I’ve just come from a great annual physical. I’m rejoicing in the low pressure (100/52 — I’m almost comatose) — and the loss of a whole pound. I go into the Dairy Queen for a cheese chilidog. I know I’m not supposed to — fast food, fake cheese, a hot dog, chili, and all that — but I do. One little cheese chilidog won’t kill me!
I’m alone. I place my order — two cheese chilidogs — and go to a booth. The only thing to read is some kind of poor excuse for a newspaper, something called “Tidbits.” It’s mostly ads: a “Gun and Knife Show”; another Gun and Knife Show; “Want an Income, Not Just a Paycheck? Call this number to find out — no risk to you or your family”; “Junkers Wanted, Cash Paid for Most.” Clearly, folks are hurting.
Then I see a little ad tucked in among the others: “The Seventh Day is the Sabbath, Exodus 20:8-11. The beast thinks to change it.” There are biblical references to the Book of Daniel and Revelations. “Avoid the mark of the beast, live eternally. PO Box, Bearcreek, Alabama” — and I’m more than a little POed.
Nothing gets my dander up more than the misuse of Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Whoever placed this ad knows how to scare people to death, but they don’t know the Scriptures. Anyone who has studied Scripture knows there is no Book called Revelations in the Bible. There is the Book of Revelation, but there is no Book of Revelations.
Gun shows and ‘no-risk’ income
“If you haven’t spent enough time with the book to get the title right …,” I think. Then it strikes me that when fear takes over, we don’t spend time to get it right, and it’s no coincidence that the ad to “Avoid the mark of the beast, live eternally” is right there in the middle of the other appeals to the pervasive fear and insecurity of our time: Gun and Knife Shows; get an income instead of a paycheck with no risk to you or your family; Junkers wanted, cash paid for most.
Oh, here’s another ad inviting me to an “Open House at The Pain & Brain Healing Center.” I think to myself: “I should write the people in Bearcreek and invite them!” But now I’m suddenly ashamed of myself for being a smart-aleck, an elitist looking down my nose at those who don’t know that the name of the biblical book they claim to represent. “And I’m supposed to be a pastor!”
“Who am I to judge?” I ask, in a rare moment of Christian charity, feeling guilty and condemning myself for my elitist pride. “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” “Before removing the speck from your neighbor’s eye, take the log out of your own.” I need to be kinder, more loving, more understanding, not judgmental.
I read the ad one more time and all that guilt and Christian charity go out the window as suddenly as they came in.
“Why shouldn’t I be upset when ignorance thinks it’s knowledge, stupidity parades as wisdom, spiritual terrorism dressed itself up as an invitation to eternal life.” Not only does whoever placed the ad I’m reading not know the name of the book they purport to know; they have not a clue that the beast in the Book of Daniel was Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Dynasty, whose conquering, occupying armed forces sought to destroy the religion and culture of its Jewish inhabitants, or that in the Book of Revelation it was Caesar and the Roman Empire at the end of the 1st Century C.E. The helmets of the Roman Tenth Fretensis, the Legion that occupied Jerusalem after the Roman-Jewish War in 70 C.E., on their helmets, their shields, and their barracks the image of a wild boar — a symbol of humiliation to a conquered people.
The beasts of war, subjugation
The beasts in Daniel and in Revelation were different, yet they are the same. In neither case was the author reading tarot cards or making 21st century predictions from a fortune-teller’s crystal ball. I want to place an ad in Tidbits to let people at Dairy Queen know that the beast in biblical times and in ours is the same. It’s the beast of nationalist imperial ambition, the beast of colonial occupation, the subjugation of one people by another, the beast of war and conquering armies, the beast of empire. The way of faith, as Daniel and the author of Revelation understood it, is to live differently. We turn our backs on that beastly way of living and participate in the way of eternal life.
I think I’ll go back to the doctor’s — or maybe to the Pain & Brain Healing Center to retake my blood pressure. Then, maybe, when I calm down, I’ll send a kindly letter to the PO Box in Alabama with a copy to Glenn Beck suggesting they get the name of the book right before they tell others what it says. In the meantime I’ll ask for forgiveness for being a snob and for guidance to know when, if ever, to let nincompoops ruin a two-cheese-chilidog celebration.
The Rev. Gordon C. Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska. He is the moderator of Shepherd of the Hill Dialogues and former executive director of the Legal Rights Center. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent the views of anyone else.