C. Wess Daniels is an author, educator, and theologian living with his family in Greensboro, NC. This is his front porch in the internet, which means you'll find just find just about anything discussed here from theology, to teaching, ways of working, tech and everything in-between. This blog was established in 2004.
I’ve been blogging on WordPress.org since 2004 and blogging since at least 2001 (a Xanga site for those of you keeping track). Recently, I came across my old blogroll (a set of links of blogs you followed, supported, wanted to give props to), and 8 out of 10 of the link were dead. I couldn’t believe it. This is a sad state of affairs as far as I am concerned. I haven’t always been able to stay on top of blogging the way I would like, or the way I used to, but I love having this site, seeing people continue to find it helpful, and using it to share what I’m thinking about, working on, and into at the moment. Long ago I gave up the idea of making an income on my blog and the dream of having millions of hits each week. Instead, I’ve settled in, gotten comfortable with what I am able to offer here, and happy to have it as my “front porch in the Internet.”
Part of that settling in, was realizing I didn’t need to run my own self-hosted website any more, I didn’t need a server any more, and I don’t need to be doing PHP and behind-the-scenes coding. So a few weeks back I migrated from the WordPress.org self-hosted blog to WordPress.com. For those of you outside this terrain, I went from driving a manual transmission to an automatic. In this case, someone else is taking care of update software, plugins, etc. I pay for the service and I blog. At this point in my like, that works for me. Please excuse the broken links, weird formatting, etc. as I continue to work to update the site.
I hope you’ll continue to read along in the coming years. I’m not going anywhere and I’m going to continue to develop the material on this blog, opening up the themes more. I’m going to share and write about whatever you might find me talking about on my front porch, rather than limiting this to Quakerism or theology or academic topics. I have far more interests and ideas and energy and this seems like the best place to share them. In other words, I plan to go back to old school blogging.
You can subscribe to updates and get them in your email inbox anytime.
This edition of the book is updated with new material, a poem by Quaker poet Rashaun Sourles (@rashaunps), a foreward by Wes Howard-Brook, whose work I heavily draw on in my own book, and the afterword by Rev. Darryl Aaron, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, a historic African American Church here in Greensboro, NC.
The book is about the book of Revelation in the New Testament, the one so often used to predict terror, the end of the world, and wild conspiracy theories. It offers a different way into understanding what Revelation is about. If you’re someone who has avoided this book, had it used against you, or are interested in liberation theology reading of Revelation, I think you’ll be interested in Resisting Empire.
It would make for great book and small group studies and if you’re interested in having me speak about the topic in your meeting, church, or podcast hit the contact button above and I’d love to see what we can arrange.
Recently, Barberton Evangelical Friends Church in Barberton, Ohio – the first church I ever worked in – celebrated their 75th anniversary. As a token of my own love and appreciation for this community and their investment in me, I wanted to share some of my fond memories and role this community played in my early pastoral life.
In the fall of 2000, my systematic theology professor at Malone College pulled me aside after class and asked me what I planned to do after college. I told him that I had felt called to go into pastoral ministry. He said that sounded great and inquired about my current work situation. I told him that I was working at a place called the, “Flaming Pit,” which as you can imagine didn’t sound like the kind of place you’d find a nice Bible and Theology student hanging out. (The Flaming Pit was a BBQ restaurant and I was waiting tables). I didn’t make much money there because it was slow and small, but the owners were really sweet and let me eat dinner there when I worked, which I appreciated and often relied on because I was putting myself through college and needed all the support I could get.
Dr. Dymale, offered a suggestion, “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to try working at a church to see if you like pastoring?”
A thought that had never occurred to me!
This was pre-Quaker, pre-pastor Wess. I don’t honestly even know if I knew anything about Quakers at that point, and I was coming from a non-denominational church so I planned to just look for anything remotely interesting.
Shortly after this conversation with Dr. Dymale, I headed to the Bible & Theology department and opened the big Three-Ring binder that was full of job postings. Eventually, I found a listing for a youth pastor for Barberton Friends Church and called the church up. Next thing I know, I was eating pizza with Pastor Brian Cowan at the Pizza Oven (MY FAVORITE!) in Canton, Ohio. I don’t remember the specifics of that conversation, but I remember liking Brian and being offered the job either on the spot or shortly after.
I worked at Barberton from the winter of 2000 until the summer of 2003 when Emily and I moved to Pasadena, CA for grad school. In that 2.5 year timespan, I learned and grew a lot personally. I was challenged, found success and made some good relationships along the way. Best of all, I discovered I loved to pastor. Beyond these general things, a few specifics come to mind: I gave my first sermon at Barberton Friends. And by first sermon, I mean I preached for probably 50 minutes with basically all the ideas and thoughts I’d stored up for the first 22 years of my life! When I finished that inaugural sermon, Emily said to me that the sermon was more like two sermons and that she looked forward to my next one when I didn’t have 22 years of material stored up.
