One of the books that I’ve been meaning to read for years but have never got to is ‘The Prophetic Imagination’ by the incredible Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann is a genius of Old Testament biblical studies, someone about whom I’d read about, but somehow, never read. Now, be patient, but Hunger Games will feature later as playing out the themes Brueggemann explores.
Here Brueggemann lays open for us an image of the role of the prophet in shaping an ‘alternative community’ with an ‘alternative vision’ for the reordering of our world. You’ll know, I’m sure, the experience of reading something which puts words to those feelings you’ve had deep within you for so long – well, this is one of those books for me.
We’re encouraged to think that the role of this new community is not one simply of criticism of the prevailing systems, or of focus on specific examples of social injustice, but the radical deconstruction of the ‘royal’ mindset which thrives on numbness to ensure that the status quo remains in place. The prophetic community seeks to break through this disempowering numbness through lamenting the passing of that which was (the death of a system which is deeply broken) and casting a vision for what will be – found perhaps most powerfully and provocatively through the life and death of Jesus.
All very technical and dense, I guess.
Let’s look at it another way. In my school film club we’re watching the second of The Hunger Games films, ‘Catching Fire’. Here, our hero Katniss Eberdeen has become a focal point for a movement that seeks to dismantle the power of the Capitol and the deeply repulsive leadership of President Snow. This is a society which has willingly accepted the normality of young people fighting each other to death to ensure ‘peace’. Each of the districts of this society willingly participates in this system, and even beyond that willingly participates in a system of supplication to the power of the Capitol. Each accepts its fate – the individuals in the titular Hunger Games, and the districts in the tributary process.
Numbness has assured acquiescence – no one thinks the power of the Capitol can be overcome. People resent it, it drives people to despair, but no one can stand against the oppressive regime as they will be crushed.
Katniss does. She refuses to play the game, to accept her fate as prescribed by the ‘gamesmakers’ and by the President. She chooses to die, and through that choice brings life as the powers understand that her death with shatter the fragile numbness that exists. Katniss’s spark of rebellion is all that is needed for real revolution to break out, for people to be woken from numbness and embrace an uncertain future in which nothing is promised – perhaps death, but more importantly freedom from oppression.
Numbness shattered. An alternative community and vision proclaimed and sacrificially lived.
So much for a book and a film. What about now and reality?
Sometimes we busy ourselves too much with critiquing and even attempting to challenge specific elements of the prevailing order. These are valuable things – but they don’t really undo what needs to be undone. They don’t allow us to grieve for what is deeply broke. A simple example would be reusing carrier bags in shops – this isn’t going to solve the massive problems coming our way through global warming, but it makes us think we’re doing something. Don’t hear me wrong, these actions are important, but they’re not going to destroy the systems which truly bring us to the point of catastrophe. Unfettered capitalism, seeing everything and everyone as a commodity to be traded, surely this is what needs dismantling.
Until we lament the suffering this brings, until we find an alternative to this, well, nothing will change. We will remain numb.
I’m aware that I’m not saying anything new. I’m aware I’m a disciple of consumerism and capitalism. I’m aware I’m not always willing to reject this. But this needs articulating all the same.
What also needs articulating is an alternative vision for our church. For our theology, for our attitude to those unlike us. We can articulate belief and faithfulness to Jesus without losing sight of the last and lost. We can embrace and be inclusive without losing Jesus. But unless we’re willing to lament and accept that it is deeply broken, our numbness will still exist. We will think that we can’t change anything, we will walk away from church. Even worse, we’ll try new ways of doing things which don’t really, truly challenge and change the things that have left us broken in the first place.
We need actions of rebellions against the status quo, and we need faithfulness to the words and actions of Jesus. We need alternative communities and alternative visions which shine out as beacons in the darkness of our church and our world. This is costly, it shatters comfort and acceptance of ‘norms’. It causes organisations and individuals to proclaim ‘others’ as ‘out’ rather than in, and that hurts deeply.
But we can’t avoid what must happen by pleading for ‘unity’ – we have to grieve and protest and we have to reject and we have to proclaim something radically different. To ignore is to continue to be numb.
That’s what is going on deep within my head and my heart at the moment. How we achieve this, I don’t know. I guess by living it, if nothing else.
Brokenness is lament.
Grief , then resurrection.
New life comes.
I want to live this.