Prophetic Task: And So?

I have come to the end of this series, and I will go back into hybernation.  I have ideas for possible future posts, but none are ready for publication.  Should a new series emerge, I will announce them here and on my Facebook. For now, final thoughts about this series…

My reading of Brueggemann has been one of the most engaging experiences of my life.  I can only wonder how my life and ministry would have been different if I had connected with him decades ago, when he began to connect his Old Testament scholarship to the need for prophetic ministry in our day, as ’empire’ has once again taken root politically and religiously in our world.

But rather than become paralyzed by “what if?” I choose to be energized (Brueggemann’s word for the effect the prophetic is meant to have on us) by the call to be an instrument of God’s peace in the particular place in which I live.  Brueggemann has helped me link vocation and location. I end this series with some of the ways each of us can be engaged in the renewal we so sorely need.

First, continue to connect with Brueggemann.  I have read some of everything he has written and a few
books completely.  But it will take me a while to go back and explore everything he has to offer–including video and audio presentations, as well as other resources on his website.

For starters, I have chosen Brueggemann’s book ‘Gift and Task’–his reflections on the year-two daily lectionary readings in ‘The Book of Common Prayer.’  This one book will keep me linked to Brueggemann through most of 2018, providing me with a daily and extended journey with him.

Second, pray for “eyes to see and ears to hear” where empire exists and is doing harm.  Be particularly attentive to manifestations in your locality.  Each of us located somewhere (our “coverage area”), and we are responsible for that territory precisely because it is where we live each day.

Brueggemann emphasizes locality.  There is too much empire to address all if it, and being swept into the enormity of the evil will only overwhelm us, make and produce what he calls “an overburdened self.” Without focus, we will become bitter and burned out.

Instead, God calls us to do what we can where we are, and “do little things for God” (Brother Lawrence) through the practice of ordinary holiness here and now.  Simply put, it is practicing the sacrament of the present moment and “doing the next thing you have to do, and doing it for God” as Jean-Pierre de Caussade put it.

We must familarize ourselves with the manifestations of empire in our locale, and then support ministries that are seeking to overcome evil with good.  Even at the local level we must be selective, finding focus and fulfillment in doing a few things well.

Finally, “practice the better” (as Richard Rohr puts it), and with respect to Brueggemann that means moving beyond a knowledge of his critique of empire to the ways and means of overcoming it (e.g. covenant renewal, neighborliness, the common good).  Brueggemann himself goes beyond causes to cures.  I want to follow him into that positive and transforming ethic.  I believe this essentially means rooting  ourselves in the two great commandments and bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

Whenever we set out to become those who profess faith, we must also become those who express it.  Brueggemann builds bridge after bridge from belief to behavior.  For me, this simple take away from his writing sets everything else in motion:  the prophetic task is needed now, and it is a task given to us all.

May God give us grace to be instruments of God’s peace (agents of God’s love) in our little corner of the world.

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Process: Reorder

Henri Nouwen became interested in trapeze artists shortly before he died, coming to believe that this circus act was a paradigm for the spiritual life: letting go of the first bar, hovering between the bars, and being caught by the person on the second bar.  As I have read more and more of Brueggemann, I see that he understands the prophetic task similarly…

Order (as in the “old order”)–letting go
Disorder–hovering between the bars
Reorder–being caught by God on the second bar.

Reorder begins with hope.  We would never let go of the “old order” without seeing the “new creation,” believing it is really there, and trusting God (the trapeze artist on the second bar) to catch us when we reach for it.  No hope–no leap.  The prophets always set judgment in the larger context of redemption–in the context of hope.

Reorder continues with down-to-earth action. It is essentially the undoing of empire. The main ingredients are the renewing of Covenant (the way of love), the practice of neighborliness, and working for the common good.  It is a joint effort of political leaders (monarchs), religious leaders (priesthood), and the general public.  It is the return from exile to the holy land.

Reorder began (or was meant to begin) with the rebuilding of the Temple, from which the renewal of Covenant would then take place.  Today we put it this way: the Church is the nation’s conscience, and renewal must start there.  Brueggemann describes the changes in worship and proclamation which must occur for such renewal to occur, rooting it in the Eucharist.

In society the renewal happens as elitism and exploitation (empire) give way to inclusion, generosity, and the promotion of wellbeing for all.  Using insights from social scientists (e.g. Jonathan Haidt) and combining them with biblical interpretation Brueggemann identifies building blocks for overcoming empire and rebuilding the foundations of the common good: caring, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. 

The prophets arose to be instruments through whom God worked to announce judgment on “the kingdoms of this world” (empire) and to point to a return to the Kingdom of God (shalom).  In a spirit akin to advocates of emergent Christianity (e.g. Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren, and leaders in the New Monasticism), Brueggemann shows how the prophetic task has needed to be repeated throughout history, and he sees the present day as another time in history where it is called for.

