Anything but Lukewarm

I’m good-weird, my kids tell me. It’s a word they created. I’ve explained to them that weird can be a positive trait, rather than an adjective used to reject something or someone. They turned my description back on me, and I ham it up and act the part. I sing at random moments. I make up incomprehensible raps in the car, which somehow always end in family giggling. I’m obsessed with books, and the boys are not too young to know that they are super nerdy books, like commentaries on the book of Revelation. I’m convinced that the more we live into God’s True Self in us, the more “good-weird” we become, because the more we simply become who we are.

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” —Revelation 3:15–16

John of Patmos writes to the seventh of seven churches across Asia Minor (ancient Turkey), this time to a well-off Roman administrative center called Laodicea. To be more precise, John of Patmos has been writing in the voice of the Cosmic Christ speaking to angels of seven churches, who are intended to receive the message on behalf of the congregations. (Here’s an article I wrote on angels and the strangeness of the universe). The message Christ has for the Laodiceans is graphic and challenging, and it boils down to this: Be different! Be “good-weird” from the surrounding culture! Stand up for something!

The hot or cold liquid imagery is taken from banqueting practices of the time. I grew up listening to an evangelical praise song that asked God to “Light the Fire Again,” presuming that becoming hot for God was the goal. Christ here seems to think either hot or cold is advantageous; what matters is, at all costs, not to be lukewarm. Apparently, this magisterial commentary tells me, a well-off, hospitable banquet host in Roman imperial cities would likely have hot and cold water available to mix with wine. Giving guests options to fix their drinks was one way to do keep your guests happy. Surely on the wildest occasions, there would be revelers who went overboard and vomited due to excessive food and drink; the image here, though, is Christ as a disgusted banquet-attendee throwing up after drinking lukewarm wine. Neither hot nor cold.

“I know your works” is one of the phrases that the Cosmic Christ repeats to multiple congregations. To the Jesus-followers in Thyatira, Christ says (2:19), “I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance” (best translated as nonviolent resistance). This gives us a sense of what Christ is looking for in the churches: love and devotion to God and other people, faith that God’s love will ultimately be victorious over Rome’s power, service to those most in need, and determined nonviolent resistance to systems that persuade us that the above is not true or worthwhile.

The problem seems to be the Laodiceans privileged complacency: “For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” (Revelation 3:17). Wealth, fullness, and distance from those most suffering breed indifference. It’s easy to forget about the undocumented in the United States, or the homeless, or those frigid in Texas (Dan Rather is writing his Substack newsletter without power), if you are a white and warm citizen living in a house. It’s easy to ignore one’s spiritual dimension if one is rich, has prospered, and supposedly needs nothing.

The entry fee to God’s banquet is powerlessness. It’s the first step of the twelve: “We admitted that we were powerless over ____ (fill in the blank), that our lives had become unmanageable.” It’s humiliating to admit, but addictive patterns—different from specific addictions—are, I’m convinced, universal to the human condition. Call it sin, woundedness, or the failures of our family system, but we are all looking for gratification, comfort, control, and esteem. Many of us will go to great lengths to secure these desires, or live in terror that it will all be taken away, and our yearnings will still elude us every time. I think of the patriarch of the blistering and brilliant show Succession, whose power and control games play the entire family off one another to everyone’s desperate misery. Some of us identify as in recovery, but those in recovery are also harbingers of what the rest of us are in process of learning. We need help. We can’t do it alone. Our accomplishments, bank accounts, and friends are not enough. A moral inventory is always helpful. Only a greater power will sustain us. The spiritual journey is recovery.

Once we are empty, we are ready to feast. Christ knocks on the door, John writes, “if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (3:20). Our pregnant emptiness will result in “good-weird” works that set us apart from dominant systems. We may grow our own food in simplicity, hug trees in our love for nature, divest from fossil fuels in our commitment to the planet, march for Black Lives, or simply read James Baldwin or Louise Erdrich for the first time. We may have flowers delivered to our neighbors during the pandemic, just because. We may shut off devices and turn off our social media accounts, for a day, a week, or a year. We may choose to forgive betrayal rather than let resentment smolder. We may sing, pray, shout, or weep to God because our hearts are anything but lukewarm.

Apocalyptic culture corner: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower is also an opera.

Apocalyptic quote of the week: “The inward migration is most often a solitary journey, a turning away from the bombarding speed of reality hitting your very sense of being and destroying your soul. Returning to the place of country held in the mind is a way of figuring out how to deal with the powerlessness we sometimes feel from having to continually hold back the end-of-the-world times and confront ongoing realities. It’s where we go to slowly pick things apart, to reimagine our world in new ways, and sometimes we come out the other side with a map of how to make some sense of our world.” —Alexis Wright, “The Inward Migration in Apocalyptic Times”

Photo credit: personal photo, Ledelle Moe’s “When” exhibit at MASS MoCA

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