What “Fire and Fury” reveals about the Empires of today was already known by a medieval mystic.
Genesis 11 tells the story of the Tower of Babel. A group of humans tried to build a tower so tall it could reach the clouds, trying to be like the divine. God stopped their efforts by causing each human to begin to speak a different language. Their sudden inability to talk to one another and coordinate efforts led to the people abandoning the Tower, and the people went their separate ways.
While Babel is a story meant to explain the various tongues in the world and God’s hand in them, it is also a story about the difficulty of life together when each other cannot be understood.
Little did we know that the Empires of the world would use this divine affliction to their benefit, both in medieval times and in America today.
Empire of Yesterday
Julian of Norwich was a medieval mystic who wrote her visions down in The Revelations of Divine Love, considered one of the most stunning works of theology from the medieval period. But far from being an escapist mystical trip, it has real reflections on how real Christians can respond to the Empire.
In Chapter 68 of her Revelations, she lays out her vision of the City of God and perfect order of the universe. But immediately before and after that vision, Julian recounts what she believes are encounters with the Devil. Her first confrontation was very violent with the Devil grabbing her throat. But the second was more subtle and insidious and includes an interesting line. In Julian’s words:
…I could also hear in my ears a conversation, as if between two speakers, and they seemed to be both talking at once as if they were conducting a confused debate, and it was all low muttering (Revelations 69:315)
The bolded words are important. Dr. Shelly Rambo, a theology professor at Boston University School of Theology, explains in her commentary on Julian of Norwich:
“Confused debate” is a translation of the Middle English term parliamente perlement…it is clear that the mutterings of the devil refer directly to Parliament…Using this term, Julian intends to link readers to their context, inviting them to imagine the devil’s activities as similar to the activities of Parliament. The sounds of the devil are like politicians whose barrage of words do not lead to resolution but to greater confusion.” (“Julian of Norwich” in Empire: The Christian Tradition (Pui-Lan, et al), 176)
Julian is affected by the devil and starts to question her visions, to the point where Jesus (in her vision) directly says that what she is seeing is not a hallucination (70:317). Rambo continues:
The hallucinations and the indiscernible mutterings that Julian experiences suggest that one of the ways that coercive power manifests itself is in blurring the truth and getting people to mistrust the things that are most fundamental to them. The clarity of seeing, hearing, and speaking is undermined.” (Empire, 177)
Julian speaks politically that the corrupt Parliament does damage to humanity when it talks out of both sides of its mouth, but also eternally that the Empires of the world will do everything possible to blur the lines of truth and get people to question their Spirit-led convictions.
Michael Wolff, an author of a book on the Trump administration, has come under fire for failing to source some of his claims in his book. To explain his process, Wolff said on Stephen Colbert’s talk show that everyone lied to him, and to report on a lying house you had to collect multiple untruths and make an informed decision:
Colbert: “What does it mean to ‘settle on a version of events you believe to be true?’”
Wolff: “It is the Trump White House. Everyone is lying in their own particular way because that’s what you do in the Trump White House. So I had to take an event, find as many perspectives as I could, then use my judgment as to what version of stories to include…everyone has their own press secretary so there are essentially different White Houses that each speak independently to the press all day long.”
The Empire of today is the same as the Empire in medieval times, using the confusion to undermine the Press, and a lack of transparency to hide the clear examples of corruption and abuse of marginalized people.
Colbert rose to fame on his claim to truthiness, a ridiculing of the way how the Bush Administration used emotional appeals to supersede factual ones. The Trump Administration has perfected that approach and obliterated any possible path to factuality…and it is up to the American public and the press and dedicated authors to try to find the closest shadow of the truth we can.
Called to Witness
Dr. Rambo’s commentary on Julian of Norwich concludes with this call to action for biblical scholars and modern activists alike:
“Bearing witness is an even more dangerous and necessary act in the face of the new era of Empire. Distinguishing between watching and witnessing is essential. To witness requires critically discerning the places where he rhetoric of Empire and human experience cannot be reconciled…unwrapping the layers of packaging involves training ourselves to discern truth apart from the media set of virtual images.” (Empire, 182)
We cannot just watch the news, the commentaries, the 24-hour politics channels, and know what the Empire is about, or who the Empire is being propped up by.
We must lift up those on the margins who experience the Empire first-hand. We must witness to Christ’s love for all people in a world that would divide us, confuse us, and keep us from the truth, obfuscating the demonic in tweets and competing press statements and calculated leaks with the veneer of authenticity.
May we witness to Christ embodied in the lives and voices marginalized until justice reigns and proclaim Christ present amidst the confusion.
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