Reorder—Hope—Redemption

Further Reading in Brueggemann
     ‘The Covenanted Self’
     ‘Journey to the Common Good’
     ‘The Word that Rediscovers the World’
     ‘Mandate to Difference: A Challenge to the Church’
     ‘The Word Militant’ (prophetic preaching)
     ‘Worship in Ancient Israel’
     ‘The Practice of Prophetic Imagination’
     ‘Social Criticism and Social Vision’
     ‘Rebuilding the Foundations’

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Process: Disorder

Prophets minister between the times– between darkness and light, forgetfulness and remembrance, sin and salvation, despair and hope–between “the kingdoms of this world”‘and the Kingdom of God.  This in-betweenness is what Brueggemann calls disorder, a time of grief.

He uses many metaphors to unpack disorder.  But it comes from God, who is love, and who loves us so much that we cannot remain “out of our minds” and “away from home.”  Brueggemann says that disorder comes from an unsettling God, who extends disruptive grace–without which the Reality we noted in the last post will remain hidden under the illusion which egotism/ethnocentrism (empire) produces, promotes, protects, and preserves.

Disorder is the way change occurs. Richard Rohr describes it this way, “Transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart.” [1] It is in such moments, he notes, that we are best able to see the inadequacies of the past and be most open to a new future.

Disorder dislocates us, and that is always painful because the ego enjoys and thrives on “staying put” in empire. Once egotism/ethnocentrism has created its little kingdom, it views change as a threat. But God is the Great Physician, and like a surgeon always cuts in order to cure–the theological equivalent of “no pain, no gain.” This is the meaning of transformation, what Paul called the new creation, but one where the old must pass away before the new can come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But it is in disorder that prophets are met with resistance, for the status quo eventually becomes a “sacred cow.”  Whenever self-righteousness, self-regard, and self-gratification (empire) are challenged, fallen-world leaders always “stone the prophets”–and–gather to themselves religious leaders who will assure them that their egoic and ethnocentric ways are blessed by God–and even more, that they express the will of God. Prophets have no choice but to challenge empire.

Disorder is the unavoidable movement from the old creation to the new creation.  It is summarized in the word ‘repent’ (meta-noia)’which is about having a “large mind” (one above and beyond empire)–a mind open to looking at life in a new way; that is, the way God intends for it to be.  Change can come in no other way.

Disorder—Grief—Repent

For Further Reading in Brueggemann
     ‘The Unsettling God’
     ‘Out of Babylon’
     ‘Disruptive Grace’
     ‘The Threat of Life’
     ‘Torah Speaks to Power’

[1] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, December 29, 2018

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Process: Order

Order is where the prophetic process begins, because just as there was original righteousness before there was original sin, so also there was Torah (Law) before it deteriorated into torah (legalism).  There was a time when (as with creation) the Law was ‘good.’  Reality is where prophets begin.

That time was when the Law was the revelation of God’s steadfast love and the indication of how we love God, others, and ourselves in response to grace.  But just as Adam and Eve gave way to egotism and made themselves their own gods, so too people emptied the Law of God, putting themselves as its mediators.  Eden was lost to pride, and so also was the Law.

The prophets entered the picture when Torah had become torah–when Eden had become empire.  They began the restorative process by reminding the people of God and God’s will.  You cannot go home if you don’t know where home is.  And so, they said, “Remember.”

Still today, we minister prophetically by “cleaning the lens” (a term Richard Rohr uses) so that we can see what life is supposed to look like–the life, as noted by Brueggemann, that was/is couched in the love of God and neighbor. 

Order—Reality—Remember.

Going Deeper in Brueggemann
     ‘The Prophetic Imagination’
     ‘Reality, Grief, and Hope’
     ‘God, Neighbor, Empire’
     ‘Spirituality of the Psalms’

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Process: The Meat of the Message

We are at a point where a transition post is needed. We have laid the foundation for understanding the prophetic task in the first two segments of this series: the prophetic person and the prophetic paradigm.  Personhood provides the character necessary for the prophetic task to be authentic.  Paradigm provides the context in which the prophetic task takes place.

We turn next to the prophetic process.  This is the meat of Brueggemann’s message because it is where belief merges into behavior–into lived theology–into social holiness.  Brueggemann describes the process as a movement from order, to disorder, to reorder. [1]  He uses this theme in nearly all of his books, weaving it into the larger tapestry of transformation, which is the aim of the prophetic task from start to finish.

I have decided to refer you to the key resources for connecting with the prophetic task rather than writing multiple posts about them.  If you intend to incarnate Brueggemann’s ideas, it is important for you to learn directly from him.  So, I will write about the basic prophetic process, and hand you off to Brueggemann himself.

In taking this route I want to be clear that I remain convinced that we must embrace and practice the prophetic task in our day. We are living in a time when ’empire’ is once again posing a threat to the ways of God. [2]  We did not choose to live in this generation, but we must not absent ourselves from the mandate to speak and act prophetically in it.  And that is all the more reason to link with Brueggemann directly and drink from the deep and nourishing wells he has dug, and continues to dig.

[1] Brueggemann also looks at the process in terms of reality (order), grief (disorder), and hope (reorder). His book, ‘Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks’ (Eerdmans, 2014) is a must-read book for exploring his thought in detail.

