Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Script Are We Reading?

One of the joys of yesterday was the opportunity to eat lunch with two of my best buds from years gone by, Howard Plummer and Dave Hill. After lunch we went to Cokesbury, a stop that was icing on the cake of my Nashville trip. And of course, I saw the book by Walter Brueggemann that I have been wanting to check out for my summer class on preaching and interpretation - so I bought it. I am reading (again) a chapter in the book entitled Preaching as Reimagination and following his argument that I believe correctly assesses the state of American culture and the work that preaching the gospel must do as we offer to our listeners an alternative script (text) to the dominant script that has captured our imaginations and defines our identities, vocations, and connections with each other. In other words, preaching is the offer of a new scripting of reality. Do we know what script we are reading?

To quote WB: The dominant scripting of reality in our culture is rooted in the Enlightenment enterprise...which has issued in a notion of autonomous individualism...the individual becomes the norm for what is acceptable. The end result is a self-preoccupation that ends in self-indulgence, driving religion to narcissistic catering and consumerism, to limitless seeking after well-being and pleasure on one's own terms without regard to any other in the community... the American Dream as it is now understood has long since parted company with the claims of hte gospel. Whereas the dominant text (the American Dream) finds human initiative at the core of reality, the gospel witnesses to holiness as the core, and whereas it is the self that arises out of the hegemonic text, in the gospel it is the neighbor.

If this is an accurate assessment of the current state of affairs, and everything I see, hear, and know about the church in America testifies that this is so, then it is important, I think, to heed what WB says about the scriptural text (see the word script in there?) and preaching: The biblical text, in all its odd disjunction, 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? As we read the stories of Scripture - stories of a God who initiates covenant, forgives sin, delivers from oppressors, designs rules for community living, pays attention and gives special care to widows, orphans, and strangers, hosts the other, redefines who is our neighbor, teaches us that in the abundance of this good creation there is more than enough for everyone, and yet instructs us to care for this good creation that teems with God's abundance - as we read and proclaim these stories and texts, God's scripting of reality, we offer the world a new script from which to get our cues of how to live in this world of gospel reality. 

We read the paper, watch the news, amuse ourselves to death (as Postman says in his book), fall captive to the empire of greed, acquisition, power games, and pettiness... we get caught up in this script of self-sufficiency and self-indulgence, and, at the end of another unsatisfying day we ask, "Could it be otherwise?" "Is there a different way of being in this world?" "Is that all there is to life?" "Is a world of shalom really possible - where nothing is missing, nothing is broken, all have enough, all are neighbors?" That is why we need preachers who are poets, storytellers, imaginers... because preachers are world-makers, offering a new script (called gospel) that re-defines the world. I am glad to be in their company!

Soli Deo gloria

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