This Be The Verse
     -by Philip Larkin

They f*@k you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were f*@ked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin titles his poem with a declaration, with an epiphany that is almost a command: “This Be The Verse”! Straight away he seems to be declaring to us; “I’ve got it! This is it! This is the poem of poems: The meaning of life!” For what is the use of poetry, if it is not to discover life, the search of who we are and what it all means to be here, to be in existence. According to the Romantic Poets, poetry is the essence of life, it is what binds the universe together; poetry is the center. All things revolve around poetry and seen through her eyes there is a greater revelation in understanding our existence. It has been common knowledge since at least Shakespeare’s time that poetry is eternal, transcending all time, and Larkin’s use of classical English in the title takes us back to the Renaissance Period. It is as if Larkin is crying out to us to take this poem serious, that we are about to be let in on a secret that rivals even the revelations handed down by the classical poets of old! So what is this declaration of life?

“They f*@k you up, your mum and dad.” What? Is that it?! That I have issues because of my parents? Well that is nothing new, that’s not a deep revelation. Perhaps he hasn’t made his point yet. “They may not mean to but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra just for you.”

What is this first stanza saying? Our parents bring us into existence, and all they seem to be capable of doing is screwing us up. Even if they try to give us a good life, try to teach us to live good and be happy, they can’t. They can only pass down the faults they have and even add some extra ones to those. So not only do you inherit your parents’ bad qualities, the fact that they are screwed up will affect you in such a way that you have new bad qualities become a part of you. There is no escaping it. But here’s the good news, if you want to call it that; it’s not your fault! All those bad things you do, every mistake you’ve ever made, every complaint anyone has ever made about you, don’t fret, now you can just pass the blame back onto your parents. Think of the implications, if your problems exist because your parents f*@ked you up, then really you are not responsible for anything. If you are not responsible for your actions, then why bother; just do what you want, regardless of the consequences. It’s not your fault you’re the way you are, so why should you have any personal responsibility to change yourself?

Wait. What about this second stanza. Maybe there are more answers there: “But they were f*@ked up in their turn / By fools in old style hats and coats, / Who half the time were soppy-stern / And half at one another’s throats.” So… then, it’s not our parents’ fault. So whose is it? Oh, their parents! But wait, if our grandparents f*@ked up our parents who f*@ked us up, because they were f*@ked up in their turn, then it stands to reason, that our grandparents got f*@ked up by their parents and so on and so forth. So then, what Larkin is saying is that we are all a bunch of drunks who are always fighting amongst ourselves. And that each generation just hands down their depravity to the next with each new generation receiving a few more evils added on. There is no one good, no, not even one. What a downward spiral! I had no idea my life was so bad. There must be some way out of this!

According to Larkin, sadly, no. “Man hands on misery to man. / It deepens like a coastal shelf.” We are trapped. There is no way out. We are in prison, confined by our very existence. The world around us is a prison, we are held captive by our very thoughts, because of our inability to break free from them, they control us, not the other way around. Passed down from generation to generation our faults, our curses deepen like a coastal shelf, and no matter how beautiful we may think our reality is, it is only death grown onto death. We are slaves to it, death is in our veins, and our minds are trapped in depravity. What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?

Larkin’s advice? “Get out as early as you can, / And don’t have any kids yourself.” Cease all existence. Oh, that’s nice, how pleasant. Since we are all slaves to these faults, to a depraved existence, then it’s true, we should all die. Just give up, because there is no way out. No hope of anything because we are all looking to f*@k every one because we are all f*@ked up ourselves. What Be The Verse? What is the meaning of life that this poem has to offer us? Nothing. This is the meaning of life, Larkin declares, that there is none, we just exist in pain and misery heading in no direction at all.

