May 8, 2006

Following the Beast

In these Easter days we read from the book of Revelation in the Office of Readings. We're in chapter 13 right now, and the great Beast has appeared. The "whole earth" follows the Beast "with wonder." They say, "who is like the Beast, and who can fight against it?"

Who is the Beast? For John the Seer's first readers it was probably the power of the Roman empire. But for us it is those same imperious forces of oppression and control, remaining with us in new forms. It is the selfishness and violence that emerges from the human heart and explodes into the great wars and occupations and genocides all around us. It is that cluster of pride, lust, and selfishness that Christian technical jargon calls the "world."

And the Beast speaks and calls his followers. He transmits his values through television, through the media, through education. And we follow because to follow the Beast seems like the only game in town. And as Revelation tells us, only those with the mark of the beast were allowed to buy and sell. Then, as now, economic security is bought at the price of accepting the values of the world.

There is another voice, however. The Word of God is spoken in the silence of the human heart. It is the very illumination of the human mind, the atmosphere of its genuine discernment. But God's voice is quiet, however, and easy to miss amid all of the noise and distraction that the Beast causes in the world. It is a humble and patient voice, compared to the proud voice of the Beast, always demanding instant action and gratification.

We've all had the experience of realizing that the loudest person in the room is not necessarily the one worth listening to.

And this is what Gil Scott-Heron meant in his famous poem The Revolution will not be Televised. It's often quoted wrongly, but if the poet is understood we realize that the real revolution couldn't possibly be televised.

The real revolution, the one that will change the world, is when "you change your mind about you look at things." And this will always be unavailable to television or to any of the Beast's voice-boxes, because it happens in the secret, inner place where God's Word meets the human person. And that's the mystery we call Jesus Christ.

No comments: