Newlywed Reflections on Revelation

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“I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.” Revelation 21:2 (The Message)

The earrings dangle from my ears, pierced through once-closed holes by my soon-to-be sister-in-law. The old, golden necklace hangs from my neck, its ornament matching the one on my earlobe. The engagement ring, once a trinket of my soon-to-be husband’s great grandmother, rests quietly on my finger, anxiously awaiting its partner. The bodice and Spanx hug my body, sucking everything in, hopefully in a not-too obvious way. The headpiece pinned onto my head sparkles in the afternoon light with its golden bangles, and the veil is tucked neatly into the mountain of bobby-pinned curls. My eyelashes are darkened by touches of mascara. The eyeliner and pink eye shadow bring out my dark eyes. The pink lip gloss brightens my lips. Everything here highlights what is already there naturally instead of hiding it all away or making it into something it’s not.

The large bouquet is composed of home-grown wheat and flowers plucked from the shelves of Michael’s. The lace dress with matching sleeves to mask the fact that it used to be strapless is simple but elegant, if I may say so myself. A bustle hides behind the gown so I can lift it up to dance the night away, and I will kick the golden wedges on my feet off the moment pictures are done.

It’s not a resplendent get-up. But damn, do I look beautiful. And for once in my life, I feel ready.

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“One of the Seven Angels who had carried the bowls filled with the seven final disasters spoke to me: “Come here. I’ll show you the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.”” Revelation 21:9

The harbinger of death, destruction, and apocalypse suddenly becomes the doting parent of the bride.

Both of my parents attended and played significant roles in our wedding. Mom walked me down the aisle, and Baba prayed a blessing over me and my husband. While both of them are in my life right now, Baba insisted that my mother be the one to, for lack of a better phrase, “give me away.” She raised me, after all. I know it. She knows it. Baba knows it. The whole family knows.

It was she who walked me down the aisle as she has walked with me my entire life. It was she who took my hand out of hers and placed into the waiting hand of my husband, symbolizing a transfer from one family and one partner to another. She kissed our cheeks and told us she loved us, welcoming her son-in-law as her own and leaving me behind to make a new life with another instead of her. She went to her seat and watched us exchange our vows and promises to one another, and she came back up the aisle alone.

For years, it was me and Mom against the world. It was our home that sheltered, nourished, and emboldened me to make my own. It was us that weathered apocalypses together, who stared into dark secrets uncovered in our lives, saw the people we loved exposed in true form for better or worse, saw dreams die and new ones born, grappled with fears and insecurities and lived into our strengths. We weathered the despairs and joys together.

And that day, she put my hand in Bryce’s as a way to say, “Go, and do likewise.”

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“Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making God’s home with people! They’re God’s people, God’s their God. God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

I can’t imagine something new coming into the world without tears spilling or laughter bursting.

I didn’t cry on our wedding day. I don’t cry when I’m overwhelmed by joy.

I laugh.

I giggle.

I grin my wide, toothy, ridiculous grin that distorts my face and drives my husband wild with happiness.

My husband cries.

When our friend Makayla read a poem, his lips quivered and his eyes watered, but they never broke contact with mine. As he began saying his vows to me, his voice broke as a sob escaped and he struggled to maintain composure as he got the rest of the words out.

It was my giggles and his sobs that ushered in our union and brought us into the world together.

Will it really be like this when God’s Kin-dom comes?

Is that why we stand when the bride walks down the aisle? To see her into this new world, this new life with her greatest love and joy?

Is that why we cry and laugh and spend so much time, money, and effort on marking these occasions?

Maybe so.

All I know is, if that day brings half of the peace, joy, and overwhelming love we felt on October 14th, we might really be in Paradise again.

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Our vows:

“I, (name), do solemnly swear:

To honor and be faithful to you as your husband/wife, partner, and best friend,

To love and embrace you in times of joy and struggle, 

And as we learn and grow together, 

To stand behind you as your support, in front of you as your leader, and by your side as your equal,

As long as we walk this earth.”