Larkin attempts to deconstruct the myth of the family in this poem. He rejects the idea that a father and a mother have anything positive to offer their children. He in essence destroys the nuclear family and ultimately deconstructs society and the status of humanity altogether.  But by doing so he creates his own myth of nihilism and apathy. The ideology of a family is supposed to be a safe place for human beings to grow up and mature in. Mum and Dad have some kids, love them, and try to teach them to how to get along in the world. In essence, how to be good subjects. Unfortunately, Mum and Dad themselves are not always good subjects, so we have someone like Larkin come along and try to dispel the myth of good parenting.

Yet in his attempt to break away from this ideological state apparatus*, as Althusser would call it, Larkin only creates his own. A new reality (a new myth), where good subjects know better then to bring a child into such an evil world. Since they will not likely, themselves, cease to exist at this point these good subjects allow themselves to become freed from the responsibility of growing and maturing into better people. Why? Because it’s not their fault they are f*@ked up, it’s their parents’ fault. Hence they immediately re-enter the ideological state apparatus they tried to break free from and become once again, bad subjects.

The idea that “it’s not my fault” is just as much a myth as that every family produces perfect subjects is. Perhaps we can’t break free from our world, the idea of reality that has been handed to us, but the truth remains that we have the freedom to make choices that shape the reality around us, for good or for worse. We have the responsibility to make choices that will not only benefit us, but those around us. We especially have the responsibility to make choices that will benefit our children.

Larkin’s title may also present us with a double meaning. It could also represent unrefined, vernacular speech indicating the speaker of the poem is ignorant and doesn’t know any better. For centuries poetry was held in high regard and even came to represent the meaning of life. Likewise, the nuclear family had been understood to be what binds society together, the center of our structure of reality. High poetic language could become mistaken for ignorant speech in the title. The high call of the family, Larkin may be saying in the body of the poem, is unattainable because of the ignorance of “your mum and dad.” But rather then take responsibility to be healed from the issues caused by his parents, Larkin makes the mistake of trying to remove himself from something that is too much a part of him. Instead of looking for solutions to change the problem he’s exposed, Larkin chooses to remain in misery, when he could have chosen to hand down joy to man. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace…” Romans 8:5-6.

Peter L Richardson
11/5/2002

*Ideological state apparatuses

Because Louis Althusser held that our desires, choices, intentions, preferences, judgements and so forth are the consequences of social practices, he believed it necessary to conceive of how society makes the individual in its own image. Within capitalist societies, the human individual is generally regarded as a subject endowed with the property of being a self-conscious ‘responsible’ agent. For Althusser, however, a person’s capacity for perceiving himself in this way is not innately given. Rather, it is acquired within the structure of established social practices, which impose on individuals the role (forme) of a subject. Social practices both determine the characteristics of the individual and give him an idea of the range of properties he can have, and of the limits of each individual. Althusser argues that many of our roles and activities are given to us by social practice: for example, the production of steelworkers is a part of economic practice, while the production of lawyers is part of politico-legal practice. However, other characteristics of individuals, such as their beliefs about the good life or their metaphysical reflections on the nature of the self, do not easily fit into these categories. In Althusser’s view, our values, desires and preferences are inculcated in us by ideological practice, the sphere which has the defining property of constituting individuals as subjects. Ideological practice consists of an assortment of institutions called Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs), which include the family, the media, religious organizations and, most importantly, the education system, as well as the received ideas they propagate. There is, however, no single ISA that produces in us the belief that we are self-conscious agents. Instead, we derive this belief in the course of learning what it is to be a daughter, a schoolchild, black, a steelworker, a councilor, and so forth.

from:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Althusser

Why God Preferred an Adulterer and Murderer to a Man who was Impatient and Lacking Trust

Saul Attacking David, by Guercino, 1646

Saul Attacking David, by Guercino, 1646

“Your faith was strong but you needed proof
 You saw her bathing on the roof
 Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
 She tied you to a kitchen chair
 She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
 And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah”
     -from “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

“Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands; Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” 1 Samuel 18:7. Right from the beginning of his story, David is already more popular than Saul.  He has gone down in history as the good king, while Saul spent the last years of his life wrecking his reputation. However, when you examine their lives and their performance as Kings, Saul can arguably be considered the better of the two. While he sought to take David’s life many times, it was clear David would be the next king, and it was not unusual for a king of that time to seek to protect his throne. Saul certainly sinned against God, but his sins did not bring civil war and plague against Israel like David’s did. So how is it that he received such a bad reputation, while David became honored as the ideal king? The idea of good and evil in the Bible is always grounded on a spiritual plane. In fact, the only true battleground of this war is the soul of every man and woman; therefore, it is my opinion that there really are no good guys or bad guys in the Book of Samuel. Jesus himself confronted a follower of his and declared, “There is no one good, but God” Matthew 19:17. What marks a man as righteous in God’s eyes is simply faith in Him. The Book of Genesis testifies this concerning Abraham; “[He] believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” Genesis 15:6. It is faith in God that leads to obedience to Him.

Saul was ultimately rejected as king because he was disobedient to God. He did not kill King Agog of the Ammonites, as he was commanded to, and he did not wait for the Prophet Samuel to make sacrifices. Both actions show Saul taking matters into his own hands, as if he knew better than God. Yet even with his lack of trust, I think that Saul’s greatest sin was his unrepentant attitude. When he was confronted by Samuel, he couldn’t understand what he did that was so bad, and he tried to justify his actions. Unrepentance breeds more sin and pride and, unchecked, eventually leads to total separation from God. This separation left Saul wide open for “evil spirits” to torment him. Meanwhile, God began to raise up David in popularity and Saul realized the inevitable outcome. His separation from God and the torment of evil spirits left him unable to think clearly, and he became insanely jealous of David and obsessed over killing him. Evil had, in a sense, won the battle of Saul’s soul. However, before he rejected God, Saul was used mightily. It was Saul who unified the twelve tribes, and he began the campaign against the Philistines that brought safety to many Israelites who previously lived in uncertainty during the time of the Judges. He was even blessed to have the gift of prophesying from the Lord! Saul was a good guy who ended his life in a bad way.  

David is praised as the good king, the correction of a mistake. But God doesn’t make mistakes. When Saul saw red for David, he fled for his life and spent many years as refugee wandering in wilderness areas. Many other refugees and outcasts followed him, and David learned how to be a leader. More importantly, though, was that in this time David learned to be totally dependant on God. He had no choice; he was taught humility before the Lord and he developed into a leader that would remain totally submitted to God. When it came to matters of the kingdom, David always sought the Lord. However, as good as David was, when he became king, pride still seized his heart and caused him to sin. Saul’s sins were acts of foolishness often made in the heat of emotion; he almost seemed confused whenever he was confronted by Samuel of his sin. David’s sins were thoroughly plotted acts made in the coldness of his heart.

David already had a few wives when he became king. After he got the power, his lust became greater than his faithfulness to God. He decided he could have any woman he wanted. When God allowed his married lover, Bathsheba, to become pregnant, David was faced with another test, but this time he failed miserably. He feared for his reputation more than he feared God, and he abused his power as king to try to cover up his sin before his subjects. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was off fighting in a war for his God, his country and his king. David brought him home hoping he would sleep with his wife, and that everyone would just think the child was Uriah’s. The problem was Uriah refused to sleep in the comfort of his own bed and in the arms of his wife while his fellow soldiers were forced to sleep in tents in the midst of a war. When David realized this plan wouldn’t work, he sent Uriah back into the war and gave his commanding officer orders to put Uriah on the front lines and basically leave him stranded there. To all of Israel, David would simply look like a man who fell for the mourning widow while he attempted to comfort her.  

If sins are measured, David’s look far greater to me than Saul’s. However, the main difference between David and Saul is that when the Lord confronted David through the Prophet Nathan, David’s heart broke and he immediately repented. As punishment, God caused Bathsheba’s child to become ill and die as an infant. In the presence of the whole kingdom, David wallowed in anguish before the Lord as he appealed for the life of his child. He had been disobedient to God, but he admitted his guilt, and he fell submissive before God once again. David dealt with many consequences of this sin for years to come, but God gave David assurance of his forgiveness and restoration when Bathsheba became pregnant again. She bore David’s youngest child, Solomon, who inherited the kingdom and became known as the wisest man of his time. Unfortunately, Solomon also inherited some of David’s weaknesses as well. But in the end, David went to his grave with his heart right before his God. Despite the trouble this incident brought to his kingdom, David’s actions afterwards revealed a genuine trust and submission before God. In fact, later the author of 1 Kings credits David as doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and not failing to keep his commandments—except for the case of Uriah (15:5). There are no good guys or bad guys in this world. Only the potential to do good or to do evil, to serve God or to serve our own pleasures at the expense of others. In this age, we will often fall from grace and cause harm to ourselves and others, but when we trust in the forgiveness of God through Jesus, it is his love for us that causes us to want to be obedient to him and to live a life that pleases him.

Peter L Richardson
4/28/97

For a better take on this subject see Charles Stanley’s “Serving the Purpose of God,” his May 23, 2010 sermon, which can be found at: http://www.intouch.org/site/c.cnKBIPNuEoG/b.4943223/k.492B/In_Touch_Ministries__Video_Archives.htm

Psalm 51 (New International Version)
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
     according to your unfailing love;
     according to your great compassion
     blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
     and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
     and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
     and done what is evil in your sight,
     so that you are proved right when you speak
     and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
     sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
     you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
     wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
     let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
     and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
     and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
     or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
     and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
     and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
     the God who saves me,
     and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
     and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
     you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
     a broken and contrite heart,
     O God, you will not despise.

18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
     build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
     whole burnt offerings to delight you;
     then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Receiving Victory

May 18, 2010

Ephesians 6:13     PLR, 1998

“Receiving Victory”
But by the grace of God I am what I am; and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
1 Corinthians 15:10

I always excused myself with the Sin.
“If I could just stop the sin!”
          I told myself,
“I could flow with my talents.”
          I told myself that
          I would reach out
          like a tree
          planted by living waters
          basking in the sun and
          dancing in the clean, clear air!
“Ohhh, but the Sin,”
          I cried in the night,
“He pollutes my water,
 He blackens my air,
 He blots out the sun,
 So I struggle cold and fruitless.”
But I am not a plant.
I am a man.
          Free with thought,
          and with feet.

Born into Death,
The Sin pumps through my veins.
In the beginning I gave myself up to him.
Though I now despise him,
          I still find myself fascinated
          by the stories he creates
          to bind my limbs,
          to bruise and rape me
          cold and dead.

Once, the King pardoned me:
          He gave Himself up for me.
I was trapped, a slave to the Sin.
I was abused, drunk in my sorrow.
He came to me humble, with no glory:
“Follow me,” was all he spoke.
          The love in His eyes,
          the authority behind His word,
          how could I not follow?
My limbs still bound by chains,
          I stumbled after.

I had expected greater things
          from One with such power,
          but He just died.
Afraid of my old master, I hid and I wept…
But then He appeared!
          Not a vision!
          Not a ghost!
But He that was dead appeared in the flesh!
        —Only this time in His glory—
          Oh, His face is my warmth!
          His breath a sweet fragrance!

Tears controlled my senses!
His embrace broke my chains!
His love, His power entered me!
His Spirit saturated me!
He wore the King’s crown!

I said “Lead me! Forever am I free!”
          Head’s free; hands’ free;
          feet are free to follow
          without hindrance.
To follow Him into battle:
Fighting in the trenches to save others
          caught and captivated by the Sin and by Death;
          to declare their pardons from the King!

Still, my will is free to look back…
          to wander from camp,
          to visit with Sin.
Evil children come and they take my hand:
Lead me off my path to the Promised Land.
          In darkness they lie and they wait…
          I am overtaken.
          The Sin.

 The outcry.
 The weep.

In mercy my King comes for me:
          the gallop of hoofs,
I look up to see muscles ripple
          beneath short white fur.
There He sits crowned with majesty,
          riding his warrior horse.
Steam shoots from the beast’s nostrils
          as my King pulls the reigns.
The beast groans,
          my King draws a flaming sword;
Eyes of fire look at my soul and speak:
          A flash of white light.

I am rescued again.
I am rescued again.
I am rescued
          again.
          again.
          again.

That which needs to be mastered
          pumps through my veins.
Therefore, I make my body my slave.
I will no longer give myself to the Sin and to Death,
But by my King’s Spirit I will put the Sin to death!
I set my sight upon the Throne.
I bow before my Master.
          I receive Your grace.
Make me Your slave.
A slave to righteousness.
          I receive Your grace.
You have made me a son and a brother.
Let me serve in Your kingdom.
          I receive Your grace.
I eat at Your banquet table.
I receive the rich and filling fruit of Your Spirit.
          I receive Your grace.
Train me for war.
Dress me for battle.
          I receive the full armor of God.
          I receive Your grace!

How can we be cleansed, refreshed,
          if we walk too many days from the River?
How can we find warmth,
          if we hide in the shadows?
How can we breath clean air,
          if we make love to a rotting corpse?

Walk with Jesus:
          Receive Grace.

Peter L Richardson
1/26/97 (first draft)

The SIN of Addison Hall by Jeffrey A. Onorato

The SIN of Addison Hall

“The word ‘well’ is relative, isn’t Mr. Hall?” –Professor Pankewitz

In the tradition of Huxley’s Brave New World and Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, Jeffrey A. Onorato brings us a new absurd dystopia in his novel, The SIN of Addison Hall. In the country of Alpdon, war and recession set the stage for a charismatic leader, Brock, to rise to power. The citizens, desperate for change, allow him to create laws based on radical ideas in order to stabilize the economy and bring prosperity back to the country. Blaming the woes of the country on the outcasts of society, Brock’s Administration sets up four castes based not on race or intelligence, but rather on physical beauty. The most beautiful of the citizens are called the Blessed, next is the Favored, followed with the Burdened, and the Cursed. All the country’s resources are focused on the Blessed and Favored, and they are given more rights and privileges than the Burdened and the Cursed, so naturally they become superior to their oppressed countrymen in almost every way. It is against this backdrop that we meet Onorato’s anti-hero, Addison Hall.

Every man who has been infatuated with a woman who is out of his league can immediately identify with Addison Hall in the opening scene of the first chapter. Addison nervously waits in line in a futuristic coffee shop. As he plans out making his move with the cashier, he does everything wrong, and even though she is in his caste of Burdened, he is promptly and shamefully rejected. Addison is a complex character that anyone who has felt the sting of rejection and loneliness can have empathy for. Addison proves to be an intelligent and compassionate man, but living in a society where beauty is valued above all else, his self esteem is beaten down to make his redeeming qualities almost impotent. As Brock seeks to maintain his power through tightening his grip on the Burdened and the Cursed, Addison is faced with a series of conflicts which threaten the little bit of freedom that he enjoyed. He meets an unlikely ally in a Blessed woman named Otka, who claims to see a “sweet soul” in Addison. Except for Addison’s best friend, who is a cursed, Otka is really the only likeable character in the novel. Everyone else is self absorbed in one way or another. Either they are shallow and obsessed with their own beauty and pleasure, or they spend their time in self depravation while they curse their fate. Otka seems to be the only character of the higher castes that treats every one with dignity despite their appearance. We learn that her kindness is based on her faith in an archaic type of Christianity long forgotten by most people of her time. But even Otka turns out to be motivated by self fulfillment rather than any sense of altruism. When Brock begins to abuse his power through lies and manipulation to force the Cursed and the Burdened into slaves, Otka has obvious sympathy for them, but rather than making any attempt to change her society, she chooses to pull one man out and save him for what turns out to be her own needs.