Besides being my first place to pastor, and my first place to preach, it was also the place where I became a convinced Friend, lingo for when I decided to become a Quaker. As a Bible and Theology student, coming out of a non-denominational church, I was not big on the idea of denominations. I sort of thought they were signs of a lack of faith, not as spiritual as the kind of church I was coming from. This is a perspective that some non-denominational churches have and it is one I picked up on, even though I doubt it was something explicitly stated. Being at Barberton Friends, was a curious place to find myself. I began reading about Friends history, I wanted to know who these people were that I was working for, what was their theology, what were they about? I had the experience of realizing in the midst of this study that I was already a Quaker, not that I wanted to be one, or hoped they’d accepted me, but that I was already a Quaker and had – in some way – always been one. I had the experience when reading the histories and theologies that “this puts language to things I’ve always felt and believed.” I doubt that my “convincement” registered much at Barberton Friends – I think it was something more personal and individual at this time for me, but something shifted that, as it turns out, would impact the rest of my life.
Out of this experience I began to look at the Evangelical Friends Church community – here I do not just mean Barberton but the many other churches and connections to Friends I gained through Malone – I was surrounded by. By becoming a Quaker I was instantaneously connected to a global family, a thought I loved and continue to love to this day.
I loved this community and could see how they had invested in me. I decided to begin the process of being recorded (Quaker Speak for something like an ordination process) by the yearly meeting there, but I also felt a growing tension between what I was reading in Quaker history texts and what I was seeing around me. Why did “Friends” today look so different from Friends in the first and second generations? What happened and why the disconnect? Are there ways to retrieve what is most important about that tradition for today? To a new Quaker with very little knowledge or understanding of the Quaker world these questions felt paramount, now I see them much better for what they were – my own seeking to find an expression of faith that closely aligned with my own understanding and experience. These issues eventually led me to grad school and to my dissertation and to what I do today.
In reflecting on all of this, and so much more – my friendship with Brian Cowan, his early support of me and guidance as I began my pastoral work, his commitment to helping people no matter the cost, and his deep faith continue to inspire me. The youth there – who are youth no more – many of them I remain in contact with and keep tabs on to this day. I cannot recognize the role of Barberton Friends enough. It is the place and the cause of my convincement. It was the beginning of my Quaker journey and a major catalyst for my questions around change and renewal and the Quaker tradition. I could not ask these questions, let alone understand them enough to begin to truly wrestle with them without first having been invited to be on the inside of this community, where I was able to learn not just what the books say, but experience how the people live these things out.
I celebrate the ongoing work of this community and pray for its vitality and faithfulness well into the future.
“The simplest definition of art is that it is the activity by which people realize their ideals…We are all artists in the sense that we are all engaged in some kind of activity by which we are realizing our ideals. What kind of ideas are you realizing? There is no neutrality here. Everybody is engaged in this activity.
Is what you are realizing worthy of you, or are you engaged in the realization of ideals of which you are ashamed, and before which you stand condemned in your own sight? Long, long ago, it was said by a very wise and understanding friend, “By their fruits ye shall know them…”
The print version, proudly published by Quaker independent publisher Barclay Press, also has new material that is not in the kindle edition: poetry from @rashaunps, foreward by biblical scholar Wes Howard Brook, and afterword by pastor Rev. Darryl Aaron of Providence Baptist Church here in Greensboro, NC.
Here is some of what Rev. Aaron and Wes Howard Brook writes:
The book of Revelation, according to C. Wess Daniels, is a resistance text for “Angelic Trouble-makers,” who must learn how to remix, understand how scapegoating functions, recognize the shaping and forming powers of liturgy, and discover the composition of the multitude…. I pastor a people who have historically been pushed to the periphery of all existence, even ontologically declared as non-human or three-fifths human. Therefore, to read the “multitude is a beautiful tapestry woven together of all humanity, with those who were lynched, those who were oppressed and victimized, at the center with the lamb. This centering of the victims and marginalized is something that is too often missed within western, white, middle-class Christianity today,” makes my soul happy. This prophetic claim of Daniels places Black people at the heart of God.
–Rev. Darryl Aaron
No other book has been as consistently and wildly misread as has John of Patmos’s visionary narrative. And yet, at the same time, no biblical book carries as much passionate power and imagery aimed at inspiring Jesus-followers to “come out” of the place of imperial violence and domination and to dwell instead in the light- and love-filled realm of God. C. Wess Daniels masterfully and clearly lays out a series of reading strategies and perspectives culled from the best of recent scholarship to invite readers into engagement with John’s vision. If you’ve been drawn to study Revelation but have been stymied as to where or how to start, you can trust Wess’s step-by-step guidance to lead you into the depth and breadth of this unique narrative.
“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”
Recently, I was listening to a podcast from OnBeing about Hannah Arendt who spoke about what she called “the banality of evil.” (“The Banality of Evil” is covered in her 1963 book about the Jerusalem trial of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann). The Ardent scholar on the podcast, Lyndsey Stonebridge, explains that the “banality of evil” is the inability to hear another voice, the inability to have a dialogue either with oneself or the imagination to have a dialogue with the world, the moral world.