Fangirl Theology: Apocalypse Survival Guide, According to Buffy

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After the election, I began re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Because the world around me felt so apocalyptic, and she seemed to be the best one to handle such a situation.

I mean “apocalyptic” in every sense of the word. I mean it in that it feels like the world around me is about to change significantly, or even end as I know it. But mostly, I say “apocalyptic” because of what this election season has uncovered and revealed.

That’s the real meaning of apocalypse in Greek: “to uncover/to reveal.” If you think about it for a moment, it makes complete sense that this is the word we would also use to describe world-altering/ending events.

Look at what is uncovered when the world starts shifting and the dust is shaken off. We see the cracks in our systems and how they are closer to toppling over than we expected. We notice the people upon whose backs those systems were built, the ones who have always known the truth about how the world works, but we have been too preoccupied and privileged to notice. We see the darkness which permeates it all, and it is frightening.

Apocalypse is not a new cultural phenomenon. We see it in everything from The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner to The Walking Dead. It’s as if something in our collective psyche has sensed this cosmic shift just waiting to happen, and our imaginations ran with it.

Here we are, on the cusp, perhaps already falling over, and I am looking for everything to hold onto.

Enter Buffy, the Queen of Apocalypses. (The plural is necessary)

In season one, Buffy resists the Master, an ancient vampire who seeks to rule the human world, and after dying briefly at his hands, Buffy destroys him. In season two, Buffy’s beau Angel loses his soul, tries to destroy her life AND the world, and she has to avert the damage by killing him (after he becomes good again). In season three, the town mayor turns into an all-powerful, giant demon snake on graduation day to usher in a new world order before Buffy’s gang and the senior class blow him up. Season four sees the gang taking down a corrupt government organization whose creation tries to create monster-human hybrids, season five sees the gang battling a chaos-seeking god, season six tackles the apocalyptic desires of regular humans and Buffy’s own friend, and season seven concludes the series with a final confrontation with the First Evil.

And those are just the season finales.

So when things feel apocalyptic, I turn to Buffy, because she knows how to handle these situations. Apocalypses don’t break her but push her into leadership. They turn some of her enemies into reluctant heroes and make heroes out of her “ordinary” friends. In Buffy, as in life, apocalypses have the capacity to unbalance power. They can enable people in power to grab more of it, or give the underprivileged and marginalized a chance to finally have a taste of it. Buffy and her gang work hard to make sure the power stays out of the hands of those who would do great harm with it and instead put it in the hands of those deemed less worthy.

This is part of God’s story, too. In the Revelation from John, apocalyptic imagination runs wild. There’s fantastic imagery and symbols, which represent the corruption of empire, the oppression of others, and the love of God finally putting this evil to rest. There is an ushering out of the old ways of power to give cataclysmic birth to a new way of life. This final “uncovering” reveals the powers of the world as they are, in all of their atrocities and corruption, and the revealing of the world as it was meant to be, ruled by God through Jesus, with restored communion and relationship, and tears wiped away. This is the day when heaven comes to earth, and evil is forever banished from it.

So what do we do when it seems like the Hellmouth has opened, and demons are spewing out?

What do we do with a promise for all weeping to cease when we can’t stop the tears from flowing night and day?

That’s what we’re grappling with now. For those of us who have had the blind removed from our eyes and the carpet pulled out from under, the initial revelation is shocking and horrifying. When we see, as Richard Rohr describes it, that “[our] leaders…mirror what we have become as a nation. They are our shadow self for all to see,” the sight is not a pretty one. It is a terror, perhaps the kind which God described to Jeremiah when foretelling Jerusalem’s destruction, a terror repulsive to the world but to which a majority of the citizens remained blind.

Apocalypses render the world bare. They wipe the collective slate clean. Things can begin anew. These are times for pain, despair, trial, resistance, upheaval, and change, all to make way for a new way of life, closer to the way it was meant to be.

So now, with the Hellmouth open and an apocalypse underway, we continue to do Buffy’s work.

