Saturday, December 01, 2007

Walter Brueggemann's Script

Over here at Street Prophets, Pastor Dan uses A two-year old piece from Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann inThe Christian Century as a jumping off point for discussing immigration. That discussion is worth reading, but I wanted to discuss Brueggemann's original piece. I would urge you to click the link and read it (grab a Pepsi first, it's a tad longish), because I will be highlighting just a few things, and even though I disagree with some of it, Walter Brueggemann is far too good and wise and insightful to ignore.

Called "Counterscript: Living With the Elusive God", Brueggemann begins his article this way:
I HAVE BEEN thinking about the ways in which the Bible is a critical alternative to the enmeshments in which we find ourselves in the church and in society. I have not, of course, escaped these enmeshments myself, but in any case I offer a series of 19 theses about the Bible in the church.

1. Everybody has a script. People live their lives by a script that is sometimes explicit but often implicit. That script may be one of the great meta-narratives created by Karl Marx or Adam Smith or it may be an unrecognized tribal mantra like, "My dad always said ..." The practice of the script evokes a self, yields a sense of purpose and provides security.


3. The dominant script of both selves and communities in our society, for both liberals and conservatives, is the script of therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism that permeates every dimension of our common life.


4. This script--enacted through advertising, propaganda and ideology, especially in the several liturgies of television--promises to make us safe and happy. Therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism pervades our public life and promises us security and immunity from every threat. And if we shall be safe, then we shall be happy, for who could watch the ads for cars and beers and deodorants and give thought to such matters as the trade deficit or homelessness or the residue of anger and insanity left by the war or by destruction of the environment? This script, with its illusion of safety and happiness, invites life in a bubble that is absent of critical reflection.

5. That script has failed. I know this is not the conclusion that all would draw. It is, however, a lesson that is learned by the nations over and over again. It is clear to all but the right-wing radio talk people and the sponsoring neoconservatives that the reach of the American military in global ambition has served only to destabilize and to produce new and deep threats to our society. The charade of a national security state has left us completely vulnerable to the whim of the very enemies that our security posture has itself evoked. A by-product of such attempts at security, moreover, has served in astonishing ways to evoke acrimony in the body politic that makes our democratic decisionmaking processes nearly unworkable.

We are not safe, and we are not happy. The script is guaranteed to produce new depths of insecurity and new waves of unhappiness. And in response to new depths of insecurity and new waves of unhappiness, a greater resolve arises to close the deal according to the script, which produces ever new waves and new depths.

So far, so good. I couldn't agree more if I stood, screeched, and tossed money Brueggemann's way.

Then, he takes a turn I completely disagree with. This is a case of being a good diagnostician without necessarily being a good therapist, I think.
8. The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement is undertaken through the steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we testify will indeed make us safe and joyous. We have become so jaded in the church--most particularly in the liberal church--that we have forgotten what has been entrusted to us. We have forgotten that the script entrusted to us is really an alternative and not an echo. Liberals tend to get so engaged in the issues of the day, urgent and important as those issues are, that we forget that behind such issues is a meta-narrative that is not about our particular social passion but about the world beyond our control. The claim of that alternative script is that there is at work among us a Truth that makes us safe, that makes us free, that makes us joyous in a way that the comfort and ease of the consumer economy cannot even imagine. It would make a difference if the church were candid in its acknowledgment that that is the work to which it is called.(emphases added)

I do not believe that it is the task of the Church to replace one failed meta-narrative with another, equally-flawed meta-narrative. I do not believe for one moment that we should be engaged in saying that we have the real answers to the questions currently provided by our society's reliance upon therapy, consumerism, technology, and militarism. Rather, the Church should be insistent that the Truth is not something that makes us safe, but in fact puts us in real jeopardy. The Church should be telling people the bourgeois desire for security is itself and illusion, and the Church is not in the illusion business. We are not the bearers of alternative answers, but something far more insidious and dangerous - we are the bearers of the Good News that our questions, our desires, and every line upon which we hang our hopes of security, happiness, and peace are false.

Unlike Brueggemann, I am pomo enough to think that we need to be in the business of tossing out all these scripts and recognize what has been the case all along - it's all ad-lib. The flaw in this entire piece is the notion that the questions we ask are the questions to which Christian faith has answers. It doesn't. The questions are gibberish. The only answer to the question of security, happiness, and peace, is the bloodied body of Jesus hanging on the cross. Anyone who thinks that there is something emotionally comforting in the life of faith has not stood at the foot of the cross.

Yet, it is also Good News the Church preaches. Part of the "goodness" is the illusion-shattering demand that we surrender our desire for security, happiness, and peace. These are the dreams of children, and we aren't children. Like St. Paul, we should give up our childish ways, and remember that we Christians have surrendered our lives to Christ - the only thing we have left to give is our death, and that's something we would face anyway. We can face that final moment, however, with the satisfaction that we have not succumbed to the temptations of nonsensical answers to false questions.

Virtual Tin Cup

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