wild, free and not very safe

‘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.



14 thoughts on “wild, free and not very safe

  1. Facing the truth can be scary but one it is faced the fears go. Nothing in this world is worth hanging onto. The goodness of God is so much more satisfying and so real and so healing. It is a journey I began many years ago. I have had many struggles but each time I turned a corner bringing me more peace, more goodness and more self worth. Our God is love and doesn’t require us to suffer give up anything which is truly good. It is very far from the status quo, Much love.

  2. I am with you in identifying with the disciples when they ask Jesus who can be saved. You voiced the tension beautifully and once again, there are no easy answers. This is beautifully written. I suspect I will need to read this book a second and third time just be able to digest it. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I have found such a richness in reading together like this and it is heartening to me to know that you identified with the disciples in the way that I did.

  3. Oh, Joanna, I want it too! So true, we must honestly address our own complicity, our own comfort and make a choice. So hard, when I’m given to creature comforts. But slowly I’m turning, so hungry for the alternative community. And I was struck by the hop – a hard hope that expects something from God and demands something of me. Hope, not easy optimism, as you said. I’m with you, re-reading the hope passages and hungry for fresh understanding. Thanks for reading with me, I’ve loved sharing quotes and comments along the way. You’re a great reading partner!

    • ‘A hard hope that expects something from God and demands something of me’ – that is a great phrase to savour. Thank you so much for facilitating the reading, Kelley. I have been fascinated and deeply affected by the experience of reading along with others in this way.

  4. “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.” This.
    Our steps may be timid and awkward, but we are learning to dance and sing and be amazed!

    • Yes! That is really encouraging! I am a very shy dancer and I recognise the idea of being timid and awkward in my steps – but I also know that we will progress if we just keep on dancing!

  5. I love your comments and insights around only being half-alive. The satiation and passion struck me as well, and I agree, those passages on hope are so rich…definitely worth reading through again, looking and listening for new understanding. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  6. I so love the image of God being wild and free! It is so vivid.
    ‘…there is no real hope until we have faced the desperation of the world’ – this, Joanna, was such a startling moment as I read your thoughts. You so beautifully summarized so much of what Brueggemann was saying. I loved the way you have partnered hope with confronting the desperation which so many of us face. I am learning what this means and feel like such a novice in this – your words helped sort some of that out for me. Thank you!

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