Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Profound Grief and an Absurd Hope: Reflections on Walter Brueggemann's "Prophetic Imagination"

So, I've been reading along with my friend Kelley Nikondeha as a part of her "Transit Lounge" reading club (see the big badge on the right?), but you might not know that, because as of yet, I haven't actually succeeded in writing about any of the books we've read because [insert littany of excuses here].

This month, however, we're reading The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann, a book we both love by an author we both deeply appreciate, so Kelley wasn't taking "no" for an answer, and she invited me over to her space to write a reflection on the book. Of course I said yes, but as it turns out I have quite a bit to say on the topic, so I'm posting this in two parts. The first is hosted today over at Kelley's place, and the second will be here later this week [edit - here's part two]. I do hope you'll stick around for both.

Here's an excerpt from my piece over at Kelley's place today:

In the text, Brueggemann is concerned with the role of the prophet, both in the Scriptures and in the context of our modern culture. His thesis is that the task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture [or "royal consciousness"] around us.The first task of the prophet then, is to shake us from the “numbness” that the royal consciousness lulls us into. He says in the introduction to the second edition “numbness robs us of our capability for humanity.” Unfortunately, that numbness is something with which I am intimately familiar, but I’ll get to that a bit later. 
Now, the nature of the royal consciousness is that it is the end result of a process of enculturation. So all of us, to one degree or another, participate in the perpetuation of the royal consciousness, whether we do so wittingly or unwittingly. It is the context within which we conceptualize our entire world. It is then, perhaps unsurprisingly, difficult to shake loose the bondage of this royal consciousness and the crushing numbness it carries with it. Brueggemann’s answer – typified in the witness of the weeping prophet Jeremiah, Second Isaiah and Christ – lies in grieving. He writes, It is the task of prophetic ministry and imagination to bring people to engage their experiences of suffering and death. For some, that may seem like a somewhat jarring statement, but essentially Brueggemann’s point is that we are, in fact, dead already, that we have allowed the royal consciousness to bind us so tightly that we have lost the ability to feel anything real. Only a confrontation with the horror of the oppression, injustice and death that are the result of the power of the royal consciousness is sufficient to dislodge us from out apathy, and it is the prophet’s role, according to Brueggemann, to give voice to that confrontation.
Ultimately, the story I’m trying to tell here is about that confrontation in my own life, my own ongoing and ever-unfolding journey from numbness, to grief, to an absurd-and-ever-so-fragile hope. It’s a story that I’ve been trying to tell for a long time, but I simply haven’t had the frame of reference to even understand it, let alone the words to tell it. I’ve even read Prophetic Imagination before (twice!), but for some reason, this time through it resonated with me in a way it never has before. And when I say “resonated,” I don’t mean like a tuning fork or a violin string, I mean it more like how the seismic waves of earthquakes can resonate with the oscillations of particular buildings and shake them into dust, leaving nothing standing.
 I hope you'll click through and read the rest. And look for part two here in the next couple of days.

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