Odd Prophet

Stanley Hauerwas says Walter Breuggemann “has the ‘unrelenting realism’ that possessed the imagination of the ancient prophets…”

In Breuggemann’s book Reality-Grief-Hopehe proves Hauerwas’s words true.  The book explores the crisis that has gripped American culture since the 9-11 attacks.  Although reality, grief and hope are the biblical categories that take communities through disaster (facing reality), to grief (a mourning for lost ideology), to hope – (the nemesis and destroyer of despair), we see how Breuggemann uses the Old Testament Exile of the Covenant people of God to the strange and shattering world of Babylon in c. 587 BC (2 Kings 25; Jeremiah 34 & Deuteronomy 28-29).  This is the lens he uses to write about the current context of the American collective psyche, as they experience the same trauma (personally, I don’t think it is the same type of trauma, since America as a whole wasn’t exiled, and more potently, they are not the covenant people of God, but the categories and the lens work exceptionally well nevertheless).  There is no magic bullet, or Hollywood film or John Wayne hero to rescue the obese unreality that tenderises the collective mind of the Western man or woman.

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Preaching: A word from elsewhere

thebible_brueggeman_theologian“I heard a Rabbi say not long ago, that Christian pastors have ruined the life of a Rabbi, because a Rabbi is a scholar and a preacher; but Christian pastors are social workers and therapists and a bunch of managers, and now people in his synagogue expect him to do that!

I would think that preachers – I think it’s exceedingly difficult – but I think that preachers have to decide what the main tasks are and practise enormous self-discipline about not being drawn away to do other things that do not properly belong to the ministry of Word and Sacrament….now you can’t do that completely…

But I believe that many preachers finally get around to their sermon in their fatigue from everything else.  And if imagination is the key to good preaching, you cannot be imaginative when you’re exhausted! 

So I think it has to do with ordering ones priorities, for the sake of ones best energy.  And that, for many preachers, that means really deciding that this is the main task, and if you want the congregation to have missional energy and all of that, preaching is the pivot point for all of it.

If a pastor decides that, then a pastor is going to make more time for reading and study and prayer, which are the disciplines that cause the pastor to live, to some extent, in a different zone.  And if we are to bring a word from elsewhere, then we have to live to some extent, elsewhere, and I don’t think that’s very easy given the huge demands and expectations on most pastors.”

Walter Breuggemann

(You can see this short interview here)

Although this very short interview does not fully outline the task of preaching or pastoral care, as this was not Breuggemann’s point.  To my mind, he is suggesting that Christian ministry of any kind but especially that linked to Word and Sacrament, is less effective when conducted in the toxic atmosphere of fatigue.

The problem is that our toxic atmosphere of fatigue is also a toxic atmosphere of relentless activism (I wonder if there’s a link), so much so that we’ve made it a virtue, to the point where we feel guilty or feel compelled to express embarrassed justification when ‘caught’ reading a book – because when in-toxic-ated, we neither view nor value reading a book, or study, or even prayer as work!  

So although not all questions are answered here, what WB does remind us of, is the supreme importance that the Gospel subverts our common narrative and purifies the toxicity all around us and crucially, in us.  We need men and women called by God to Word and Sacrament, who are serving and feeding the Church from playful and thoughtful rest; playful and thoughtful study and playful and thoughtful prayer!

I don’t even know how to do it but I’m gonna die trying…..