For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘Walter Brueggemann

Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks by Walter Brueggemann, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014, 165 pp.

9780802870728I adore Walter Brueggemann’s work, and I will confess to anyone who cares to listen that I think every sermon I have ever preached on a text from the Hebrew Bible has been influenced by his scholarship and pastoral insights. This is especially true of any sermons on prophetic texts, as his original outline in The Prophetic Imagination unlocked those obscure biblical books, with their poetry and lamentation, in ways that finally made them come alive for me.

I heard Brueggemann lecture on the content of Reality, Grief, Hope before reading the book, and recognized immediately the themes he had previously developed in The Prophetic Imagination, Hopeful Imagination and other books. His perspective on the prophets is that their first word calls forth the injustice, sin and loss in the community, prompting grief. Only after the people have experienced lament can they find their way to hope, the prophet’s second word. Reality, Grief, Hope adds a new dimension to the prophet’s task, a new first word before grief: reality.

Brueggemann has observed, both in the Bible and in contemporary culture, that the prophet must first pierce through the many layers of denial. Before the grief can flow, the people must acknowledge that something has been lost that cannot be regained. In both ancient and modern contexts, the royal ideology of chosenness (the conviction that God will protect the Jerusalem establishment and its leaders) persists long after facts on the ground demonstrate that the temple and its practices will not be protected. The ideology blinds the people from seeing any facts or reality beyond itself, and therefore traps them within a false and failing way of seeing the world, denying the change and the injustice around them.

Reality must be faced and not resisted. Their rhetoric is designed to break the bubble, to make contact with the facts on the ground—that God is here and neighbor is here—and to notice the links of chosenness in the present and future fates. (23)

Brueggemann describes this phenomenon in ancient Israel, then he describes it in the 21st century of the United States. The roots of the problem today lie in American exceptionalism, and our understanding of freedom as freedom to disregard the needs of our neighbors.

Grief is the path to piercing this ideology and its systematic denial of its own failure. Brueggemann offers an extensive catalog of biblical prophets who address this need, from Jeremiah to the Psalmist to Lamentations. He then summons preachers and prophets today to engage in the same work, naming and claiming the loss of American superiority, privilege and moral certainty.

This converging loss that is beyond denial, concerning loss of political-military hegemony, loss of economic dominance, loss of social-ethnic singularity, and loss of ecclesiastical propensity, has come to amount to a loss of moral certainty and a failure of nerve about the future. In sum, we watch as the world for which we had prepared ourselves and had learned to master is disappearing before our very eyes. (81)

When that sadness and loss remains unexpressed and voiceless, it gives rise to violence and precludes us from imagining new possibilities that might spring forth by the grace of God. The grief is necessary to move into reality and into hope.

Grief can easily give way to despair. The task of the prophet, after piercing denial with reality and unleashing the grief, is to offer hope, so that the people do not fall into despair. That hope comes always from outside the ideology, outside the system and empire. Hope comes from God.

It is rather, the tradition insists, an utterance that arises “from elsewhere,” from the God who indwells the abyss and who initiates a new historical possibility by resolve that is not disrupted by the city in shambles and is not restrained by the force of empire. (106)

Brueggemann concludes by insisting that the best possibility for prophetic work today lies in local congregations, where people are known and loved against the forces of empire.

One can see the same practice in the life of a congregation wherein people are known and named, who have birthdays and anniversaries remembered, who have their sicknesses and deaths honored, all gestures that call out an affirmed, empowered personhood. (145)

This counternarrative that disrupts imperial narrative focuses upon particular persons in daily crises, naming, valuing, and empowering persons who have been disregarded, reduced or summarized by the empire. (146)

The work of prophetic imagination has a calling, I do not doubt, to walk our society into the crisis where it does not want to go, and to walk our society out of that crisis into newness that it does not believe is possible. (160)

The church, Brueggemann claims, by living its ordinary life of caring for souls and holding out the good news, is the key to helping people and society move into hope.

Reality, Grief, Hope takes Brueggemann’s existing work to a new level, and lays a new claim upon us as pastors and church leaders to engage the prophetic work of piercing reality, opening grief and proclaiming hope in God. His insistence will not release us, and the scriptures he summons will not let us doubt. As always, Walter Brueggemann brings the Bible alive and with its vitality comes a summons to follow.

