practiced
  • What it means to resist the “religion of empire” in our own day and time

Sign-Up Here:
If this is of interest to you please sign up for more information coming soon. Fill out this form with your information and I will be in touch soon.

Registration closes April 24th and the course will start on April 29.

Learn more about the schedule, readings, etc. by going to the course page of my website.

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

Dress Down (Good) Friday Edition

I trust that you are all staying safe and well. I am sending love and blessings to each of you in this trying and uncertain time. I take hope in knowing and believing in the Christian story. Knowing that God experienced and experiences human suffering. That uncertainty and waiting is a part of the human condition and part of the Gospel accounts. And that the message and commitment remain the same. We are to always look out for the poor, the most vulnerable, and those in need of help. We are to look out for and love one another. And while it is hard in times of scarcity, we must remain as loving and generous as possible. Blessings to you all in the wake of resurrection.

I know it’s a couple days late, but I wanted to post some links and resources from last week that – if you’re still in the reflective mood from last week’s liturgical holidays, I hope you take some time to listen/read/reflect/watch as you are able.

Rework Podcast: Phone A Friend

In this episode, we sit down with Quaker theologian and small business owner Wess Daniels, the author of the book Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance. He talks about the value of silence; reshaping systems of money and power; and building community during a time of struggle.

The Stations of the Cross: Crucifixion and COVID-19

Here is a virtual stations of the cross that I put together with a couple of other collaborates connected to the Kairos Center and the Poor People’s Campaign. Take some time and work you way through it, I think you will find it to be a powerful reflection.

This virtual “Way of Sorrows” we have prepared for you this year is meant to deepen this reflection of Jesus as a poor person, leading poor people, guided by the love of God in the face of the many ways empire manifests itself today: poverty and inequality, systemic racism, militarism, environmental devastation, and an imperial religion exemplified by a faulty moral narrative that serves the few at the expense of everyone else. This Holy Week we join Jesus’ suffering in the form of a global pandemic known as COVID-19. Plagues like this are nothing new for empires throughout the biblical account, and yet again, in the face of great crises, and the consolidating of power, it is the most vulnerable who will suffer.

The Stations of the Cross: Crucifixion and COVID-19

Uncertain Times: Waiting in the Unknown – A thoughtful Good Friday message from my friend, Greg Woods

> Tonight is a night filled with sorrow and despair. I want to acknowledge that we are living amid something that the world has not seen in over a century. Not far from where we each sit; doctors and nurses are fighting a deadly pandemic with a lack of resources. Our neighbors are sitting alone, some of who haven’t had any physical human touch in weeks. We all do not know what is next. We are living in uncertain times. As a parent, I was not prepared to explain to my 3-year-old what a pandemic is or why we can’t take her to her preschool to see her friends.

Here is a video sermon I was asked to prepare and record for College Park Baptist Church for Holy Saturday. And a summary of the core message posted to twitter:

Finally, Here’s a favorite photo from the week:

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

My Interview on the Rework Podcast

Friends – I had the really amazing opportunity to be on the Rework Podcast recently, and the interview just published today. Rework is a podcast about work, life, and tech and is put on by the folks at Basecamp. Wailin Wong, one of the co-hosts of Rework, reached out to me a few weeks back and led with the question, “What would you say to people who think this is the end of the world?” She knew the right question to ask to get me to agree immediately! 😂

Check the podcast out here: https://rework.fm/phone-a-friend/

The conversation is short – 16 mins – but it is wide-ranging, serious, as well as fun: We talk:

…about the value of silence; reshaping systems of money and power; and building community during a time of struggle.

I hope you will give it a listen, share it with folks who you think might benefit from it, and let me know what you think.

If you’re interested in the book, Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance, you can purchase it through my publisher Barclay Press.