The SIN of Addison Hall forces us to take a good hard look at our sexually charged society obsessed with physical beauty. Onorato reveals to us what our obsession with plastic surgery, fad diets, and the dressed up images of men and women in movies and magazines and the internet can lead to if taken to extremes. He takes the high school mentality that the most beautiful and handsome obviously must be the most intelligent and best skilled and puts it on a larger scale. It’s doubtful that unattractive(by our society’s standards anyway), yet self-confident, intelligent men and women would allow themselves to be enslaved in the way that Brock manages to enslave the Burdened and Cursed in the country of Alpdon; however, Oronato hits home in his critique of the shallow existence that is steadily increasing in American society. Just a glance at who our collective idols are reveals that we value physical beauty over skill, heart and intelligence. Fewer and fewer Americans concern themselves with education of any real depth. To investigate the truth of the matter is not worth the effort; it is easier to believe what the media tells us to. We don’t accept any spirituality or religion that makes us look at the dark truth of who we are and provokes us to make difficult changes, we only want to worship at temples that make us feel good about ourselves—the temple of self. One of the most intriguing chapters of the book is when Addison wanders into a church service for the first time since he was a young child. What he finds there is not surprising when you look at the cult of self creeping into our churches today. Jesus has been taken off the cross and put up on a platform. The Bible has been edited and rewritten to meet the desires and fads of society rather than the spiritual needs of the people. Any scriptures encouraging Christians to strive to be morally perfect like Jesus have been transformed into striving to be physically perfect “without spot or blemish.” The worship service literally has been transformed into something close to aerobics or jazzercise, and the preacher is reduced to a motivational speaker at a pep rally only meant to boost the self esteem of the physically blessed and favored of society.  

Anyone who loves dystopian literature will enjoy The SIN of Addison Hall. Oronato focuses on our obsession with physical beauty and the resulting shallowness, but his satire and critique of society reach beyond that. If you have any friends who spend more time looking in the mirror and managing their looks rather than looking into themselves and managing their souls, The SIN of Addison Hall might just be the wake up call they need to discover what is really important in life.

If interested: http://www.blockislandbooks.com/SinPage.html 

Peter L Richardson
5/11/10

“No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life.”   -Francis Schaeffer

James Hampton’s "Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly"

James Hampton’s "Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly"

I didn’t even find the work attractive. Upon closer inspection it wasn’t hard to believe that this work was made mostly out of discarded junk, secondhand furniture, and endless amounts of tinfoil. Had it been any of the “junk art” works I’ve seen before, I may have passed it by without a thought. However, knowing the history behind James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, one is struck with a sense of awe at this man’s lifework.  

Hampton's "Throne" found in his garage.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish" — Proverbs 29:18 (King James Version) posted on the wall of Hampton's garage.

The legacy that St. James left is truly amazing. Had he lived long enough to retire and go into ministry full time, this man surely could have started a new religious movement. What is most intriguing about St. James is that it is difficult to decide whether he really had some kind of prophetic insight for the end times, or if he was just insane. Traditionally, most of the world’s new “prophets” spend little time developing their so-called-brand-new vision from “God” before they run out to start their new religion. Standing on their new platform in the spotlight, they proclaim their new message and so-called-better-way, but St. James was an extremely humble and patient man as is revealed in his Throne and his life. Being a janitor one becomes accustomed to humility, and being African American in the early part of the 20th century, one’s level of expression is suppressed to say the least. This man collected old secondhand furniture and decorated it with gold and silver tinfoil and purple tissue paper, and he meticulously formed it all into a throne for the King of Kings to rule from upon his second coming. This throne and the objects surrounding it, all with specific meaning, were created with an incredible amount of artistic detail. How many hours did he spend searching secondhand shops? How often did his eyes comb the streets and trash piles looking for the perfect item he needed to complete a piece of the work? How many sleepless nights did he spend pushing and molding his tinfoil into the right shape to match the details given to him from dead Biblical patriarchs? As he put so much of his heart and soul into his work, how in the world did he not talk about it to anyone he knew before his death? It’s easy to pass this guy off as crazy, but if you are a Bible-believing Christian, there are a few things you are forced to deal with.