Advertisements

Tuesday night, ESPN is airing a 30 for 30 episode called Four Days in October, about the 2004 American League Championship Series between my beloved Boston Red Sox and the Evil Empire of the New York Yankees. I lived in Boston at the time, and my memories of those four days are so vivid that they still brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face, simultaneously. This is my personal recollection of that amazing series.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

 

Walter Brueggemann

 

I was debating what to do with my evening. Should I stay home and watch the game, or head out to see one of my favorite biblical scholars, Walter Brueggemann, in person for the first time? The Sox were down by three games, and no team had ever gone on to win the series from a 0-3 deficit. So far in the series, the Yankees had been embarrassing them every night.

I consulted with another baseball and Brueggemann fan, my friend P. We decided to go to the lecture rather than risk staying home for another demoralizing defeat. We took turns going out to the car for updates on the score, and shook our heads with resignation. Overhearing us talking about the game at the end of the evening, Dr. Brueggemann (an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan) approached us to talk baseball. This eminent scholar proceeded to smile and ask, “Did you know the Red Sox are in the Bible?” He then pointed us to Jeremiah 8:20: “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” P. and I agreed this was funny, but it felt cruel on such a devastating night. We parted from Brueggemann and from each other with the game on our car radios, sadly waving goodbye to each other and to the season. “Maybe next year,” we said.

 

Dave Roberts steals second base in the bottom of the 9th inning, Game 4

 

I got home just in time to see Dave Roberts steal second base.  I honestly didn’t believe it. I saw it happen, I saw them tie it up in the bottom of the 9th to keep the season alive, but I didn’t really believe it. I stayed awake anyway, just waiting for the end to come. Big Papi’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th gave us something to celebrate, and it gave us our dignity back. At least we didn’t let the Yankees sweep us. It did not yet give me hope for a comeback sweep and the breaking of the curse.

Monday, October 18, 2004

 

The Green Briar, Brighton, MA

 

P. and I made plans to meet at the Green Briar, an Irish pub in Brighton Center that held a traditional Seisún every Monday night. We always enjoyed the music, and planned to drink our Red Sox sorrows away at the bar. It was crowded, and people were expecting the game to end so they could watch Monday Night Football. But the game just wouldn’t end. With every batter at the plate past the ninth inning, the tension grew. P and I got up to walk around every inning or so, just to break the tension and calm our beating hearts. Thank goodness for the music. The Seisun was in a separate room, and we would go there to listen for a few minutes just to try to keep from having a panic attack. There was a TV in the Seisun room too, though—and every one of the 20-30 musicians had an eye on the screen, even as they played on and on with one Irish favorite after another. My most vivid memory of that evening was standing the back of the room, watching every eye on the Sox game on TV, hearing them call out tune after tune and playing without ever missing a beat or a pitch.

 

Seisun at the Green Briar. Just imagine the game on the TV.

 

It was tense, and intense, and it felt like that game would never end. When Big Papi came through again in the bottom of the 14th, the bar went mad–and the musicians broke into a wildly gleeful jig. Everyone got up and danced together, like a scene out of a movie. P and I both cried tears of joy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Reality starts to set in. We had forced a Game 6, which had only happened twice before in all of baseball history, but no team had ever emerged a victor to force Game 7. The team had to travel back to Yankee Stadium, and say goodbye to the charm and magic of Fenway. The journey ahead looked arduous, but we still felt faithful and hopeful.

Curt Schilling stepped onto the mound despite his recent surgery to repair (again) a torn tendon in his ankle. We believed this to be an act of great courage and leadership. As fans, we were exhausted from the previous two late nights of tension. We couldn’t imagine the exhaustion felt by the team itself. Game 6 only added to the pressure.  When the sutures began to open and we saw the now-famous bloody sock, we sucked in our breath and stood amazed at his endurance and sacrifice.  On that night, we knew for certain that they wanted to win as badly as we did, and they were willing to give everything they had to do it. And we loved them for it.

 

The Bloody Sock

 

The Yankees tried to make a comeback in the last innings. We foresaw our defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory, but they did not prevail. We lived another day, bleeding, exhausted, teary-eyed, bleary-eyed, and hopeful.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The game started late that night, which gave us all a long time to think about everything. Too much time to think. Tried and true Red Sox fans remained hopeful, but reserved. It had been 86 years since the last World Series victory. My grandfather was born in 1918, and died in 2003. He lived 85 years as a Red Sox fan, without ever seeing his team win the championship. To be a Red Sox fan is to know heartbreak, to get your hopes high only to have them dashed at the last minute. Bret Boone in 2003, Bill Buckner in 1986, Bucky Dent in 1978—and those are just the ones in my lifetime.  This is our history. “It would be just like the Sox,” I said to P., “to make this miraculous run only to break our hearts in spectacular fashion tonight.”

