Monday, October 3, 2016


(a meditation on a painting by Morgan Monceaux)
by Duane Clinker

(The Book of Revelation is one of the strangest writings in the collection of books we call The Bible.  Recently, artist Morgan Monceaux has begun to exhibit a large collection of paintings that interpret many Biblical writings, including the images in the Book of Revelation.  This is a meditation on Revelation as enlightened and reinforced by this painter.  You may wish to visit the body of Monceaux's work at his Exegesis page at

The Struggle

By the end of the first century in Judea, the followers of Jesus were preaching a gospel of love and community which contradicted the greed, militarism, and empire-worship of the Roman empire.  Rome saw this practice of militant love as a threat, and the Christians soon faced waves of repression from various emperors of Rome.  Christians were put to death for refusing military service, hated for their inclusion of all regardless of sex or race or class, fed to wild beasts for the entertainment of the masses, and worse.  This is the context for the last book in the Bible, “The Revelation of St. John.”  

It is a strange book.  It is both a symbolic attack on empire and a call to the faithful to hold on in hard times.  It is written in coded story because it was (and is) dangerous to speak directly against the state.  But when John writes his visions of the falling stars, a great red dragon, the great Beast, an earth wracked with ecological ruin, and the “fall of Babylon” all pitted against “The Lamb,” his readers know of what he speaks.

The Real Issue at Hand

In recent times, fundamentalists have treated these visions as a kind of secret calendar of the future.  My own minister grandfather laboriously drew out the images of Revelation as a precise time-chart on a gigantic white tablecloth, as if the whole purpose of the book was to know exactly came next, rather than an invitation to participate in the on-going struggle of history.

We are far from John’s time and context, and won’t understand the meaning of all the symbols.  But we may recognize in them the empires of this world that they describe,  those things are with us still, and the struggle continues.  We may feel in our bones the descriptions of those strange beasts and dragons and trumpet blasts, catch whiffs of them in the daily news, and know in our own souls how it feels now to be caught in a world of greed and violence that tears apart our world.  

We may even hear in the drama of John, his gospel invitation to join and to be counted  in the struggle to love and resist in times that feel like the end of times.  

The visions of Revelation link the process of time with great cosmic battles “in the heavens.”  That spiritual war is connected and in conflict with our own lives and time.   

We feel it.  And even though we can’t always explain it, those of us who have experienced violence and oppression, racism and hatred, and the utter deadness of the consumption offered to us by the empires of capital, know what these strange beasts and dragons described by John can do to us - and to the earth.  

John is describing the ultimate struggle of creation between roads of death and those of life.

Both ways are present.  The battle line between them snakes through the world.  That battle line doesn’t put the good all on one side and the bad all on the other side of national, racial, gender, or even religious lines.  Instead, the struggle winds through all societies and right through our own souls as well.  It forces each of us us to go along with “the Beast,” or to choose another way.  

Here and now, sometimes we can’t explain it any better than John, nor picture it any better than Morgan Monceaux in the images of cosmic conflict in Revelation.  The whole earth shakes as if under the weight of a great red dragon.  There is a woman in labor, and a child almost eaten by the evil one, and there is a great Beast and plagues and cups of wrath and so much more.  Back and forth the battle rages over the direction that all of creation shall ultimately take.  

We, like Morgan are drawn in - by the images and by our own life situations. 

The Invitation

In the swirling colors of Morgan’s scene of the rider, are key symbols and story lines of John, especially the coming of Jesus in power as the Babylon empires finally (and suddenly) fall, weighted down by their lust for power and gold, oblivious to the needs of either humans or the planet itself.  The red dragon, the spiritual protector of evil is finally slain and puddled as blood, undone by the sword of truth in the hands of the Lamb, and by the faithfulness and witness of those who refused to surrender to greed and violence.  The earth itself shakes, and the stars of heaven will rearrange themselves as a whole new world steps finally on the stage.

Morgan Monceaux captures this and invites us into the story.  The one on the horse is Jesus, the Lamb, whose own robes have been stained with blood, and whose “hair is like wool and whose eyes are like fire.”  (Revelation 1:14).  We see him.  We sense him.  We may turn away, or welcome him in joining in the new creation coming.

But beware.  This is anything but a call to short-term comfort.    And “the arc of history is long,” as a prophet close to our own time has said, “but it bends toward justice!

At the end, this is the gospel.  It is not a time-chart or a watch.  Its stories always bear the context from which they emerged, but they also tend to cut us in two like a sharp two-edged sword and speak to our own lives and times.  