Thanks for all your support. –Wess

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

Take a Break, Make a Pour Over With Wess

Last week, my staff spent time making a number and coordinating a number of daily videos for the campus community around self-care practices. There was this one with Faculty Member Jim Hood, doing a walk in the Guilford Woods that people really loved, and another one from my colleague, Evelyn Jadin, who made a video about Visio Divina which is pretty rad.

I wanted to share with you all the one I made about making a pour over cup of coffee (in my PJs!). Most of you know, I love all things coffee. Plus, our 12 yr old. daughter L. ran the camera and had a lot of fun doing that. This was shared with students, staff, and faculty of Guilford but the sentiment is true for all of you as well.

For more information about how to get Fireweed Coffee you can visit our website and order online, or follow us on social media: Instagram / Twitter.

Thanks for continuing to read gathering in light in these times. There is more to come.

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

Using Roam Research in Academia

I have fallen in love with the note-taking, research, “second brain” app called, Roam Research. It is a simple application that enables me to take notes and do research in ways that I have not been able to do with other note-taking systems. As someone who loves to read, research, and write, I find Roam’s approach to be really refreshing and unique. I am excited to use it. I am excited to take notes and work on ideas in its environment. I find myself wanting to continue to develop ideas and take notes even when I’m done with the initial task at hand.

I find Roam has at least three strengths:

1. Prioritizes writing over organizing,
2. Links ideas together (manually and automatically),
3. Harnesses Return on Attention in ways that other apps cannot – the more you use it and the more notes, research, and information you put into Roam, the better it gets.

If you research, write, journal, and even manage tasks, I’d recommend you give it a shot. Here’s how:

  • Setup an account to Roam Research – it is free
  • Watch this short video on YouTube (below)
  • Start typing out some thoughts or notes. Create new pages that are separate notes, ideas, concepts.
  • Begin linking pages together by using the shortcuts [[]] and (())
  • Open Roam on your mobile and use the Quick Capture feature

Here is a whole long article I wrote for the website RoamBrain on how to use Roam Research for academic work. I think you will enjoy it if you are interested in learning a new app of this kind.

Listen to My Interview On the EasterPod

Image may contain: 1 person, beard, text and closeup

This past Sunday, I am on a new episode of the EasterPod, a podcast by Corey Easterday.

This one is extra special for me because Corey is not only a friend and a great person, leader, and creative entrepreneur, he was also in my youth group when I was first a youth pastor back at Barberton Evangelical Friends Church from 2001-2003. Corey was in 7th grade then, now he is doing all kinds of really great things, not least of which is being the National Director for the Laundry Project.

In this episode, Corey and I cover a lot of ground: I share about my personal story, how how I came to pastoral work at Barberton Friends and beyond, how I became a Quaker and why I still am one today, we discuss my passion around anti-poverty work, the book of Revelation, my work at Guilford College, and Fireweed Coffee. As you can see, it is a wide-ranging conversation.

I hope you will tune in, share the episode with folks you think would find it helpful, subscribe to hear more of what Corey is doing, and share your feedback!

Here’s the episode:

6. Revitalization, Resisting Empire, & A Long, Storied Friendship w/ Wess Daniels

This podcast can be found:

Caring for Self and Others in Times of Trouble: Some Spiritual Tools and Tips

This was shared with me from Alexander Levering Kern, graduate of Guilford College and Executive Director Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service (CSDS) at Northeastern University. He and his family attends Friends Meeting at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I think you will find it helpful. Please share with others as you see fit.