But in the end, the game was uneventful. Other than the unusual relief pitching of Pedro Martinez, there was nothing remarkable about the game, just great hitting by Ortiz, Damon and Bellhorn. When the Yankees scored two runs in the 7th, we thought that might be the beginning of the end, but the Sox came right back. The Sox blew out the Yankees 10-3, and it only took them nine innings to do it. It was nothing extraordinary, except that it propelled Boston to its first World Series since 1986, and eventually on to victory.

 

Celebrating the Victory after Game 7

 

Unlike the previous three games, although the tension was still there, it was diminished. While the celebration on the field and in the bar was still ecstatic, there was also stunned disbelief. We kept looking around at each other, silently asking, “Did this really happen? Did we really just come back from three games back to beat the Yankees? Are we really in the World Series? Do you think this might be the year? Can we break the curse?” I suspect many fans did what I did—awoke the next morning to check the paper, turn on the TV or radio, to make sure the whole thing wasn’t just a dream.

But it wasn’t just a dream. It was a dream come true. Those 2004 Red Sox went on to win the World Series in a four-game sweep of Dr. Brueggemann’s St. Louis Cardinals. At long last, the curse was broken and we were saved. The World Series was great, the games enjoyable, the celebrations abundant—but I don’t remember much about the details. It’s those four days in October that I’ll remember most—the stolen base, the walk-off home run, the 14 innings of tension and Irish music, the bloody sock. If I live 86 more years, I doubt I’ll live to see another sporting event like it. I still can’t help smiling and crying tears of joy every time I think about it.

B received a set of two adorable pajamas from a great-aunt a few weeks ago. They are made to look like the costumes from Woody and Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies. The shirts have the emblem that makes it look just like you are Woody or Buzz. I thought this was pretty nifty, and B could wear them and pretend to be a cowboy or a space guy.

He wants to wear them. Really, he does. But he is terrified. He still thinks the movies are a little bit scary, and he believes that wearing the costume/pajamas will cause the events of the movie to happen to him. If he dresses like Woody and Buzz, the bad guys will show up and haul him off somewhere. The very idea of putting on the pajamas puts him in anticipatory tears.

Don’t get me wrong—we are not forcing these pajamas on him. We talk about them every now and then, and ask if he wants to wear them. He always says yes. Then, as bedtime nears, tears explode. It takes a few minutes, but eventually he confesses he just doesn’t want to wear the Toy Story jammies. We reassure him that he does not have to wear them if he doesn’t want to, and remind him that there is nothing to be afraid of, that nothing bad will happen just because you wear a costume.

Watching the trauma over the last few weeks, I find myself awakened to the color and depth of his imagination. When he pretends to be someone else, when he plays at cowboy or astronaut or mother or baby or firefighter or race car driver, he becomes that person in his own mind. The sharp edges of logic and rationality have not yet hardened into points, cutting the painful gash between imagination and reality. (For a word about where B does get clear about real vs. pretend, read here.)

In my spiritual life, I find myself always trying to soften the jagged edges of reality, to enter the space between “real” and “pretend.” As Walter Brueggemann reminds us, biblical, prophetic faith is the product of a vibrant imagination. We must visualize the world to be as God’s prophets describe it, imagine ourselves into building that world, connect creatively to the stories and people of the scriptures. It is in that imaginative space that God meets us, to heal and challenge and renew.

Dwelling in imaginative space is risky. Like B, we can start to fear that the traumas of the characters will happen to us as well. We might be assaulted, challenged, changed, even crucified. Our world might be turned upside down forever. Putting on the Christian clothes might just make us into one—and the risk of wearing Christ, imagining a new world, pretending our way into it, frightens us. How often in my life of faith have I resisted the new clothes of Christ, bursting into fearful tears and burying the possibility in a drawer?


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

Helpful Hint

If you only want to read regular posts, click the menu for Just Reflections. If you only want to read book reviews, click the menu for Just Book Reviews.

RevGalBlogPals

NetGalley

Member & Certified Reviewer

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,662 other followers

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: