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🐏 Liturgies of Empire and Resistance

C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels
Greetings Friends,
I trust that you are all staying strong and healthy and hope that you tuned into the Poor People’s Campaign Digital March on Washington this weekend if you were able to. Here is a great write up about the weekend’s events, an interview with Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and Rev. Dr. William Barber II, and you can rewatch the broadcast here (over 2.5 million people streamed at least some of the march this weekend). I hope you find their work inspiring.
Today, I want to share with you some thoughts based on my talk “Liturgies of Empire, Liturgies of Resistance” (see below) from this weekend where I had the honor of delivering the keynote address for the Intermountain Yearly Meeting of Friends. You can watch the keynote here.
As we reflect on the topic of “Liturgies of Empire, Liturgies of Resistance,” I invite you to reflect on this query with me:
“What do we need to practice (individually and as communities) in order to be able to be faithful in our resistance to empire in this time?”
Thank you for reading,

🏢 🐏 Liturgies of Empire, Liturgies of Resistance
The Liturgies of Empire and Liturgies of Resistance from the Book of Revelation
The Liturgies of Empire and Liturgies of Resistance from the Book of Revelation
The Intermountain Yearly Meeting keynote served as an opportunity for me to further develop my thinking behind these concepts pictured above. After I published my book, Resisting Empire, last fall it was the concept of “liturgies” I knew I wanted to go deeper into. It felt unfinished and raised even more questions for me.
Part of this early curiosity arose out of conversations with friends here in town, especially Rev. Darryl Aaron of Providence Baptist Church here in Greensboro who wrote the afterward to Resisting Empire and pointed me towards Black spirituals and liturgy as very clear examples of “liturgies of resistance.” Over multiple conversations with Rev. Aaron, and some of my own observations from within my (Quaker) faith tradition, I realized two things:
  1. We need better ways of understanding and unmasking the liturgies of empire, because they are incredibly powerful on our lives and are really good at hiding what it is doing. Talking about and identifying “liturgies of empire,” needs to become part of our regular lexicon.
  2. If we are to be the multitude (Rev. 7), a people of resistance with the lamb that was slain and yet overcame death, we need an incredibly powerful and robust set of practices and liturgies of our own. Liturgies that can counter-form, or perhaps cruci-form, us in ways that enable us to have courage and a strong enough analysis to challenge and resist becoming like empire.
The religion of empire is and has been a powerful force in our world for as long as humans have been dividing resources and power among some while exploiting that majority of people. Today, state and national authorities using biblical imagery and appealing to Christianity, while refusing to do what Christianity calls for (caring for the poor, marginalized, in our midst) is so normal it is easy to miss. This picture of Trump holding a bible in front of St. John’s Church on June 1, after having peaceful protestors cleared with tear gas and rubber bullets says 1,000 words about the religion of empire (here’s a helpful take on what happened).
Trump Holding a Bible in Front of St. Johns Episcopal Church June 1, 2020
Trump Holding a Bible in Front of St. Johns Episcopal Church June 1, 2020
Like any religion, empire attaches itself to a god of its making (though it often uses identifiers from God to create legitimate itself), it has devotees, and it has ways of ordering its “community,” and ways of worshipping (that god and empire itself).
We could summarize the two liturgies like this:
  • The first liturgy are practices, ways of being, and symbols that have at their core a belief that God is violent, needs to expel some individuals or groups in order to keep the peace, centers God’s appointed one (Caesar, Priest, President, etc), is focused on togetherness at the loss of the individual, and that the system is fair so long as people believe in it and work hard enough.
  • The second liturgy is a set of practices, ways of being and relating to one another, and symbols that are rooted in the conviction that God of nonviolence and love, that all creation and all people are good, should experience the abundance of creation and “not even one should be lost,” it centers those who are lynched by empire, welcomes the individual and builds unity through the Spirit (allowing for difference), and unmasks through prophetic voices systems that devalues the poor, marginalized, and the most vulnerable as a false god.
What do we do? In the face of such powerful forces, where do we go from here?
Consider this: Liturgy is a “powerful practice” any religious community uses to shape and forms its people as a community and worship its god. Those practices can be fallen and redeemed like other powers. Practices are corruptible as much as they are capable of shaping humans for the good. It matters how we steward and shape the liturgies of our communities overtime.
