Bible · faith

Resurrection Is The Last Word

I love it when things come together. To see God’s hand in even the smallest event.
For me, this has come in the last few days in my readings in the book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

We have just had two weeks that have been very rich with family time, but also full of travelling and busyness when there hasn’t been much time for quiet.

Now, as I write this, it’s Holy Saturday, that space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday when we remember Jesus in the tomb, and I’m hoping to capture some of the meaning of this season – moving from Lent into Easter.
I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah since the beginning of the year, and now I’m up to chapter 30. In the last few days of my readings, there’s been a shift. From dire warnings of judgment for Israel for forsaking their God, a note of hope is creeping in.

That’s not to say that the judgment will not come.
It will.
Israel will still be sent into exile in Babylon.
Jerusalem will still be laid waste.

But God has a long term plan that involves restoration. In fact the time that Israel spends in exile will result in purification and a renewal of their faith. Read what God says to Israel in chapter 30:

Thus says the Lord:
I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob, and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound, and the citadel set on its rightful site …… and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

It feels so right to be reading this on the cusp of Easter Day.
Walter Brueggemann writes about this chapter of Jeremiah:
“This chapter speaks of a hope rooted in God’s own resolve and faithfulness; a hope addressed toward a people who are at the brink of despair. A hope issued in the face of their captivity in Babylon. A hope that would overcome even the utter failures of the past.”
Exile and Homecoming – A Commentary on the book of Jeremiah. page 270 (slightly amended)

The fix that we are in is essentially the same as Israel’s. We need hope in our places of despair, our sicknesses, our addictions, our slavery ….
We are tempted to respond with either blind optimism, or bleak despair. The message of Jeremiah is that there is a third way. The following verses from Jeremiah 24 tell us that hope is to be found because this renewal is a work of God, and not a human endeavour.
I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God,”
God promises that there will be a time when he will give them a new heart. God knows that on their own, Israel’s heart will not change. If they are to change, then it must be a work of God.

Jeremiah uses the image of sickness unto death in chapter 30:
For thus says the Lord: Your hurt is incurable, your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. (Jeremiah 30:12-13)

God’s people are terminally ill, beyond healing and sure to die.

But even in the face of this, God says:
“I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 30:17)

In the end, God wills resurrection. Walter Brueggemann again:
“The future … is firmly under the rule of God … On the one hand, Israel must not deny its bleak present. On the other hand, however, it must not take the present with ultimate seriousness. God’s sure governance of the future stands as a powerful, palpable alternative to present despair.” Brueggemann p. 281

I remember nearly 20 years ago hearing Rowan Williams being interviewed. He had just been announced as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He was asked what for him was the central message of the Christian faith. His answer was that change is possible. The resurrection of Jesus is the most powerful statement that it is possible to transform even the most hopeless situation.

It seems to me that the message of the book of Jeremiah is the same. On this Holy Saturday, as we wait for Easter Dawn, we pray for all those who are waiting and praying for change, and for God to work in resurrection power.

Grace and Peace.

Activism · community

‘Narratives of Pain and Possibility.’

I got this from a podcast – Common Good.
An episode with Walter Brueggemann. A conversation based on an article that he wrote called ‘Not Numbed Inside’

I’ll just pick out a couple of things from the conversation.

The conversation started with thoughts on the power of compassion as seen most clearly in mother love, and how that compassion can make a difference – beyond the personal transformation of our lives to working with others to bring about change.
In Walter’s words: “How to go beyond energising our own individual innards, to activate the innards of a society based on individualism and greed ?”

Walter sees two components – one is Liturgy – “action that binds us into a common imagination.”
And the other component is Organise. “Organise, organise, organise.”

“The symbiotic relationship between liturgy and organising is the work that has to be done if we are to mobilise social power and not just well meaning individuals. The movements of Black Lives Matter and the Me Too movement are examples of exactly that kind of excercise, that are capable of getting people’s attention, helping people to rethink, and maybe eventually it leads to policy.”

The podcast host returns to the opening theme of compassion and the way that patriarchy sees feminine traits as being opposed to the work that we are supposed to be doing ….

Walter’s answer I found really interesting – I’m still trying to get my head round it!
He went on to talk about Ideology and Narrative, and offered an image of Ideology floating above narrative, patriarchy as an example of ideology, and the importance of knowing our story.

“What ideology does is to cause us to deny our own narrative in order to accommodate somebody else’s narrative. The work is to help people get below whatever ideology they are hooked in, including Liberalism, to hear specific ‘Narratives of Pain and Possibility.’ When we are held by an ideology, we become alienated from our own narrative of pain and possibility, and cannot make contact with anybody else’s narrative. The work is to expose the way that ideology, (including patriarchy), leads to despair and denial and the cover up of our own primary narrative.”

(In ‘my speak’ – when we are locked into a particular way of looking at the world, we are unable to own our own story, or to hear the story of others who have a different experience. My question here would be … what way of looking at the world am I locked into … and is that necessarily unhelpful )?