The banality of evil means that we are susceptible to becoming so fused with empire and its ideology that we not only fall asleep to its ills, but we actually become an extension of it. For Arendt, this leads to passivity and alienation. This is exactly what Johns vision in the Book of Revelation is meant to warn us of and wake us up from.
Where is the Spirit inviting us to be people of the lamb that was slain in these four themes that show up in Revelation:
In relationship to enemies (do we have enemies?)
In relationship to wealth (do we manage our wealth or does it give us freedom)
In relationship to how we worship and who we worship with?
In relationship to how we build and create community, whose voices get lifted up, who is centered and cared for us.
For more information on these themes check out my new book “Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation” visit “Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance” Kindle Edition https://amzn.to/2l7OUgI
Following these presentations each night, Rev. Dr. Luke Powery, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, will be giving the sermon. This is an open event for those interested in joining us. As you can imagine, this is a great honor to me to be invited to share with the Providence community and I look forward to the opportunity.
I’ve been reflecting on the passage from the Gospel of Luke 12:35ff this week where Jesus says the words,
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks… You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
I am particularly drawn to the line, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit,” and am trying to meditate on what it means to put this into practice.
One of the standards interpretations of this text goes one of two ways: either it is about the end times or it is about one’s own death. “Be ready at any moment, God could take you home.” Or, “You better get your act together, Christ could return at any moment the end of the world will ensue.” Both of these readings are rooted in a fear-based vision of God, and I don’t find either particularly helpful or compelling for my own spiritual growth and reflection about how to live now. I don’t believe this is text about being afraid of God returning and catching us doing something we’re not supposed to, nor do I think we ought to live in fear of having our lives taken from us at any moment.
I think the point is much more simple: pay attention, stay awake, the Son of Man can visit you in and through all kinds of situations, people, and experiences and you don’t want to miss it.
It reminds me of the passage in Hebrews, “you may be entertaining angels unaware,” or the passage in Matthew “When did we serve you, Lord?”
Just this past week while on a motorcycle ride, my friend who I was traveling with was hit by a car. We were headed to the Blue Ridge where we planned to ride into the Maggie Valley. We got on to a very curvy road with many difficult turns, but one in particular turn had a blindspot. From what I can tell, he misjudged the turn, drifted over the yellow line, and was his by an oncoming car coming around the corner. He was thrown from his bike and got his hand trapped underneath the car that hit him. The driver of the car had to back the car up to get him free. I was riding behind him, watching the whole thing happen.
As you can imagine, this was a scary scene. Thankfully, my buddy was able to get back up on his feet pretty quickly after the accident so we could get him off the road. While he was in an extreme amount of pain, he was able to stand up! Before long the ambulance was there, along with the Fire Department, and an officer from the Highway Patrol. Many people stopped to help direct traffic, check on us, and offer help.
What I learned later: there had been three motorcycle deaths at the very corner in the past 2-3 years. I noticed sometime after the accident that fifteen feet from where my friend’s bike laid in ruin stood a small cross with the name of a young person who died there just two years ago. When I saw that, I remembered right after the accident there a was a man who said his name was Joey, helping direct traffic and make sure that everyone on the side of the road was safe. He told me his son died on a motorcycle on this turn 2 years ago. Shortly after speaking with Joey he left. Afterward, looking back down at the cross wrapped in wreaths of flowers, it said that the motorcyclist died in 2017.
Thinking about this experience, I could read this text from Luke in light of either interpretation above, but it was far more useful for me to be ready and aware in the moments following the accident. I kept reminding myself in those moments to pay attention, make sure everyone was safe and okay, be a calming presence, keep checking in on people. Now, many days after the accident, talking with my friend and hearing of his recovery (he had no broken bones but suffered plenty of bruising and swelling), I look at the grace that covered us that day. I know exactly what could have happened, and what has happened to others. And I see how “lucky” we were, how many people were there to help us, and all of the things that went right in the face of this trauma. As I look back on that day, I see so many moments in which “The Son of Man” was among us.
As I start my fifth year at Guilford College, I know that especially right now as school is just about to start, it is hard to remain present, be aware. It is so easygoing get into a rush and stop listening to the Inward Teacher. When this happens, I begin to drift. I want to be both graceful with myself when I fail to be ready with a lit lamp, but I also don’t want to stop practicing. Being aware, “dressed for action with my lamp lit,” means to me to have a practice of deep inward listening, and authentic, patient response. It means paying attention and taking the advice to “notice what you notice.” It reminds me of the works of Parker Palmer:
Every time we get in touch with the truth source we carry within, there is net moral gain for all concerned. Even if we fail to follow its guidance fully, we are nudged a bit further in that direction. And the next time we are conflicted between inner truth and outer reality, it becomes harder to forget or deny that we have an inner teacher who want to lay a claim on our lives. -A Hidden Wholeness (P.19)
Questions for Reflection:
I wonder for you what helps you to be ready, centered, and aware at a moments notice?
What can you put in place in your own practice to help you have your lamp lit at all times?
Are you aware of what it feels like to be in touch with the source of truth within?