Monthly Archives: August 2010
Earlier this morning, I had a lot of fun talking with a group of about 100 or so parishioners at Holy Faith Catholic Church about “Scripture as Story.” For the folks who were there, I mentioned that I would make sure that I made it easy to find a link to my short general overview to our approach at studying Scripture at the GCW. If you want to read that short overview which includes a little bit about the power of story and a concise list of things to consider as you study Scripture, click here.
Additionally, I had to leave out one section of the talk this morning in the interest of time. I’ve pasted below a version of that section in case you’re interested. Thanks!
A Clash of Stories
Walter Brueggemann, a favorite Scripture scholar of mine, wrote: “The contemporary American church is so largely enculturated to the American ethos of consumerism that it has little power to believe or act… Our consciousness has been claimed by false fields of perception and idolatrous systems of language and rhetoric…”
In essence, this is Brueggemann’s fancy way of saying that for the great majority of folks in our churches, we have in fact (perhaps unwittingly) chosen to worship other gods than God, and to build our lives around other stories than the stories of our Scripture. Call those gods what you will: status, money, success, political ideologies, and so on. And those gods are mediated to us by their own priests, whether it be the folks who weave stories for us from Madison Avenue, or Wall Street, or from the media, or from political parties… They understand how to tell us stories which capture our allegiance, and we end up giving our worship to these false gods and organizing our lives based on what they have told us is important, essential, necessary to our fulfillment and happiness.
The one false religion Brueggemann names in particular, “consumerism,” is rampant in our culture. Brueggemann goes on to call consumerism “an ethos that depreciates memory” (meaning it cultivates in its adherents ignorance and disregard for the past), and that it “ridicules hope” (meaning that it encourages a lack of care or consideration of the future). What it tells us is that all that matters is now, and me, and what’s mine.
Brueggemann goes on to say that “the church will not have the power to act or believe until it recovers its stories…”
What he asserts is that we have lost our stories, and with it, we have lost our memory of what truly matters, of who we truly are, and what our purpose is here on this earth. And until we re-remember those stories, until we start to let them get inside us and work on us and recapture our allegiance to the real God, we will remain defenseless against the snares and lures of the false idols prevalent in our culture. We will remain prone and vulnerable to the manipulation of stories which purport to offer us happiness or fulfillment when what they really offer is our enslavement.
Our scriptural stories offer us a different Word than the dominant stories of the culture in which we live. Our scriptures serve as a counter, reminding us who we are and who God is and what our relationship is to each other and God. More often than not, they go against what passes for conventional wisdom; indeed they are often critical of conventional wisdom.
Like our ancestors in the early church, our scriptures invite us to be “different” — the Bible uses a word that is often translated as “peculiar” — in the world. Soren Kierkegaard, the great 18th century Christian philosopher once wrote: “There was a time when one could almost be afraid to call himself a disciple of Christ, because it meant so much. Now one can do it with complete ease, because it means nothing at all.” Even 200 years ago, Kierkegaard was recognizing that people who follow Christ had ceased to look different in the world, that they looked, talked and led their lives just like everyone else–that they were no longer witnesses to a different reality but rather accommodated to the culture in which they found themselves.
But our ancestors have been motivated and transformed by the stories in Scripture all throughout history–from those in the early church who lived out their faith despite persecution to St. Francis and his wandering band of itinerant monastics; from members of the Confessing Church in Germany during WWII who resisted the will of Hitler and the laws of the Nazis to the leaders of the civil rights movement here in America who understood themselves as people with dignity bestowed on them by God. These folks, and many others, mined the stories of Scripture to empower them to be the people who God created them to be, no matter the risks, and to witness to that reality which Jesus called the kingdom of God–a kingdom not fully here but breaking in wherever people chose to live it into reality through their words, actions and choices…