In truth, St. James shares a lot of the characteristics of the Old Testament prophets; look at all the crazy stuff God called them to do! With that perspective, St. James is not unordinary. But then, look at the object itself; will Christ in all his glory of the second coming really rule from a throne made of junked furniture and tinfoil? Who knows? If you really believe in Him, consider how he went around and shocked most religious people the first time he came down here. Doesn’t he specialize in making beauty from ashes? You could reason that Christ’s greatest work of art is to turn the trash of our used up and broken souls into something beautiful and worthy of his glory. Consider also the Jewish Temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. Even in all its splendor, it was still considered only a crude earthly shadow of God’s dwelling in heaven. The details were revealed to Moses by God, and each object had religious symbolism. Who is to say that Christ hasn’t remodeled and given His new plan to St. James, each object bearing a new distinct religious symbol? We can criticize his visions of the dead. Biblical prophets usually received their revelation through visions of heaven and through communication with the Spirit of God, but it is not unheard of for angels to bring humans messages from God. Is not possible that God would send his greatest human servants, who have passed from this world, to speak with his servants who are still in the flesh? Christ, before his crucifixion and resurrection, was visited by the spirits of Moses and Elijah. Communication with the dead is strictly forbidden in the Bible, but maybe we’re just not supposed to initiate the experience. Another issue we could raise is if God called St. James to receive this great revelation, why did he die before he could reveal it to anyone else? In the Book of Hebrews there exists what is considered the “Faith Hall of Fame.” One of the characteristics that make some of the faithful so great was their obedience to God despite the fact that they never saw their visions come to completion while they were still in the flesh on this earth. Perhaps James Hampton never intended to go public.

The Bible teaches us to test all prophecy and spiritual visions by the scriptures. I confess my arguments of St. James being a legitimate prophet are weak; however, I cannot contradict his work with my knowledge of the scriptures. If only we could read his Book of the Seven Dispensation; however, it is written almost entirely in a code that no one can break! Is this some kind of heavenly language that can only be interpreted through a revelation from God? Or is it really bad code that St. James himself just couldn’t keep straight? One wonders if he could actually go back and read over his own book. The Bible states that the followers of Jesus will be known by their fruit—their character. Of what we know of James Hampton’s outward life, there is nothing to suggest he was anything but a Christian of good character. He believed strongly that the Church of Jesus Christ shouldn’t be split into different factions and denominations, but should exist as one body. I consider myself a creative Christian, and I have had to argue with strict religious people that even though not all of my art and poetry is not a direct expression of scripture, it is all an act of human worship to my God as I pour out my heart and soul onto paper. Only God knows if he called Hampton as his prophet, but there is no doubt he had a strong love for his God that was expressed through his good character and outward humility. I believe that Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly was a very personal, unique and intense way for him to worship his Savior. His ability to use simple raw materials to produce such an interesting and grand work of art is a feat in itself, but the true greatness of his art is the passion and devotion to God that existed in James Hampton’s heart.

Peter L Richardson
Spring 1999

James Hampton’s
“Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations Millennium General Assembly”

 
 

James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly

James Hampton's "Throne" is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Throne was constructed by James Hampton (1909 – 1964), a janitor for the General Services Administration, over a 14 year period from 1950 until the time of his death, after which it was discovered in a garage he rented near his apartment in Washington D.C.  Made of scavenged materials, minutely detailed and finished with glittering foil, The Throne is composed of some 180 pieces, occupies an area of some two hundred square feet and stands three yards in height at its center.