Wednesday, April 25, 2018

We Were Talking

"We are speech creatures. We do wail to he addressed. 
And when we are decisively addressed by one with power and credibility,
 it does indeed change our world."--Walter Brueggemann

about the space between us all.  Well, I was talking; you were listening; er...reading.


And not for the first time; on all counts.  Comes now Thought Criminal with a post I should just refer to, but instead will steal copiously from (Eliot said bad poets copy, good poets steal.  I am not a good poet, and this is not theft; but it is a long quote.  Make of that what you will.).  The words of Brueggemann, the ideas of TC, all of this applicable to what, I...was talking about.  The bold is Brueggemann, as in the original; the rest is TC:

Israelite Hope Verses Enlightenment Despair

At the culmination of Israel's portrayal of reality is a certitude and a vision of newness, a full restoration to well-being that runs beyond any old well-being.  This culmination in well-being, assumed by the resolve of YHWH, is articulated in the conclusion of most psalms of complaint and in prophetic promises that eventuate in messianic and apocalyptic expectations.  Israel's speech witnesses to profound hope, based in the promise-maker and promise-keeper for whom all things are possible.

Israel refuses to accept that any context of nullity - exile, death, chaos - is a permanent conclusion to reality.  Israel, in such circumstance, articulated hope rooted not in any discernible signs in the circumstance, but in the character of YHWH (based on old experience), who was not a prisoner of circumstance but was able to override circumstance in order to implement promises.  This hope is not incidental in Israel's life;  it is a bedrock, identity-giving conviction, nurtured in nullity, that YHWH's good intentions have not and will not be defeated.  As a consequence, complainers anticipate well-being and praise.  Israel awaits home-coming, the dead look at new life, creation expects reordering.

All of this requires confidence in an agent outside the system of defeat.  Enlightenment liberalism, which sets the liberated, self-sufficient human agent at the center of reality, can entertain or credit no such agent outside the system.  Without such an agent who exists in and through Israel's core testimony, there are no new gifts to be given and no new possibilities to be received.  Thus, put simply, the alternative to Israelite hope is Enlightenment despair.  In such a metanarrative, when human capacity is exhausted, all is exhausted.  Ultimate trust is placed in human capacity, human ingenuity, and human technology.  It is self-evident that such a trust cannot deliver, and so ends in despair, for self-sufficiency is only a whisker away from despair.  Such a reading of reality engenders fear and hate, self-hate, and brutality.  But Israel, inside its peculiar testimony, refuses such a reading.

I state the contrast as boldy and sweeping as I know how.  The drama of brokenness and restoration, which has YHWH as its key agent, features generosity, candor in brokenness, and resilient hope, the markings of a viable life.   The primary alternative now available to us features scarcity, denial, and despair, surely the ingredients of nihilisim.

To be sure, for all its venturesome witness, Israel did not always choose cleanly.  Israel accommodated and compromised.  It practiced scarcity as much as it trusted generosity.  it engaged occasionally in denial, for all its embrace of brokenness.  It lived close to despair, for all its resources of hope.  The amazing thing, in my judgment, is hot that Israel compromised;  it is that Israel kept its testimony as sustained as it did amid the pressures and demands of its circumstance.  It kept its testimony enough of a coherent assertion that it was able to say, in the voice of YHWH, to itself, to its children, and to any others who would listen.

"See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess  But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to ther gods and serve them,  I declare to you today that you shall perish;  you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death,  blessings and curses.  Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him;  for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob"  (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

I will point out to you that those three men mentioned in that last sentence were a pretty rhum lot.  Abraham in such episodes as his forays into Egypt where he denied his wife was his wife because Pharaoh was attracted to her, having an out of wedlock child with his wife's slave Hagar, only to send her and the child away when Sarah became jealous,  Jacob in how he hoodwinked his brother and father into giving him the birthright that was intended for Easu, among numerous other incidence, he wrestled with an angel sent by God, so he contested with God, in effect.   Wrestling with God and God's message is as monotheistic as that story.  It is not a stained glass view of conventional piety, it is a sweaty, sometimes bloody struggle full of every emotion from the depths of despair but also with the promise of eventual fulfillment.

This Deuteronomic assertion, derivative from the vision of Moses, provided durable enough for Israel that in its season of rehabilitation, Ezra could still affirm:  "Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God" (Nehemiah 9:31).  The choosing between construals of reality is something Israel always had to do again.  And the choosing is not finished yet. 

In the book Brueggemann points out that none of that is a guarantee and that since what is guaranteed is that people will not be consistent in keeping up with their end of it, all of the human institutions that are created, even those intended to be dedicated to doing that, will, at times fail and at times fail disastrously.   Every accusation and charge against religion, against churches, though, are a result of them failing to live up to the morality that they, themselves, hold to be true but which other systems and ideologies deny.  The promise isn't a guarantee of perfection, it is an assertion that better is possible. Change is possible, that people deserve that change because they have rights given them by God.  Atheism has nothing in it that makes such an absolute assertion of people having rights and moral obligations to respect the rights of other people and after so many centuries of they being able to find them in atheism if they were there, they have come up with nothing.

Let the People say:  "Amen!"

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