‘The future is given to those who are experienced in groaning. The future is denied to those who have been cynical and calloused and self-deceiving enough to rejoice in the present ordering and are unable to grieve about the ruin toward which the royal community is headed.’
Walter Brueggemann The Prophetic Imagination
I should have known from Kelley Nikondeha’s challenging and profoundly thoughtful blog that joining her reading group would be something that shook me up.
But I just wasn’t prepared to be affected as deeply as I have been by this month’s read: The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann.
I have been a Christian for more than twenty years but by the end of chapter two I felt like the disciples who, when they caught a glimpse of the radical reversal that Jesus had brought into the world, cried out: ‘But who then can be saved?’
With ruthless clarity, Brueggemann lays bare the hypocrisy, the smugness and the numbness of our dominant culture. And here’s the thing: for me he also laid bare my own complicity in that culture.
Brueggemann gives us a portrait of a God who is wild and free, who stands opposed to the dominant powers, which need us to be numb consumers if they are to continue to control us.
As much as I hate the consumer culture, a wild and free God scares me if I’m honest. I like order; I like to know where the limits are; I like to keep things well contained.
What’s more, as a white middle class woman in the rich west I have a pretty strong interest in things continuing as they are. As crazy as it seems, I hadn’t understood that before, not like I do now.
In reading Brueggemann I saw there is a choice to be made. People like me who are comfortable and powerful can cling stubbornly to the status quo, even as we claim to want it to change. We can keep ourselves at one remove from the real suffering there is in the world. We are so affluent and so satiated that we can, literally, eat our way around pain.
But this choice comes at a terrible price. It’s the price of being only half alive. It’s the price of dulling our emotions, narrowing our vision and drastically limiting our entire conception of what it means to be a human being.
It means settling for optimism instead of finding real hope; being content with superficial relationships instead of finding true community; worshipping a tame and benign deity instead of daring to engage with a wild God of furious love.
As I wrote this post I realised I had heard a version of this message about the need to choose hundreds of times. It usually goes something like this: you are a sinner and you need a saviour.
But I have only ever heard it communicated in such a privatised, individualistic way that it never sank deep inside me as it did this month while reading Brueggemann.
And very often I have heard it communicated from inside an institution that – like me – appears to have a lot more in common with the static, controlling, dominant culture than it does with what Brueggemann describes as an ‘alternative community’ – one that makes room for the freedom of God ‘to surface in the brickyards and manifest itself as justice and compassion’.
Brueggemann is clear that for people like me the alternative to the status quo is not easy. For him there is no real hope until we have faced the desperation of the world. There is no new life until we have understood that the culture that brings us so many goodies and eases our path though life is nothing less than a culture of death. It is not possible to face these things without entering into grief.
And yet, and yet – beyond the grief there is true hope, the promise of a completely different future, a future characterised by amazement and joy, expressed in dancing and new songs, free from the weary hopelessness that characterises so much of human life.
I found Brueggemann’s writing about hope to be the most difficult part of this book and I need to return to it. But what I did understand is this: that it is rooted in the reality of a God who is making all things radically new and who wants to include everyone in that newness, no matter how complicit they have been in the cynicism and injustice of the dominant culture.
It’s the hope that rings out through the songs of the Bible, defiant songs that tell of God lifting up the humble, bringing down rulers from their thrones and filling the hungry with good things.
It’s wild and it’s scary and it doesn’t always look like good news to those of us who are rich and powerful.
But I want it.