October 14, 2019

Sunday with Walter Brueggemann: We are not self-invented folks

First Steps (after Millet), Van Gogh

Sunday with Walter Brueggemann
We are not self-invented folks

There is a mistaken notion that we are self-starters, individuals who “possess” capacity and worth. And we can make do and can do, if we try harder. Such a view belongs to American notions of success and progress. But it really doesn’t work. We cannot make it alone. We depend on this other one. We cannot and need not have life on our own terms. Because at the deep levels of our lives, we do not have such capacities. We are mostly a conundrum of fears and unfulfilled hopes.

We are not self-invented folks. We are always creatures of another who speaks to us and calls us by name and calls us into being. In a primary way, we are individual persons because God knows our names, and as with all creation, God calls us into being. We live by God’s faithful call to us. And in a derivative way, we live by the daily call of the neighbor. We wait each day to be called by name, to be cared for, to have someone expect something of us and give something to us. And in the process we learn in many ways that our life is not a property of ours, but it is a gift given daily and we are always amazed and grateful to be called yet again to personhood.

A Gospel of Hope (p. 87)

Comments

  1. Christiane says

    That last paragraph by Brueggemann is stunning.

    ” . . . We are always creatures of another who speaks to us and calls us by name and calls us into being. . . . ”
    and
    “. . . in the process we learn in many ways that our life is not a property of ours, but it is a gift given daily and we are always amazed and grateful to be called yet again to personhood.”

    and yet we are NOT ‘robots’ but have been given ‘choice’ . . . moral responsibility to choose the right and to avoid evil

    so here we are, placed into life and helped but something more is asked of us: to be ‘a person’ and that is what may be most difficult of all . . . to be ‘human’, to be ‘humane’ especially when there is a price we must pay for it
    and THAT is what takes us beyond what is ‘reasonable’ and makes us people of hope capable of doing ‘the right thing’ even if it means we may be opening ourselves to self-sacrificial service . . . .
    irrational? Not so much ‘irrational’ as going BEYOND the ‘rational’ into something far more valuable to us if we would be called ‘humane’ persons, something approaching and then exceeding even the term ‘honorable’

    In the words of the writer Vaclav Havel,
    “Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons . . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
    (Vaclav Havel)

  2. Pellicano Solitudinis says

    Tolkien said it best, in my opinion:

    “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

  3. We live by God’s faithful call to us. And in a derivative way, we live by the daily call of the neighbor.

    Yes. And what the modern world has taught us, if we have ears to hear, is that our neighbors are not just in the small communities into which most human beings have been born and tightly bound for thousands or hundreds of thousands of year, but in the next street, across town, in the next town, the next county, the next state, the next country, and all across the planet.

    • In the modern world it is also possible to hear and act accordingly in response to the truth that some of those nearby, in the small immediate communities into which most human beings have been born and tightly bound for millennia, do not call me into being, but into bondage to themselves and their own harmful expectations, and that some communities are pervaded by such harmful expectations. In those cases, in order to receive the gift of myself form God and in a derivative way from others more far flung neighbors, and to hear their true call, I may have to separate myself from not only my original community, but the also the false sense of self given to me by that community.

      • Life is certainly a continuous paradox. It’s this And that. We most assuredly leave this life alone. There may be people around us but it’s a solo journey. Until that point, I am by nature a gregarious loner. There’s a paradox. Like you, I have had to separate myself but always somewhere new connections are made.

  4. Steve Newell says

    I am always reminded of John Donne’s poem that starts “No man is an island entire of itself; every man
    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”

    One of the greatest American myths is of the “self-made man”.

    As Christians, none of us are “self-made” except for the fact that we are all “self-made” sinners.

    • Christiane says

      there does seem to be some kind of universal ‘consciousness’ of moral behavior . . . . some of it no doubt driven by the drive to preserve the species, but some of this shared consciousness shows signs of being more than that, a universal understanding of what is ‘honorable’ is out there, although some of the versions of how it is interpreted and shown may differ profoundly;
      an example being that for some, ‘loyalty’ to an idea is considered above loyalty to a person, something that this country’s politicians have observed in the past as a ‘norm’ until our present time when ‘loyalty to a person’ has taken over instead of loyalty to the Constitution’s stated support of ‘division of powers’ to prevent too much power in the hands of one branch of government

  5. senecagriggs says

    Some years ago I read; It is not that God found us worthy, but He found us worthwhile.

    • Interesting. It says something about His nature. Finding us worthy is a legal, technical state for the books and the satisfying of requirements. Finding us worthwhile is wholly other. That’s feeling. Genuine enjoyment. Contentment. Glee. That’s the inner workings (which we see in small measure) of the heart of God.

    • I’d go so far to say that he found us to be a pearl of great price.