It is the new creation itself that struggles to be born within and among us.  We are called to midwifery and as the Apostle Paul writes,  “the whole world groans as a woman in labor.”   God has not created us and left us to petty dogmas, but has instead made us, and called us to join in the final process of time - to militant and patient Love - in the creation of another kind of world.

dc 9/2016

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Revolutionary Sparks for Discussion

Cornel West on:
Why There Is a Serious Danger of 
a Right-Wing Revolution in the US

"Political campaigns are not social movements. Even great campaigns like those of Jackson in the 80s, Obama in the recent past or Sanders today are not social movements. We must distinguish between social momentums, social rebellions and social movements. Given the massive national security state and the pervasive carceral (note: “imprisoning” as in “in-carceration”) state, social movements are rare – past, present and future. The American Empire is more ripe for a counter-revolution than revolution, for right-wing movements than left-wing ones. This is so primarily because of the deep xenophobic roots in the country and profound militaristic sentiments in the culture. Hence, progressive social momentums and chaotic social rebellions are more likely to reshape our priorities and gain some concessions from greedy elites and callous citizens. This is why moral and spiritual dimensions of social activism are crucial – to sustain our will to fight inside and outside the system with little chance of immediate victory!"

From Interview by George Souvlis, in

Annotated and text emphasis by Duane Clinker

Friday, March 25, 2016


an apology for faith in love
by Duane Clinker

Good Friday, 2016

Someone died for me today.  

Because it is “Good Friday,” the day Christians remember the crucifixion of Christ, I know some of you may jump to the conclusion that I am talking about the idea that Jesus came to die because an angry “Father God” demanded the suffering of his ”only Son,” as some kind of weird blood sacrifice, otherwise God would throw the whole lot of us humans into a burning eternal hell - instead of only some of us.  

I don’t believe that. 

I’m talking about something a little different.  

It has to do with the nature of the world and the force of evolving creation, and with mystery and connection in that cosmos.  I think a kind of Love is at the essence of this, working itself out in things as a moving force in what we call history.  This Love has a kind of presence and transcendent power that we all experience at times - or yearn for.  It is this thing that I and people like me mean when they say, “God.”  

“God” is not a puppet master

This force not a big old (angry) Man god in the sky, nor does it have some kind of magic wand of power.  The creative energy that pushes and pulls forth the cosmos isn’t All Powerful and Instantaneous in the way we have been taught to think.  It doesn’t have that kind of power.  It doesn’t work in that kind of way, and its not that kind of God.  Creation takes time, struggle, and risk.  The force that animates it doesn’t just snap its fingers and make things so.  It’s more messy than that - a lot more messy.  

It means that, while God is present in Love, not everything that happens in our daily lives is “God’s plan.”   Some of it is the necessary struggle of on-going creation.  Some of it is “our plan” and not Love's will.  Lots of it seems to be what the powers-that-be like to call “collateral damage.”

It’s a Contradiction. 

On the one hand:  

In this life we sense things that seem simply too wonderful to be meaningless.  Sometimes we are simply and suddenly caught up by the fact that we are alive and that something exists instead of nothing.  

The sky is too beautiful.  The baby is too amazing.  There is something about the way the ocean moves, and the translucent color in the tip of a wave as it breaks.  There is that first moment between a couple, or that moment after many years, when the only appropriate response is  still “Oh God!”  There are sometimes the solitary moments of deep peace.  

And especially, and always there are the faint tracings of the trails left by those who walked in Love long ago.  

In all of these things and more we are overcome by awe and fearful wonder.  This is a feeling that a Biblical writer once described as “the beginning of wisdom.”  

On the other hand:  

We experience suffering and loss, intense bondage and injustice, brokenness and death of every kind.  We experience horror and anger and guilt.  It often seems so frustrating and futile - like change can never come and like we are a people without any power or hope at all.  

What is going on here?   What kind of a world is this?

We should not be too surprised at these contradictions, except that a lot of our most popular theologies and philosophies, have left us unprepared put it into words.  We need to listen to our own experience.

Our lives tell us that creation and love seem to require pain and profound risk.  Ask the mother in labor if creative power is without pain.  Ask the artist.  Ask the animal dying as food for another.  

The world is not a puppet show.  Not every plan or event or accident is scripted.  (Nor is that, on balance, what the ancient scriptures seem to teach).  Even the best ideas about life and Love are more like the needle of a compass that points the way to a distant horizon, instead of a map telling you exactly how to get around that flooding river or the mountain beyond. Things could go badly.  

On-going creation is a struggle to which we are invited

The battle against oppression and injustice is real.  The struggle of life and creation is a working out of things.  This is the story we are caught up in.  And it happens in both a spaces too big and spaces too small for us to see or even to imagine.  It happens in, and is affected by, our time, right now.  But it also happens in a cosmic time beyond time.  Dr. King called it a kind  of direction or bend toward justice in the “arc of the universe.”

It is beyond full understanding, yet we can sense its direction.  We hunger for it .  We can hear a note or two of its music.  

It is a painful, wonderful, risky and fearful process, especially because the God-force is not working by itself.  It invites us into the process.  It is working through us, and through all life and forms.  

We are invited to become conscious participants in this work of Love.  But, we can also abandon it, delay its work and sabotage it.   We can live for the personal buzz only.  We can join the forces of injustice and cold death themselves.  We can turn our backs on universal Love and choose to serve only our tribe, our nation, or even our species as if it represented all that was good in life and was unconnected to anything else.  

