Theses on Church Life (Adapted from Walter Brueggemann)

1. Reality is scripted, that is shaped and authorized by a text (which takes many different forms). Even more, everybody lives by a script. The script may be implicit or explicit. It may be recognized or unrecognized, but everybody has a script.


2.  All of us get scripted through the process of nurture and formation and socialization, and it happens to us without our knowing it.


3.  The dominant scriptuing of reality in our culture is rooted in the Enlightenment enterprise associated with Descartes, Lock, Hobbes, and Rousseau, which has issued in a notion of autonomous individualism, resulting in what Philip Rieff calls “The Triumph of the Therapeutic.” Precisely this is a script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socializes us all, liberal and conservative.


4.  That script (technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism) enacted through advertising, propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, promises to make us safe and to make us happy. One such example of scripting may be deduced from Karl Marx’s social theory that the dominant class does not need to exercise force but holds sway by “hegemonic theatre.” I (Brueggemann) suspect that just now the lottery is a tool of such imagination, which proposes that any may succeed in this system. Is this a great system or what?!


5.     That script has failed. That script of military consumerism cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world.


6.     Health for our society depends upon disengagement from and relinquishment of that script of military consumerism. This is a disengagement and relinquishment that we mostly resist and about which we are profoundly ambiguous.


7.     It is the task of ministry to de-script that script among us. That is, too enable persons to relinquish a world that no longer exists and indeed never did exist. We now know (or think we know) that human transformation (the way people change) does not happen through didacticism ro through excessive certitude but through the playful entertainment of another scripting of reality that may subvert the old given text and its interpretation and lead to the embrace of an alternative text and its redescriptions of reality.


8.     The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement iis accomplished by a steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we say can make us happy and make us safe.


9.     The alternative script is rooted in the Bible and is enacted through the tradition of the Church. It is an offer of a counter-narrative, counter to the script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism.


10.  That alternative script has as its most distinctive feature, its key character – the God of the Bible whom we name as Father, Son, and Spirit. The bibilical text, in all its odd disjunctions, is an offer of an alternative script, and preaching this text is the exploration of how the world is if it is imagined through this alternative script.  The proposal of this alternative script is not through large, comprehensive, universal claims, buth through conrete, specific, local texts that, in small ways, provide alternative imagination.  The work of preaching is an act of imagination, an offer of an image through which perception, experience, and finally faith can be reorganized in alternative ways.  Because old modes of certitude are no longer trusted, the preaching of these texts is not an offer of metaphysics but the enactment of a drama in which the congregation is audience but may at any point become participant. This dramatic rendering of imagination has narrative and poetry as its quintessential mode; the telling of a story, and the subsequent living of that story.   The invitation of preaching is to abandon the script in which one has had confidence and to enter a different script that imaginatively tells one’s life differently.


11.  That script is not monolithic, one dimensional or seamless. It is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent. Partly it is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because it has been crafted over time by many committees. But it is also ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because the key character is illusive and irascible in freedom and in sovereignty and in hiddenness, and, I’m embarrassed to say, in violence – [a] huge problem for us.


12.  The ragged, disjunctive, and incoherent quality of the counter-script to which we testify cannot be smoothed or made seamless. Because when we do that the script gets flattened and domesticated and it becomes a weak echo of the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism. Whereas the dominant script is about certitude, privilege, and entitlement the counter-script is not about certitude, privilege, and entitlement. Thus care must betaken to let this script be what it is, which entails letting God be God’s irascible self.


14.  The entry point into the counter-script is baptism. Whereby we say in the old liturgies, “do you renounce the dominant script?”


15.  The nurture, formation, and socialization into the counter-script with this illusive, irascible character is the work of ministry. We do this ministry by the practices of preaching, liturgy, education, social action, spirituality, and neighboring of all kinds.


16.  Most of us are ambiguous about the script; those with whom we minister and I dare say, those of us who minister. Most of us are not at the deepest places wanting to choose between the dominant script and the counter-script. Most of us in the deep places are vacillating and mumbling in ambivalence.


17.  This ambivalence between scripts is precisely the primary venue for the Spirit. So that ministry is to name and enhance the ambivalence that liberals and conservatives have in common that puts people in crisis and consequently that invokes resistance and hostility.


19.  The work of ministry is crucial and pivotal and indispensable in our society precisely because there is no one; there is no one except the church to name and evoke the ambivalence and too manage a way through it. I think often; I see the mundane day-to-day stuff ministers have to do and I think, my God, what would happen if you took all the ministers out. The role of ministry then is as urgent as it is wondrous and difficult.

One Response to “Theses on Church Life (Adapted from Walter Brueggemann)”

  1. Aaron March 14, 2011 at 5:44 am #

    Thanks Anthony to putting this together.

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