Sunday, April 10, 2011

living out of a "towel" community

Last night in bed I read a bit of W. Brueggemann's book Peace. I was tired and only managed a few pages but want to share because it was really good. In this chapter, The Church: An Untangled World he writes about the church witness in a tangled up, unbelieving world. He refers to the church as the "towel" community of "empowering vulnerability," see John 13:1-17. He also proposes that it is this "'towel' of empowering vulnerability that frees us." Committed service and self-giving love--these are the marks of Christ's people.

What I find especially insightful is how Brueggemann writes about the truth as that which untangles a tangled up world.

"The truth is given to a community that has the 'towel' of empowering vulnerability. And, indeed, the suggestion is clear that only such a community may know the truth. We know something about the world that the world does not know about itself. That doesn't mean we have the right doctrine or the right morals, but that we can see clearly and know honestly how it is from the perspective of the hope-giving Lord. So what do we know in our 'towel' community that the world cannot face about itself? Some things are obvious:

-We know that persons are more precious than property.
-We know that human worth is more precious than ideology.
-We know that quality is more important than quantity.
-We know that community-building can't be based on selfish advancement.
-We know that when we take our rules too seriously, we will crush or be crushed.
-We know that being able to do something (having a skill or capacity) doesn't automatically give it legitimacy, as, for example, with sex, or bombing, or hating, or developing.

We also know
-that this world is on its way out and no one can prevent that.
-that a new world is being given to humans and we are invited to it.
-that the movement from this world to the next is not made with full hands, but requires empty hands.
-that sorrow will be turned to joy while the world grieves."

"That doesn't mean we have the right doctrine or the right morals, but that we can see clearly and know honestly how it is from the perspective of the hope-giving Lord."

In my opinion (and I don't entirely know what Brueggemann would say, but I have ideas), this is not to say that pursuing the development of sound doctrine is bad. I just spent several years "in" these things (I value these things). BUT I think that, by itself, such a pursuit will lead to a dry and empty faith. I've struggled hard with working together the study of God and life with God (relationship is always vital and sometimes study, as other things, can kill it...or it can grow and enrich it; study for the sake of study/knowledge vs. study for the sake of vital living/relationship). Believing and following God is more than right doctrine only. "Right doctrine" can dangerously become a head-game. I've seen it happen. Then there are "right morals." Also, moral and ethical living are important. The truth of the Gospel and the story of God demand a transformation of our ethical life. But again, the pursuit of morality can become an empty endeavor that leaves a person tangled up in moral laws and rules that deny the freedom of life in Christ (he promised "abundant life," what does that mean?). One thing I so appreciate about Brueggemman is his pastoral heart and his commitment to biblical theology--doctrine and moral life mustn't be divorced from the biblical story of life with God. How we know, follow, and believe God changes things about daily life. Theology is practical and necessarily affects our practice of life. So, I too believe that our nearness to God allows us the perspective of the hope-giving Lord...and we begin to learn things about the world that it doesn't know about itself. As God untangles us we're able, in small but sure degrees, to approach the tangled world with His life-giving truth. Now maybe after all this rambling of mine you should go back and read those two "lists" of examples he offers...I think they're very helpful and worth thinking on...


Bethany said...

Hey Andrea, this is Bethany. After you commented on my blog, I came over here and have really enjoyed reading some of your thoughts. Also, I just finished Finally Comes the Poet, and it really challenged me. If you had to pick another Bruggemann to read which one would you recommend?

Andrea said...

Hey Bethany! I'm glad you appreciated Finally Comes the Poet. Hmm. I would probably recommend this book I'm reading now, actually: Peace. It's under the series heading "Understanding Biblical Themes" by Chalice Press. He talks about peace as Christian responsibility to a new way of life--rooted in God's compassion and Christian practices that transform daily living. Otherwise, I've heard good things about The Prophetic Imagination (although I think its a very thick/hefty content read). Ummm...yeah, I guess that's it. I haven't read many full-length books. You can find several articles online...
hope that helps!