We live as Slayers and Scoobies in this apocalyptic age. We resist, uncover, and unmask evil and corrupt systems to reveal what they are to the world. We resist by protesting, creating art, being with people on the margins and offering them our encouragement, listening ears, and assistance in their movements. We start bringing about the final revelation every day.

Apocalypses happen, more often than we realize and more often than we may want. But they give us opportunities: to upset structures, to usher in a new and more just era, to take power from the powerful and give it to the disenfranchised.

Let’s do this.

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Now What?

SPOILERS for anyone who somehow hasn’t finished the entire Harry Potter series yet. If you haven’t, please get on that. You’re missing out.

Harry Potter was my gateway drug to geekdom. Before I knew what fandom was and before I could even admit that I liked fantasy, I fell head over heels for JK Rowling’s Wizarding World.

I can’t remember exactly when I started reading the books or from whom I got the first one. I do know that when the first movie was announced, I was 4 books in and madly in love with Daniel Radcliffe.

And I definitely remember attending the midnight release of the very last movie: Deathly Hallows Part 2.

I went with Bryce and my college friend Betty. We stood in line, me with my Dumbledore’s Army T-shirt, Betty in her plain white T with a Hogwarts crest stitched on, and Bryce with his wizard’s hat. A photographer snapped a photo of us in the long line from the theater balcony, and we made it in the local newspaper.

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I remember the excitement and dread at the thought of this being the end. I remember cheering when Ron and Hermione kissed and when Neville killed Nagini the snake. I remember being disappointed in the portrayal of the final battle between Harry and Voldemort and the lack of Dumbledore’s story. I remember smiling through (possibly) teary eyes when grown up Harry, Ron, and Hermione watched their own children roll away from them on the Hogwarts Express. But most of all, I remember the film ending, holding Bryce’s hand in the stillness that comes with the blank screen just before the credits begin to roll, and thinking to myself, “Now what?”

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After spending so much time with Harry and his friends, in their lives and adventures, I felt a jolt as the screen went blank and the lights came up, blinding in their harsh reminder that story time was over, and the world was waiting for me to go back.

And from the blank screen through the car ride home and even while I drifted off to sleep that same evening, I asked myself a number of questions:

What happens next? Do the characters really live happily ever after? Will more troubles befall them? How do I go back to reality? What did this story teach me about life and the world around me?

Isn’t this what stories are supposed to do? Not simply entertain and remove us from the world, but to put us back into reality with a new perspective and lots of questions? Isn’t that what good stories do to us?

The Old and New Testaments have similar endings which, if read well, simultaneously unsettle and excite us. 2 Chronicles, the last book in the Hebrew Bible, ends with King Cyrus’ cliffhanger order for the Jews to return home to Israel. John’s Revelation at the end of the New Testament offers us a vision of the future, in which the powers of darkness are defeated, and we are invited into the new kingdom to dwell with God.

Both endings inspire hope and wonder in their readers. What will happen when the Jews return from exile? Will they renew the covenant with God only to break it again, or will they remain faithful? Are a new heaven and a new earth really possible, and when will they happen?

Then when we look at the world as it is, and we feel another jolt.

After we close our Bibles, we see that heaven and earth are as separate as ever, and we are still in exile. 

After we close Deathly Hallows when Harry says, “All was well,” we return to the world around us, where things may or may not all be well. 

We finish hearing or watching the story, but the story is not finished with us. And we may ask, “Now what?”

What do we do with a proclamation of returning home when we are still in exile? What do we do with the promise of a new heaven and new earth in a broken, bleeding world? What do we do after the evil lord is defeated in one story but others loom large in the lives of others?

Sometimes, these questions push me to love God and others with a renewed fervor, hoping that through these efforts, the exile will end, and the world will get better. Other days, these questions overwhelm me and make me want to retreat or join the “bad guys,” who seems to have more efficient ways of getting things done. Either way, the stories are not finished with me, nor am I finished with them. 

Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be for now.