  1. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe some more. Take time in your day, at any moment, to take ten deep even breaths. Carve out 5-10 minutes to meditate or practice mindfulness or contemplative prayer. Start here, now, wherever you are.
  2. Ground yourself in the present moment. Focus your awareness on something real, enduring, or beautiful in your surroundings. Look up often. Discover the wonder and awe that is already here.
  3. Acknowledge your fears, anxieties, concerns. Offer them up in prayer, if you pray. Write them in your journal. Share them with others. Feel what you feel, honor it, and know that it is not the final word.
  4. Remember you are not alone. Ever. You are surrounded by care and support. Reach out. 
  5. Create and sustain community. Show up for one another. Listen compassionately. Practice empathy. Even while avoiding “close physical contact,” message the people you care about. Stand with those most vulnerable and those who suffer the brunt of prejudice and fear. Check in on folks. Call your mother, father, guardian, mentor, little sibling, long lost friend. 
  6. Unplug, judiciously. While staying aware of developments, do not let the Corona-chaos govern you, but forgive yourself when and if it does.  
  7. Practice kindness. There is a temptation in health scares to view others as potential threats. Remember we are in this together. While practicing health guidelines and appropriate caution, remember to engage one another. Smile when you can. Bring good deeds and good energy into our world.
  8. Stay healthy through sleep, diet, exercise. See healing and wellness holistically – mind, body, and spirit. 
  9. Make art. Discover, imagine, engage your hopes and fears, the beauty and ugliness of our world. Write, paint, sing, dance, soar.
  10. Practice gratitude. In the face of crises, make note of the things for which you are grateful: your breath, the particular shade of the sky at dusk – or dawn. The color blue, the color green, the gifts and strengths you have, other people in your life, the ability to laugh. A pet.
  11. Connect with your spiritual, religious, humanist, cultural, or other communities. Find strength and solace and power in traditions, texts, rituals, practices, holy times and seasons. 
  12. Pray as you are able, silently, through song, in readings, through ancestors. Remember the long view of history, the rhythms and cycles of nature, the invisible threads that connect us all.
  13. Practice hope. Trust in the future and our power to endure and persist, to live fully into the goodness that awaits.  

Holding Family Meetings To Keep A Sense of Routine and Connection in the Midst of Covid19

A couple of years back, we came across a book called “The Secret of Happy Families,” which I am not necessary recommending but there were some handy ideas in the book. One of them was the idea of a weekly family meeting, and a basic layout for what that meeting could look like. So we borrowed that idea and did it consistently at first and do it off and on now, but enough that the kids know the general routine. For the basic family meeting, there’s an opportunity to talk about a) what went well last week, b) what could have gone better, and c) what are our intentions for the coming week. Everyone gets to talk for themselves, with feedback from the group. When we do this, we often do it on Sunday evenings during dinner.

Seeing as how we’re all experimenting with new routines in life because of the Coronavirus, we adapted this concept yet again.

In lieu of going to meeting for worship, because ours was cancelled as many were, we had our own family meeting this morning (we have 3 kids – 8, 10, and 12 yrs). This is something we do from time to time & in the coming weeks we will be more consistent with this practice.

Not only does having a family meeting for worship help keep some sense of routine around worship, but gives us an opportunity to discuss how we’re all feeling, share worries and gratitudes, pray for those people and thing we are concerned, and share information about how things are shifting.

Here is the format we used for a family meeting this morning:

  • Silence (about 5 mins)
    — Ask if anyone has anything they wanted to share out of the silence with the rest of us
  • Each person shares any worries or concerns
  • Each person shares their gratitudes
  • Someone offers a prayer for these concerns and gratitudes shared
  • Business items (opportunity for sharing key info out to the family) – During this part of our meeting we discussed family expectations for the coming weeks (for Heaven’s sake – don’t use all the toilet paper!), how things will likely shift with school and work and what that means for all of us, new things we’d like to try in the changes, discuss the morning checklist (a staple we use to help the kids be more self-guided), and re-read the tech guidelines we crafted last fall.
  • Closed with a blessing from J. Philip Newall

The blessings of heaven, 
The blessings of earth,
The blessings of sea and of sky
On those we love this day
On every human family
[And on all of God’s creation]
The gifts of heaven,
The gifts of earth,
The gifts of sea and of sky.

J Philip Newall

This little model of family meeting will be something we keep coming back to over the coming weeks and months to try and help keep some semblance of routine and organization in the family. I’d love to hear what others are doing as well.