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.

Posted in The Prophetic Task

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.

Posted in The Prophetic Task

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

Prophetic Paradigm: Intention

Vision ignites intention, it engages the will.  Intention is the second dimension of the prophetic paradigm.  It takes what we see in the heavens and moves it into action on the earth.

Walter Brueggemann describes intention as a consciousness that evokes and nourishes an alternative way of looking at life–a way different than the view of the dominant culture, which Brueggemann characterizes in the word ’empire.’ [1]
With respect to the prophetic task, intention expresses itself in the twofold endeavor of criticizing (de-constructing) empire and energizing (re-constructing) shalom.  We will return to these two actions later in the series.  Today, we keep our focus on intention as a necessary part of the prophetic paradigm.

Richard Foster sheds valuable light on the meaning of intention by showing the objective and subjective nature of it.  Objectively, intention is sustained by the text of Scripture.  For the prophets this meant Torah. [2]  In other words, our wills are not engaged by inspiration or impulse (both of which rise and fall from one moment to another), but rather by revelation.

Foster goes on to say that intention is nurtured through both the heart and the mind; that is, through a whole-life engagement with the revelation.. And all of this, he notes, is within the context of community. [3]  Intention is the incarnation of vision; that is, it is offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), in the spirit of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Brueggeman notes that intention is the engagement of our wills that brings us into congruence with the will of God, putting us “in sync with the God of the gospel.” [4]  Intention is what we are expressing (or should be) every time we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Vision and intention combine to inspire ministry for the long-haul, what the Bible calls ‘endurance.’  The prophetic task is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  It advances step-by-step (sometimes with setbacks).  It grows liitle-by-little.  Intention is what enables us to hang in there and add, in our life span, whatever we can to the common good.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, 3.

[2] Brueggemann uses Torah in two senses.  The first is its intended revelation to bring about what God intends.  The second is its inevitable deterioration at the hands of those who use it to advance the personal (egotism) and communal (ethnocentrism) fallen-world values of empire.  Brueggemann clearly distinguishes these two senses, so that we can always tell which one he is referring to.

[3] Richard J. Foster with Kathryn A. Helmers, Life With God, Part 2 (HarperOne, 2008), 55-129.

[4] Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own (Westminster John Knox, 2017), 11.

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Paradigm: Vision

The prophets did not pop up out of nowhere and then disappear.  They were part of something larger than themselves–larger than their location, their time, and their message.  They were threads in God’s larger tapestry of redemption.  I call this larger reality the prophetic paradigm, a way of identifying and connecting with God’s ongoing transformation.

To describe the prophetic paradigm I will use a threefold model developed by Richard Foster: vision, intention, and means   He wrote, “These three operating under the the grace of God will immerse us in a life that is penetrated throughout by love, that responds to everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, and that has the power to overcome evil with Christlikeness. [1]  This is surely in keeping with the prophetic task as Brueggemann describes it. We begin with vision.

In their communion with God, the prophets saw the Kingdom of God.  The big word for it is shalom. [2]   Wes Granberg-Michaelson writes, “This biblically infused vision, resonant from Genesis to Revelation, pictures a world made whole , with people living in a beloved community, where no one is despised  or forgotten, peace reigns, and the goodness of God’s creation is treasured and protected as a gift.” [3]  This vision ignited and sustained the original prophetic task, and it is what continues to keep prophets speaking and acting when resistance comes. [4]

Brueggemann describes how vision was woven into God’s call to Moses.  Vision is essentially what he calls “imagination.”  The challenge to deliver the Israelites from Egypt was set in the larger context of God’s promise to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  Imagining an alternative community in a new location meant that the exodus could occur in the hope that freedom would overcome bondage. [5]  Brueggemann refers to this vision as an alternative consciousness–a new mindset that energized action.

Vision gave the prophetic task its purpose (telos), and it gave guidance on the way toward the goal.  It was the “north star” by which the prophets navigated the journey toward deliverance.  Vision is also what preserves hope when opposition arises, and it is what re-charges our batteries when we grow weary in well doing.

I was deeply moved watching the movie, “Selma.”  In a memorable scene, Martin is driving around one night with John Lewis.  King is ready to quit, given the movement had turned deadly and innocent folks had become martyrs.  Lewis empathizes, but then revisits the vision which got everything going in the first place.  At least as far as the movie went, it was his reconnecting with the vision that kept Martin from throwing in the towel.

Brueggeman sees it similarly when he writes that vision is that “in which everything is seen clearly and radically.” [6]  The prophets needed that to keep them going.  So do we.

[1] Richard Foster, Life With God (HarperOne, 2008), xi.  He first applied this model as a spiritual formation paradigm in The Life With God Bible (HarperOne, 2005) creating what he calls “the with-God life” (the Immanuel Principle), using it as the hermeneutic for observing the unfolding narrative in the Bible.  Walter Brueggemann was the Old Testament Consulting Editor for this Bible.

[2]  I have long known that the Kingdom of God was the central teaching of Jesus.  I first read about this in E. Stanley Jones’ The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person (Abingdon Press, 1972).  More recently, I have seen how Jesus’ teaching of the Kingdom of God put him on a collision course with the political and religious leaders (see Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan,The Last Week, (HarperCollins, 2006), loc 3092). And now, Walter Brueggemann is adding the latest brush stroke to this canvas by showing how the message was (and is) the subject that gives rise to the prophetic task.

[3] Wes Granberg-Michaelson, “From Mysticism to Politics,” Oneing, Vol. 5, No. 2 (CAC Publishing, 2017), 17.

[4]  John Lewis writes about this in relation to the civil rights movement in his book, Across that Bridge (HarperCollins, 2012).

[5] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Task, Second Edition, 6-7.

[6] Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own (Westminster John Knox, 2017), 22.

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Person: Messenger

We can summarize the personhood of the prophet in a fourth characteristic.  The prophet is a messenger. Morality gives the messenger credibility.  Mysticism gives the messenger content.  And mediation gives the messenger commission.  All this comes together in the words, “Thus says the Lord.”  The prophet as a messenger is important for a number of reasons.

First,  being a messenger keeps clear that the prophet is a representative. [1]  It is the idea Paul had in mind when he said Christians are ambassadors for Christ.  This preserves necessary humility, but it does something else: it confers authority. 

Brueggemann notes that the representative nature of the prophets is what makes them countercultural.  They are not in the midst of Israel making suggestions which they think are important, they live in the society to declare how God sees the situation, and to show God’s way out of the bondage of empire into the freedom of shalom. [2]

Second, being a messenger places the prophet under the same mandates as those who are addressed.  Prophets speak and act in the midst of the people, not apart from them. They must live up to the same expectations as anyone else. 

During my more than fifty years of preaching and teaching, one of the things I believed most was the necessity to stand within the circle of the message, not outside it.  This is what gives the message a modeled authenticity; that is, messengers are accountable to live by the message they proclaim.  Parker Palmer calls this the autobiograhical nature of teaching. [3]

We see the absence of this in the ministry of Jonah, who spoke the message, but was unable to rejoice when the people accepted it. The book ends with Jonah outside the city, pouting under the bush.  And even today, we sometime find messengers who are unable to find joy in delivering the message because they stand outside the circle of grace that the message offers.  That is a sad place to be.  It is not where genuine prophets live.

Third, being a messenger provides a “hiding place” when the message is resisted.  In a very real sense, we can say, “God this is your message, not mine.  You must comfort me as I deliver it.” This is one of the things we see in the interchanges between Moses and God.  Moses is not hesitant to say, “You did this to me!  You must give me the courage, strength, and patience to carry on.”

Honestly, I do not think I could have preached and taught without realizing that even as I was sent from God, I could flee to God when “soul drain”‘overtook me.  Brueggemann also speaks of the importance of hiddenness in his ministry–those times and places where he discovered both revelations and restraints. [4]  Prophets must have a cleft in the Rock.

I hope you realize that these posts about the prophetic task are not exclusively historical.  The prophetic task is one for us to engage in today–as Brueggemann emphasizes over and over in his writings and audio/video teachings.  Nowhere is this more important than in the rooting of the prophetic task in the prophet’s personhood.  Like the biblical prophets, we too must be persons who are moral, mystics, mediators, and messengers.

In the next round of posts we will explore the prophetic paradigm–the milieu in which prophets operate: a paradigm that includes vision, intention, and means.

[1] Robert R. Wilson,  Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (Fortress Press, 1980).

[2] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, 21.

[3] Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach (Josey Bass, 1998).

[4] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, 117.

Posted in The Prophetic Task