Engage: The Wilderness

Brueggemann’s reintroduction in the revised edition of this book is worth the price of it because “the wilderness” is where we spend so much time in our journey to the common good. We live between what should not be and what should. We must learn to survive in the wilderness.

In the reintroduction, Brueggemann describes it as the place where key things occur, but always in the face of formidable challenges which he names today as vulnerability, dislocation, anger, and fear.

The wilderness is a movement “from” these things “to” resiliance, identity, gratitude, and love. The wilderness is the crucible where leaden dross is turned into living faith. It is a firey experience–one that cannot occur without risk-taking and courage. Brueggemann sees three wilderness analogies between Israel’s exodus (from/to) and ours today….

(1) The wilderness is where Pharoah (“the system”) no longer controls us. But this means we have to find the means to order our life together. It is easier to be dominated from without than directed from within. All slaves have to do is follow orders; an emancipated people must determine what their marching orders are supposed to be. Otherwise the exodus becomes a death march.

The journey toward the common good requires a communal discernment of what “the good” is, and a covenantal commitment to bring it to pass. Brueggemann describes it this way, “in the moment of emancipated bodies, the wilderness requires hard thinking and bold action for the sake of an alternative social apparatus.”

At the present time, we have no meta-narrative, no national ethos. We are in a wilderness of anarchy much more than one of collective alignment. The journey to the common good begins in the effort to discern and design a way forward.

(2) The wilderness is where we are no longer dependent upon imperial support systems, and we trust God to provide for us. The substsnce and timing of God’s provision is different from what the system gave, and it is easy to give up on God and head back to empire-defined life.

Here is where imagination is crucial. Brueggemann notes that “a failure of imagination might lead to a replication of the old forms of our common life that bring with them conventional practices of exploitation, predation, and abuse.”

Prophetic imagination develops alternatives to those established in the system: political, racial, economic alternatives. Inevitably, those who have benefitted from the old ways immediately resist the alternatives, and characterize advocates as unpatriotic, libtards, trouble-makers. It is here where John Lewis’ admonition to make “good trouble” becomes determinative as to whether we keep moving toward the Promised Land, return to Egypt, or die in the desert.

At the present time, we have prophets who are envisioning and creating alternatives. The continuation of our journeyn to the common good hinges on this question, “Will we heed the prophetic call or listen instead to the siren songs of the dirty, rotten system?”

(3) The wilderness is the place of protest. In Egypt, Pharoah silenced the voice of protest by punishing the protestors. But in the wilderness, God allows and accepts protest because when people speak up, it is a sign they are alive and hopeful.

Brueggemann puts it this way, “The protesters around us have not acted out of cynicism or despair; they have acted in hope of transformative outcomes.” And in the end, that’s what the journey to the common good is–the exercise of hope so that life together is transformed from enslavement to emancipation. It is a journey that must pass through the wilderness.

We are in the wilderness today. It is a necessary disorientation between the old order and the new creation. Using Exodus, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, Brueggemann will guide us toward the common good.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This entry was posted in Engage. Bookmark the permalink.