Walter Brueggemann: “People who support Donald Trump are signing on to an ideology, even though it contradicts their own personal story of what they want and what they need and what they hope for. Consequently they have very little contact with themselves because they have signed on to this ideology. The more we are trapped into an ideology, the less we understand the wonder and the problematic of our own narrative – because everybody’s story is wondrous and problematic – but we don’t have to commuicate about that if we have a cover-all ideology that displaces that.”

I’m still trying to process all of that, but what I take away from it is two things:

The change that is required to move from energising our own lives to being a part of work that can energise a community.

The importance of our story and being able to tell it and own it.

Grace and Peace.

Bible · Climate Change

They Groaned In Their Slavery

In Isaiah 65, when we read about God’s promise of a ‘new heaven and a new earth,’ God says – “Before they call, I will answer.”

But at the start of the Exodus narrative, it seems that it is the cry of the Hebrew people that comes first. They have been in Egypt for 400 years, since the time of Joseph, and their situation has gone from being privileged strangers to slaves.

Their plight is extreme, and in Exodus chapter 2 verse 23, we read “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out …”

Straight away after those words, we read that God heard their cry for help -“and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.”

God’s response is to call Moses as God’s human agent to bring about change, that ultimately results in liberation from the life of slavery in Egypt to journey to the land of promise.

But there’s quite a way to go before any of that, notably the 10 plagues that come to Egypt. Walter Brueggemann was asked why did there need to be 10 plagues. His answer was partly to do with the dramatic telling of the story. It’s to build the tension. Will they or won’t they be able to leave Egypt ? We know that kind of tension in storytelling, where you know what’s coming, or at least what should be coming, but again and again there are false starts, because that’s often how life is.

I was reminded of that this week very powerfully as I listened to the story of John Godsall, who was taken prisoner in Kuwait during the first Iraq war, and spent four and a half months with hundreds of other captives being taken round various military and civil installations in the south of Iraq and used as a human shield. He describes most movingly how time and time again his captors told him that the day for his release had arrived, only for his captors to laugh when it clearly wasn’t going to happen. John buried his traumatic experience for 28 years, appearing to say, as other hostages also said, that they were well treated whilst in captivity. It’s only recently that he has felt able to talk openly about the truth of these dark months.

That real life story shines a light on the way the Exodus story is told, repeatedly giving hope to Moses and his people, and then snatching it away.

This is such a time. We are groaning in our slavery to the system that threatens planet earth. Maybe God has heard that cry, and has sent people like Greta Thunberg, and the activists who have come together under the Extinction Rebellion banner. But time and again we hear promises, but not enough in the way of action.

I read about a conversation that Queen Elizabeth was having at the opening of the Welsh parliament yesterday, where the Queen has been caught on microphone criticising world leaders who “talk” but “don’t do” when it comes to climate change. During a conversation at the opening of the parliament in Cardiff, she told the Duchess of Cornwall and Elin Jones, the parliament’s presiding officer: “Extraordinary isn’t it… I’ve been hearing all about COP[26]… still don’t know who is coming… no idea. We only know about people who are not coming… It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.”

Another royal, Prince William has something very similar in an interview about the ‘Earthshot Prize’ – where he is clearly speaking about the space race and space tourism when he says: “We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live.”

The Exodus story may be an encouragement to keep going, and holding out the hope of a sustainable future for the generations yet to come.

Grace and Peace

Bible · community

What Would Walter Bruegemann Say (WWWBS)

I’m using a book by Walter Brueggemann for my daily prayers. Gift and Task – It’s based on a year cycle of readings in (I think ?) The Presbyterian Church of America. So each day there’s a Psalm, readings from the Old and New Testament, and a Gospel reading. Walter Brueggemann then has a reflection on one or more of the passages.

When I read a review of the book before I bought it, one of the comments was that it felt like after a while, Brueggemann was repeating himself and going back to the same subjects. Well, having got almost half way through the year, I can say that this is true, but also really helpful. To begin to get a feel for themes that reappear in scripture really gets them into your mind and heart.

Here are a few of the themes that are revisited:
Exclusion v Inclusion
Empire v Commonwealth
Self Confidence v Trust
Scarcity v Abundance
Competition v Cooperation
Individualism v Connectedness
Self v Community
Death v Life
Business as Usual v Transfomation
Knowledge v Wisdom

One simple example was yesterday’s reading from Galatians, where Paul compares acts of the flesh, with life in the Spirit, and draws out the contrast between self and community.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5 verses 19 – 23)

He makes the simple but profound point that the first list is all about the self. “A life that is propelled by self advancement at the expense of others and a passionate will to have one’s own way.” This kind of life is, in the end, destructive of community, and is fostered by the individualsim that is rampant in our world.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit list is all about community, supporting one another through acts of love.

Grace and Peace.