getting serious about Brueggemann...
Last night, after a day of blessing upon blessing, I read this insight in Walter Brueggemann's Truth Speaks to Power: the Countercultural Nature of Scripture. He is explaining how irony plays an interpretive role in the Bible that helps the reader experience truths greater than the official words. In the stories of Solomon, for example, while popular wisdom and institutional parsing have encouraged a sentimental notion of ancient Israel's king as one guided by God's grace and wisdom, the deeper story is more troubling. Solomon's rule was actually founded upon acts of deception, waves of violence and collusion with Pharaoh.
We are put on notice at the outset that Solomon's regime will be marked by ambiguity. Early in the story we have it affirmed that "Solomon loved the Lord," that is, that he committed himself to the Torah covenant with YHWH; but we also read that Solomon married Pharaoh's daughter. The later report means that he married into and committed to the mode of exploitative rule and abusive economics that Israel had already experienced from Pharaoh long before. The narrative proceeds without comment but no doubt with full awareness of the fact that Solomon's twin commitments - at the same time to YHWH and the pharaonic rule - are contradictory and mutually exclusive... we may say that the pharaonic marriage is the epitome of power and that love of YHWH is the dimension of truth in his narrative.
In a word, Brother Brueggemann is telling us that we must embrace the whole story in our appreciation of the official histories of ancient Israel lest we miss the irony that speaks truth to power. He continues with what I find to be an essential insight for this moment in the American story: "Over time Solomon gave himself increasingly to the practice of pharaonic power."
The cry of the pharaonic system, already in Exodus 5, is MORE: more bricks, more labor, more exploitation of labor, all in response to the nightmare of scarcity. Now it appears, Solomon is like his father-in-law and like his pharaonic wife in pursuit of more. Thus the story of Solomon's reign is the story of accumulation, for raw and unrestrained power is always in the service of more, regardless of the political or economic system that is said to prevail. This drive for more is rooted in anxiety.
It is the polar opposite of the peace that passes understanding. It is the antithesis of Sabbath. It is the enemy of faith (read: trust) that God's love is sufficient. I know that when I am consumed with anxiety personally I become obsessive about work - or love - or acquiring more free time as an antidote to my undefined fears. It never works, of course, but my default response is to become frantic in pursuit of more boundaries and distractions rather than enter the still, quiet grace of the Lord that is my only true peace.
I see this at work in the larger body politic, too where American anxieties about a changing world and economy are addressed not through careful engagement with others or a focused and studied commitment to strengthening trust between neighbors. But rather by feverishly grabbing for more money for armaments, more taxes for a wall across the Mexican border, more fear-mongering against Muslims and more hyperbole about enemies than wisdom, rest or insight. It is as if the pharaonic curse of Solomon has been reborn in the current administration as our all too anxious citizenry invites its imposition. Now, as in the narrative of ancient Israel, Brueggemann encourages us to let the irony of the text inform our understanding when he asks us to recall that:
... peasants never gloat about the amassed property of their overlord, for they know that such surplus wealth is a product of their own unrewarded labor. It is more likely, for that reason, that what may appear on the surface (of the story) to be gloating over Solomon's success should be taken ironically. Such irony was designed to expose the extravagant self-indulgence of the royal entourage that is quiet inappropriate in the midst of peasant realism.
After sifting through the campaign propaganda to "make America great again," after acknowledging the bullying of the press by this regime's mean-spirited spin doctors, after factoring in all the lies under oath and fake news stories created to disguise the "Emperor has no clothes," and after comparing the details of the emerging policies of our elected charlatan in chief with his rhetoric - think the replacement of the ACA or a budget outline that shamelessly posits $143 million to maintain one child's private school voucher while dismantling Meals on Wheels, NPR, the National Endowment of the Arts and so much more - I can only conclude that pharaoh has been reincarnated and come home to roost. The only short term good news in this bitter truth is that more and more Americans are coming to the same conclusion: only 24% of Americans support his health care fiasco and 63% of US citizens support an investigation into his collusion with Russia. (http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/donald-trump/)
Consider, therefore, an alternative to pharaonic rule and ideology as expressed in this prayer-poem by Brueggemann: "On Generosity." We're only approaching Lent IV, I know, but keep this close as we move through the season of the desert on the way to Easter, ok?
On our own, we conclude:there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.
and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.
It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.