The future of Love’s process in some way depends on what we decide to do, and how we decide to live.  Well then, “What does the Lord require?”  The prophet Micah writes, “Do justice,” he writes, “Love mercy.  Walk in humility - with “God.”

Is this even possible?  How can we possibly be so empowered by Love that we can break free of our chains and participate in the process of creation in a positive way?

That’s what I ask myself.  And, just when I’m about to despair, something like Good Friday and Easter rolls around again.

I remember that I, myself, have been loved.

We are not without hope and Love is not without its power.  Someone has died for us.  


If we believe nothing about Jesus except what his opponents wrote of him in multiple historical sources, then we know this:  He was a Jew living under the crushing bondage of an empire, which ruled by greed, war, and the actions of various puppet kings and councils.  We also know Jesus had followers and that he as found and arrested in Jerusalem during his tribe’s Passover celebration as they remember their deliverance from a previous oppressor.   We also know he was arrested, tortured and executed in a way reserved for revolutionaries who challenged imperial rule, (like tens of thousands of others).  

And we know this from the testimony of his followers and later history:  He was warned that the authorities were intent on arresting him if he showed up in the city.  He went anyway.  He and his followers engaged in street and temple actions calling for liberation.  During the Passover meal itself he sensed that one or more of the followers would betray him.  He still stayed to teach and train and be with them anyway.  

After his death, instead of being crushed as the empire expected, his followers actually grew and spread his words and actions throughout the empire.  They spoke brutally of death, but also of a kind of resurrection powered by Love.  In those first years they often seemed to lose every sense of class bondage and they shared what they had.  Many followers suffered similar fates as he, but they kept on as if something was burning now that could not be extinguished by swords or crosses or personal affliction.  And, as foolish as it sounded, they testified, and acted like they were still experiencing this Jesus as a living presence; as if they knew that history could change and that nothing could separate humankind from this kind of Love.

It was as if they had seen, in the vulnerability of God, a kind of God who was with us in the pain of creation, ain the contradiction of life, as a kind of answer that involved human action in the direction of the universal Love that creation had loosed.  

But as for me, I lose it a lot.  I forget.  I stumble.  I sometimes feel helpless even with the help of family and friends.

But on a day like today, I remember.

I wonder of him as he faced arrest.  I wonder of him in the last moments of his consciousness hanging on that crossed instrument of terror as he destroyed its power.  Was he in some tiny way he thinking of someone in the future like me; like us, being given the strength to love in these dark times?  

In a season like this, and against all reason, it sometimes feels that way.  

Like what he did, (along with others), gives us power to do what we need to do.  Like we’ve been given a gift.  Like we’ve been given grace to start over again.  

Like the light that shown in the darkness has never been completely snuffed.  

Like someone loves us that much.

It feels personal.

Someone died for me today and it changes everything.


Monday, February 1, 2016


I believe Bernie Sanders will win tonight in Iowa. 

In any case, his rise to contend is already a a victory.  This is astounding to the media, but not so much for long-time radicals who still live somewhat close to the ground.  The America of “freedom and justice for all,” that which most of us hoped for, long ago became an empire-creature, willing to destroy its own people to maintain the profits of the few, crushing multitudes here and around the world.

Bernie Sanders is not the real hope.  But Bernie’s willingness to take the risk of openly pointing to some of the greatest of the abuses pushed on the American people, and to the failure of the Democratic leaders to grapple with them, is breaking open a different kind of discussion among the American people.  

Here’s the thing that some in “the left” miss.  Its not about the purity of the candidate.  Bernie in many, many ways is part of the establishment.  Fundamental social change is beyond the power of any one person, even a President.  The system we are now locked into is too big and entrenched.  Bernie is not pure either, but even if he were this is not a one person job and he is not our Savior.  But. . . that simply is not the issue for this moment I think.

The power of the Sanders movement is not its purity, (although it is better in that regard than anything seen in at least half a century), but it power is in what the campaign may crack-open.  

Once the multitude, who have busy just trying to survive in one way or another, and who have largely abandoned hope in anything good coming from politics, stop; once they think that it might be possible for politics to actually serve the common good, (and by the “common good” I mean that all might have quality health care, survive in dignity in old age, send qualified children to college without providing tens of thousands of dollars to the profit of the lending class; that all including people of color, dissenters, and young of any group, might be treated fairly by law enforcement; once these things are realized and fully grasped, then it becomes a very, very different day in America.

That why the Sanders thing is becoming so important.  I for one am not surprised Sanders is on the verge of actual victories.  But it is not just about the candidate, but what the candidate may unleash and embolden that must be affirmed.  A strong movement won’t happen without vision and hope.  Being in a room with thousands beginning (again) to demand justice for all  -really - is a good place to be.  It is a starting place.  

May the barriers to thought and action fall.  Or as Bruce Cockburn sings, may we “kick at the wall until it bleed day light!”

Duane Clinker