[2] A second must-read book is ‘God, Neighbor, Empire’ (Baylor University Press, 2016).  In it he makes repeated connections between the time of the prophets and the time in which we live today.

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Prophetic Task: Advent Time Out

Advent begins on December 3rd.  So that we can focus on the beginning of the Christian year, I am taking a “time out” from this ongoing series.  It will return on Tuesday, January 2nd.

But I want to remind you of two ways you can let Walter Brueggemann’s thinking enrich your Advent experience…

(1) Gift and Task (WJK, 2017) begins the first Sunday in Advent and provides daily readings for Year Two of the Daily Office in The Book of Common Prayer.  It is the resource I have previously recommended, and the one I will use during Advent and beyond.

(2) Cultivating Abundance (WJK, 2017) is a new volume (compiled by Richard Floyd as he did for Brueggeman’s Lenten resource, A Way Other Than Our Own)–a book of reflections for the Advent season.

But whether or not you make Walter Brueggemann a fellow traveler on your Advent journey through one of these ways, I pray the season will be a blessing for you and yours.  I look forward to continuing “The Prophetic Task” series here on January 2nd.

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Prophetic Paradigm: Means

Vision and intention are expressed through means.  John Wesley called this ‘practical divinity’–the social holiness (works of mercy) which flows from personal holiness (works of piety).  The prophets turned their intentions into concrete practices, particularly through the  re-establishment of covenant, the re-activating of neighborliness, and the restoring of sabbath. 

Covenant began well, but it experienced cycles when it was misinterpreted and used to advance personal and selfish ends.  We see this even during the time
of Moses (e.g. the golden-calf incident), but also in the monarchial period, leading to brokenness, division, and exile.

The prophets arose to call people back to covenant as God originally intended it.  Brueggemann calls this the creation of an alternative consciousness that leads to the creation of alternative community–‘alternative’ referring to life that is anti-imperial. [1] Covenant embraced creates a new kind person and community, given to what Brueggemann calls “othering”–essentially meaning living in relation to the two great commandments: love of God and neighbor. [2]

Covenant gives rise to the second means used by the prophets: the re-activation of neighborliness. [3]  It begins in what Jean Vanier calls our willingness to encounter the “other.” This requires a number of actions: letting go of power, recognizing our radical equality with everyone, listening, celebrating.and learning from our differences, offering peace, experiencing reconciliation, and realizing change. [4]

Richard Foster has called this “one anothering” (gleaned from the biblical passages where “one another” occurs), and Richard Rohr refers to it as “oneing” (a term originally used by Juliana of Norwich).  Along with Brueggemann, they recognize that this kind of neighborliness cuts against the grain of egotism and ethnocentrism–but it is the way of God.

For covenant to be re-established and neighborliness to be re-activated, the prophets used a third means: the restoration of sabbath.  Recognizing Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic book,  Brueggeman writes about sabbath as a way of life that says “No” to the unrelenting pressures of “Now.”  Resistance, he notes, paradoxically provides rest from the things that drain and discourage us: anxiety, coercion, exclusivism, and  multi-tasking–all of which are expressions of covetousness. [5]

For Brueggemann, sabbath is the core resistance to empire.  Through worship we see the God of hesed/agapé, Who gives us the alternative vision, evokes the alternative consciousness, and creates the alternative community.  And within the context of worship, the Eucharist is the means of grace which feeds us for the task of transformation and the ministry of reconciliation.

At its core, sabbath is the recovery of life (essentially defined as love–hesed and agapé) graciously offered to us by God, Who is Love.  We respond to love by fostering a disposition of the heart that sees rest as a virtue, rhythm (working/ceasing), as a pattern, and time as a gift rather than a commodity to be consumed.  From that disposition, we find happiness, wisdom, and we consecrate ourselves to be life givers to others. [6]

As I have read about the means of covenant, neighborliness, and sabbath, I have been awakened from the illusion that there was a “good old days” sometime in the past.  The prophets show us that the problem is not the period of time in which we live, but rather the mindset we have no matter when we live. This is one reason why Brueggemann believes the prophetic task is needed as much now as ever.  Later in this series, we will glean insights from him about engaging in the prophetic task today.

[1] This theme recurs so often in Brueggemann’s writings it cannot be linked to a single reference, but his book, A Social Reading of the Old Testament, Chapters 2 & 3 (Augsburg Fortress, 1994) is a good place to start.

[2] Brueggemann describes this in detail in his book, The Covenanted Self (Augsburg Fortress, 1999).

[3] Brueggemann writes about this throughout his books.  A good overview is found in the book he co-authored with Peter Block and John McKnight, An Other Kingdom (Wiley & Sons, 2016)

[4] Jean Vanier, Encountering the Other (Paulist Press, 2005).

[5] Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance (Westminster John Knox, 2014).  Heschel’s classic, Sabbath (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1951) has provided Brueggemann and many others a foundational reference point for understanding and practicing sabbath as both a day (observance) and way of life–both rooted in the nature of God (Genesis 2:2).

[6] Wayne Muller explores these things in detail in his book, Sabbath (Bantam Books, 1999).

Posted in The Prophetic Task