All ongoing communities that seek to shape community identity and meaning use some form of “liturgy.” For Quakers reading this, yes, even Quakers have liturgies.
Have you ever watched the Super Bowl? This is like the Yearly Meeting for Football fans complete with “worship songs,” people “dressing up,” the pinnacle of the mass (giving the Lombardi trophy to the winners), and even the children’s message (the half-time show).
On a far more serious note, one of the examples I draw on in the keynote is James Alison’s description of the Nuremberg Rally as a liturgy of empire. Alison powerfully describes how these - and other types of rallies - function liturgically to reinforce the wickedness of empire (primarily by dulling our hearts and minds such that we no longer care about the suffering of our neighbor).
It matters if our liturgies are rooted in the religion of empire or in the religion of creation. It maters that we realize our liturgies must continue to adapt, evolve, and be “remixed” in ways that keep them from being overrun by empire.
The slide below as some possible “powerful practices” I suggested to Quakers from IMYM to draw on in this day and age OR that we need to develop further.
I look forward to hearing from you if you find these concepts useful and what you think is still missing from this. Where you see these things at work? What you think might help?
I leave you with this query:
“What do we need to practice (individually and as communities) in order to be able to be faithful in our resistance to empire in this time?”
Possible Powerful Practices to Consider
Possible Powerful Practices to Consider
Queries For Further Reflection:
  • Where do you see liturgies of empire at work in the world today?
  • Where do you see liturgies of resistance?
  • How can we help shape our communities to be moving towards liturgies of resistance in what we say, sing, teach, and do?
Watch Wess' Keynote "Liturgies of Empire, Liturgies of Resistance: Being Here, Now…Together"
❓Queries for Quakers on Liturgies of Empire
  • What is Quaker liturgy rooted in and to what end does it serve? 
  • What kind of people is Quaker liturgy forming? 
  • Are there places where Quaker liturgies and practices have become liturgies of empire?
  • How might Quakers recover, renew, strengthen liturgies and practices so that they are rooted in a liberatory image of a God represented by the lamb that was slain (and yet overcame death itself)?
🐦 Tweet Thread of the Week
Here is a tweet I wrote about the two “liturgies of empire and resistance” this weekend: the Tulsa Rally and the Poor People’s Campaign Digital March. The thread breaks down some of the differences behind these liturgies. And thanks to many folks sharing the thread it is as close as I have ever come to having a tweet “go viral.” ☺️
c wess daniels 🔄🎛♏️
The juxtaposition of the liturgies of empire and resistance could not have been clearer today than between the virtual #PoorPeoplesCampaign and in-person #TulsaTrumpRally.
🌱🌲 Nurselog Note of the Week
The Nurselog is my “digital garden,” a kind of personal wiki with notes and ideas of things that I am working on and/or find interesting. This week’s note is: Powerful Practices
🔗 Dress Down Friday Links
Otis Moss, III "Post your best portrait of Jesus. Post the best picture of a Jesus who is Unafraid unapologetic unashamed to claim #BlackLivesMatter.
What is your right next step? - QVS
The new album @phoebe_bridgers album is amazing and she is supporting great organizations with it as well
Review of the New Basecamp Email Service - from Keep Productive
The Restorative Power of Ritual
📆 Upcoming Events
Next week I will be camping so there will be no newsletter. Stay safe and well!
💚🧠 Final Thought
Liberation and Feminist theologian Dorothee Soelle is one of my teachers around these concepts of resistance. In her book “The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance” she writes:
Resistez is a battle cry that persecuted Huguenots scratched on the way in the tower of Aigues-Mortes. I do not want to be separated from them and the many other all over the world, who in seemingly hopeless situations practiced the madness of the No! from a different love of life. 
What I can do in the context of the rich world is minute and without risk in comparison with the great traditions of resistance. The issues is not to venerate heroes but together to offer resistance, actively and deliberately and in very diverse situations, against becoming habituated to death, something that is one of the spiritual foundations of the culture of the First World. It is us, indeed, who find ourselves [asking along with Rumi], “Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?”
Thank you for reading, stay vigilant, and resist empire,
Wess Daniels
Greensboro, NC
P.S. Would you like to leave a tip? Visit my “Buy Me a Coffee” page for more info. Thank you!
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C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels @cwdaniels

Old and New (Spiritual) Technologies For Life Today in the Face of Empire. Renewal and change in the hopes of mobilizing communities for love & liberation.

Wess Daniels
Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College

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