    • This makes sense. After all, didn’t He make us for a worthwhile purpose, to relate to Him and take care of His creation? How could He then find us “worthwhile” at a minimum, especially if He called our creation Good?

      • “How could He then NOT find us worthwhile…”

        Geez, my phrasing lately has been all screwed up. Need to stop typing on a phone. I am NOT a millenial…lol

  6. How about our failures? Are we not to blame? Are our sins not our own doing?
    Of course their is a community helping us and hurting us in life, but what we do with today matters.
    We can and do make lives for ourselves.
    And, of course, we make decisions and perform actions to destroy our lives.

    • That is a truth that does not really need repeating in our culture, because most of us are already steeped in it. What we need to hear more of is what Brueggemann is saying here.

    • Christiane says

      we don’t know all the answers, joe

      only God can judge a person’s heart, only God can understand if ‘they know not what they do’

      we have a moral conscience that, if not destroyed, can steer us towards what is ‘good’ and away from what is ‘evil’ and that moral consciousness is universal, so that if we follow our conscience as best we understand what it guides us towards, we will likely not go too far wrong

      all kinds of factors contribute to human behaviors but to KNOWINGLY hurt an innocent person OR TO SUPPORT the harming of innocent persons is certainly a universal No-No . . . . and you CAN say ‘we’ if, as a unity of people, the chosen elected leader runs amok by torturing small children and mentally ill diseased ‘aliens’, so I do think we have some collective ‘guilt’, certainly if we ‘look away’ and keep silent, but most certainly if we idolize the ‘leader’ who, in choosing his ways to ‘make America great again’ has an open policy of tormenting the innocent.

      is a saying in my Church, this

      ” This thought should keep us humble: we are sinners, but we do not know how great.
      He alone knows Who died for our sins.”

      (John Henry Newman)

    • joe, of course that’s true but what Brueggemann writes is no less true.

  7. I am in total agreement that we are not self-created. Believing that God is creator prevents believing in self-creation, for one thing. But I also agree with the idea in this post that we come into being, and are formed as beings, by receiving God’s call through particular communities composed of others beings (human and non-human, I would add).

    Where I want to push back is against any confusion leading to the idea that our “worth” or value depends on the recognition of it by any particular community, including the original community into which we are born. In my own case and the case of my wife, but also in the cases of many people throughout our society, our original familial communities, and the wider communities immediately around them, did not call us into being, but into bondage. They did not support our God-given value, but attacked and undermined it. But we still had value, even though those communities betrayed their own call to participate in God’s calling us into being. Our value was and is not dependent on the faithfulness of the community immediately around us for validation; it exists because God has given it directly to us.

    I recognize that the message that one has such value despite the counter-messaging of one’s immediate community comes from somewhere in the wider community of humanity, and beyond that the community of being. Otherwise, apart from a direct revelation of God (which I believe sometimes happens, though rarely), we would not hear God calling us into true authentic being by calling us out of the immediate communities that are binding rather than calling us into being. But the message that we have worth does not create the worth; like the gospel, it is news heralded of something God has already done for and given us. It is important to know, to hear, because hearing and knowing it has the power to free us to live into the being and value that is God’s gift to us. But sometimes, and in recent decades we are finding that it is more frequently than had ever been supposed in earlier eras, to realize that being and value we must respond to God’s call by distancing ourselves from our immediate, original communities.

    On those occasions when we have to distance ourselves from an original community, or any later adopted community, when we have a sense of free-floating away from embeddedness in any community and being outside the hearing of any call, when we feel that forging of an alternative sense of self lays totally in our meager capacity, it’s important to remember that we have inalienable worth given directly to us. Why am I saying all this right now, making myself sound like a contratrian? Because someone may be reading this comment who needs to hear and/or remember, who needs to know from the wider community of humanity and being, that you, YOU have value and worth even if your mother or father, your husband or girlfriend, your neighbor or boss, your church or coffee klatch don’t recognize it and aren’t willing to acknowledge it. Hang in, hang on, there is hope, because no one can undo your God-given value and worth.

    • Susan Dumbrell says

      Robert..I am reading and appreciating your comments.
      Thank you for the timely reminder.
      Susan

      • the light you first saw
        as you looked out at the world
        is undiminished

      • I hope things are well with you and John, Susan.

      • Christiane says

        Hey to Susan in Australia,

        let us know how you are doing . . . hope all is going as well as can be expected

        • Susan Dumbrell says

          Hi all,
          Things are rather quiet and John is much the same.
          We had three days of snow over the weekend, very pretty.
          I will venture out today and view the world.
          Susan

    • Thank you, Robert. Many of your comments resonate with me and give voice to things I have trouble articulating. This comment made me cry. In a good way. Thank you.