September 15, 2019

Sunday with Walter Brueggemann: The Involved Life

Outskirts of Paris: Road with Peasant Shouldering a Spade, Van Gogh

Sunday with Walter Brueggemann
The Involved Life

We are called to put on love for the world, the world we have been taught deep in our bones to fear and hate and resist. But we did not learn so from Christ, rather we learned God so loved the world. So in our maturing we need to ask how we feel about the world of arms and poverty and TV and mobility and pressure and pace and people and problems. This is so very new for many of us, and the church stands accused of not helping us love this world where God has placed us.

We shall have to put on the notion that life, in all its abundance, comes from involvement. But our monastic ideals, which have been transformed only slightly into our suburban detachment, have taught us to avoid and keep clear and stay detached. But we did not learn so from Jesus. We learned about the involved life from manger to cross with the road between littered with need and filth and joy and all the humanness of the world into which he came. The life of Jesus speaks so eloquently about the joy and pain of involvement, and it calls us to unlearn our non-Christian notion of detachment from the hurt of the world.

A Gospel of Hope, pp. 115-116

Comments

  1. One of the lay brothers at the monastery recalled what was likely my uncle’s last homily before he died. He recounted it to my brother at my uncle’s funeral. In it he said that the Wise Men would not have found Jesus if they weren’t walking in the dark. What a penetrating insight. We are part of this world and part of its darkness. We are not of the world but it’s a bunch of hoohockey to say that we don’t beep our horns in anger in our cars that spew smog with everyone else. We’re in It but not of it but our “in it” frankly doesn’t look that different a lot of the time from our “not of it”. We slog through the personal and corporate pain of this world, sometimes unfortunately being the cause of it. Oddly though, mysteriously and grandly, grace captures light from out of the “thick darkness” and that’s where God is. The star will never be visible without the night.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Chris. One reason I like secular music so much (besides the fact that it’s usually more musically interesting than typical Christian music) is that it reminds me the world is hurting and searching

      • I’ll get you a copy of my sort of secular but not too secular album in a few months when it’s fone.

        • AWESOME!!

          My sort of secular but not too secular sci-fi book should be out in about a month, too!

    • David Cornwell says

      ChrisS, you gave me the sermon I needed to hear today. Thank you.

  2. If the goal of Christian love and empathy is to mitigate, not merely be entrapped, by the world’s suffering, then total identification with and immersion in it is not the way to go. In terms of spirituality, and in practical terms, detachment is not indifference; if the first responder ambulance workers do not establish some level of psychological and physical detachment from the people they are trying to help at a crash site, they will be sunk in despair and panic at best, or become part of the gawking crowd at worst. The goal of helping requires the discipline of detachment.

    • I don’t think WB would disagree.

      I have written about this here regularly as the false idea of “separation” from the world.

      • I totally agree that separation from the world is not something Christians are called to. But I don’t think authentic “monastic ideals” have “taught us to avoid and keep clear and stay detached” (using WB’s definition here of detachment as withdrawal and indifference); true monastic ideals teach us how to be engaged and empathetic without being overcome by suffering and sin. And I say that as someone not prone to a rosy view of the history of the monastic tradition. But the good stuff is in there, in the tradition and the teaching and aspects of the lifestyle, and it isn’t fair to connect it to the flight of affluent people, especially American Christians, to suburbia, as WB does.

        • I just think you’re misreading him, Robert, because he is using certain terminology. WB would be the first to say that there is a rhythm to all of this: gathering and scattering, withdrawing and engaging, detachment and involvement. This quote is a snippet and represents one side of the case. It is, as he says in the final sentence, “detachment from the hurt of the world” that he is critiquing here, and that we must not cultivate. Bruggemann has written plenty on the need to build strong communities of faith, which necessitates a different kind of withdrawal from the world as part of a balanced rhythm of life.

          • Christiane says

            “detachment from the hurt of the world” that he (Brueggemann) is critiquing here, and that we must not cultivate. ”

            Chaplain Mike, there is a tragic true story about a young man that relates to this issue:

            In 1993 (Kevin Carter) flew to Sudan to photograph the famine racking that land. Exhausted after a day of taking pictures in the village of Ayod, he headed out into the open bush. There he heard whimpering and came across an emaciated toddler who had collapsed on the way to a feeding center. As he took the child’s picture, a plump vulture landed nearby. Carter had reportedly been advised not to touch the victims because of disease, so instead of helping, he spent 20 minutes waiting in the hope that the stalking bird would open its wings. It did not. Carter scared the creature away and watched as the child continued toward the center. He then lit a cigarette, talked to God and wept. . . . . . .

            . . . . Carter won a Pulitzer for his image, but the darkness of that bright day never lifted from him. In July 1994 he took his own life, writing,
            “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain.”

            http://100photos.time.com/photos/kevin-carter-starving-child-vulture

        • David Cornwell says

          The monastic tradition at its best is a ministry of prayer and intercession. And although they may be physically withdrawn to an extent most of us could not tolerate, they are immersed in the world through prayer. This is something that is difficult for most of us to understand, but they know the pain of the world somehow or the other. It may be through their own pain and suffering, that of loved ones, the world they were a part of or the direction of the Holy Spirit.

    • Iain Lovejoy says

      There are all sorts of metaphorical images about God being a rock in floods and storms etc. I don’t see Jesus detached from the world but rather passionately involved and weeping over it. As a tentative suggestion it is not detachment as such from the world we need, but perpetual focus on God. If we are called to both love God and our neighbour, perhaps it is because a sense of the love of God, and keeping in our vision that, ultimately, God will make right, which enables us to engage with the evil in the world without despair.

  3. Totally unrelated note: Going to Fenway for the first time today. Makes me pretty damn special, in my opinion.

  4. Christiane says

    “detachment from the hurt of the world” that he (Brueggemann) is critiquing here, and that we must not cultivate. ”

    Chaplain Mike, there is a tragic true story about a young man that relates to this issue:

    ” In 1993 (Kevin Carter) flew to Sudan to photograph the famine racking that land. Exhausted after a day of taking pictures in the village of Ayod, he headed out into the open bush. There he heard whimpering and came across an emaciated toddler who had collapsed on the way to a feeding center. As he took the child’s picture, a plump vulture landed nearby. Carter had reportedly been advised not to touch the victims because of disease, so instead of helping, he spent 20 minutes waiting in the hope that the stalking bird would open its wings. It did not. Carter scared the creature away and watched as the child continued toward the center. He then lit a cigarette, talked to God and wept. . . . . . .

    . . . . Carter won a Pulitzer for his image, but the darkness of that bright day never lifted from him. In July 1994 he took his own life, writing,
    “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain.” ”

    http://100photos.time.com/photos/kevin-carter-starving-child-vulture