We need to ask not whether it is realistic, or practical, or viable, but whether it is imaginable?
I’ve just got round to reading Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Prophetic Imagination after it was recommended by Jonny Baker at the Breakout Conference for Pioneers last year. It is slow going, but challenging.
Brueggemann looks at the prophetic calling of Moses imagining a new reality to the slavery of Egyptian empire that had been the norm for so long, and he describes how a new alternative life is brought about. The key here is the freedom of God to be called upon, even by the oppressed and at the same time as the gods of empire are serving to keep the Pharoah status quo.
This alternative community lasts about 400 years under a system of laws and under the guidance of God. By Solomon’s time, however, this same community has developed into something else. It is starting to look more like the Egyptian community from which it emerged. Brueggemann calls this the time of royal consciousness. How did it end up like this? In three ways:
1) Israel became affluent and got a king. The royalty were comfortable. The emphasis turned to keeping people fed and protected.
2) The order of the state became the overriding agenda resulting in people becoming subjects of the king’s will. He used them to keep his programmes going.
“The order of the state was the overriding agenda, and questions of justice and freedom… were necessarily and systematically subordinated”.
3) God had a house. A controlled static religion was now in place and access to him was perceived to be through the royal court. Perception was that God was less free.
How does this link to here and now? Here are the application points of Brueggemann:
- The economics of affluence – Are we so well off that pain is not noticed or we think we can eat ourselves out of it? Is this not the consumer mindset? If we have a problem we can buy our solution.
- The politics of oppression – The cries of the marginal are not heard.
- The religion of accessibility – is God so ‘present’ to us that we don’t notice or that our problems are reduced to psychology.
The trouble with middle-class culture is surely the economics of affluence. We have everything we really need, we are ‘amusing ourselves to death’ as Neil Postman put it. We can buy almost anything we want. Does this produce a satisfaction that leads to ambivalence? We don’t need God anymore? Do we now fail to imagine anything else because we feel we don’t need to?
I would argue that although we are affluent in so many ways, what we are truly lacking is not a place to stay or food to eat, but it is community and deep relationship. Often we counter this loneliness by buying comfort food and losing ourselves in Facebook or watching crap TV. How do you bring about a new community when people mostly stay in?
I also wonder whether we have turned God too much into another self-help method. Is this the application of Brueggemann’s point 3? It could be perceived that what God is offering is simply a way to have a better life: 6 steps to a better family relationships, 9-steps to controlling your finances etc. The purpose of God seems to be reduced to maintaining the level of affluence or improving on it. Practical living advice is useful but not unique to the church. What is unique is the character, purpose and presence of God. We are missing mystery.
Just today, Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph commented:
Religion is strange, infinitely mysterious and easy to mock, but all I can say is that its rituals feel full, not hollow, as so much of modern life does.
This was a response to Dawkins’ recent survey on religious affiliation, but shows her yearning for experience of ‘The Other’ and with others.
How do you demonstrate and experience the mystery of God without going back to ancient rituals with which the culture cannot relate?
Just questions today.