brueggemann, exile and waiting upon the Lord in our generation...

Throughout the past three decades I have heard a soft but growing litany of lament throughout the post-industrial Western society. I have not always grasped what the Spirit has been saying to the world. Yet I've felt its truth whenever our collective pain exploded into popular consciousness: think NWA "Straight Outta Compton" in 1986 or Lou Reed's "New York" three years later on the Left; take another listen to Toby Keith, Ted Nugent or Hank, Jr's "Country Folk Will Survive" from the 90s on the Right. After the initial fury loses its novelty, our collective hurt, confusion, anxiety and anger is carefully ignored with new celebrity scandals or the tragedy of the week on 24-7 cable news. But it has been percolating since Nixon harnessed the fears of the so-called Silent Majority in 1968 and the Reagan Democrats jumped ship twenty years later. Our current reality has been a long time in coming. Indeed, it has been a constant throughout my entire professional ministry.

Enter the challenging insights of Old Testament theologian and scholar,
Walter Brueggemann. In his analysis, ancient Israel's exile is the key to understanding the Hebrew Bible as canon. Their loss of power, tradition, wealth and faith in 587 BCE when Jerusalem was decimated,the First Temple destroyed and the elite taken into captivity in Babylon, defines the message of the Lord.  The covenant with God's chosen was clearly conditional: the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been a gift that would remain a treasured possession only as long as its people practiced
compassion and neighborliness. 

Over the next week, I want to share some of Brueggemann's arguments re: the parallels between ancient Israel's exile and our current political chaos. This is our season for grieving. This is a time for honest confession, too so that we name and claim our complicity in one another's suffering. It is a time of shared loss into which the Lord may pour a redemptive future.
But only when we are empty enough to hold God's new vision given in God's own time. To shout this is the era when we can make America great again is a lie:  before our new social consensus is born, we must learn to avoid both denial and despair.  Brother Brueggemann puts it brilliantly in his essay, Four Indispensable Conversations among Exiles" in Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope, p. 59-61

It is abundantly and unmistakably clear that we are in a deep dislocation in our society that touches every aspect of our lives. It is in any case a deep displacement and perhaps a transition, though none of us can yet see the completion...

+ The old certitudes are less certain.
+ The old privileges are under powerful challenge.
+ The old dominations are increasingly ineffective and we seem not to be so clearly in charge.
+ The old institutions (governmental, educational, judicial, medical) see less and less to deliver what is intended and long counted upon.
+The old social fabrics of neighborliness are eroded into selfishness, fear, anger and agree...

An Old Testament teacher, when thinking about dislocation, moves by "dynamic analogy" to the exile, the determining and defining event of the Old Testament... Not to overstate, (the exile) was the end of life with God, which Israel had taken for granted... and out of the traditions of this exile, I want to suggest four ways of speech and for dimensions of faithful imagination that the church can offer and practice as antidotes to denial and despair.

I trust that Brueggemann is on to something of value for people of faith at this junction in time.  I hope you will take a few minutes to join me over the coming days - and share your thoughts, insights and reactions. 


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