Journey to the Common Good by Walter Brueggemann

Journey to the Common Good

I have long been a fan of Walter Brueggemann and Journey to the Common Good has not disappointed me. This book constitutes his Laing Lectures at Regent College from a couple of years ago.

Brueggemann talks about the Exodus story as a journey from a culture of anxiety to a practice of neighbourliness drawing parallels with our own cultures and the challenges we face.

The great crisis among us is the crisis of “the common good,” the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny – haves and have nots, the rich and the poor. We face a croisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments and offers human solidarity. (p1)

Brueggemann presents a very different view of the Joseph story than the one we usually hold to. He points out that Joseph solidified Pharaoh’s power and enslaved the people, manipulating the economy to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few. The situation deteriorates and God intervenes.

The practice of  exploitation, fear and suffering produces a decisive moment in human history. This dramatic turn away from aggressive centralized power and a food monopoly features a fresh divine resolve for an alternative possibility.

This divine alternative comes into being through Moses’ dream of a people no longer exploited or suffering but living in the abundance of shared generosity which is the centre of YHWH’s dream. Brueggeman very helpfully contrasts this to Pharaoh’s dream, a nightmarish dream of scarcity which precipitated the crisis encouraging Abraham and others like him to seek the security of food in Egypt even if it meant slavery.

The bread of the wilderness, the bread that God gives us to eat, is a very different sort of bread. It is the bread of YHWH’s generosity,

a gift of abundance that breaks the deathly pattern of anxiety, fear, greed and anger, a miracle that always surprises because it is beyond our capacity of expectation.

Brueggemann points out that is this bread that fills the Israelites as they stand at Mt Sinai to receive God’s commands, commands that voice God’s dream of a neighbourhood and God’s intention for a society grounded in the common good.

The exploitative system of Pharaoh believed that it always needed more and was always entitled to more – more bricks, more control, more territory, more oil – until it had everything. But of course one cannot order a neighbourhood that way, because such practices and such assumptions generate only fear and competition that make the common good impossible Such greed is prohibited by YHWh’s kingdom of generosity. (25)

This is a challenging and thought provoking book that reminded me of how easily I seek my own good over the common good and how frequently I need to be challenged afresh with the values and principles of God’s new society. Our God is a generous God – not to me as an individual for the accumulation of personal wealth, but to us as a society of God’s people. This type of generosity must be shared, it must seek the common good and it must work for the welfare of all.

Journey to the Common Good, is a must read for all of us who seek to ground our lives in the shared values of God’s abundance and generosity rather than in the acquisitive values of our culture.

Praying the Psalms – Thoughts from Walter Brueggemann

Praying the Psalms by Walter Bruggemann

Praying the Psalms by Walter Bruggemann

Over the weekend I have been reading Praying the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann. I have so enjoyed this little gem of a book that I wanted to share some quotes with you. Not only does it address some of the issues of prayer that I am working on in my new book but it helped me to understand why, in a post modern era we are rediscovering the importance of poetry and the arts. I think that what he has to say here can apply to all scripture. In fact I have been thinking about it in regard to Jesus parables. THey have the same powerful ability to bring into being something that does not yet exist. Powerful stuff for us to consider.

In our culture we imbibe an understanding of language that is positivistic. That is, we believe that the function of language is only to report and describe what already exists. The usefulness of such language is obvious. It lets us be precise and unambiguous. But it is one-dimensional language that must necessarily be without passion and without eloquence and indeed without boldness. It is useful language, but it is not the language we have in the Psalms. Indeed it is not the language in which we can faithfully pray….

In the psalms the use of language does not describe what it. It evokes into being what does not exist until it has been spoken…. In using speech in this way we are in fact doing in a derivative way what God has done in the creation narratives of Genesis. We are calling into being that which does not yet exist…..

The first mode of language, appropriate to science, engineering and perhaps the social sciences, when used in the arena of human interaction, tends to be conservative, restrictive, limiting. It can only describe what already exists, and by its very use, deters anything new from coming into being. It crushes hope, for it cannot “imagine” what is not already present.  By contrast he bold symbolic use of language in the psalms is restive with what is. It races on ahead to form something new that never was before. This language then with its speech of liberation is dangerous and revolutionary, for its very use constitutes a threat to the way things have been. The creative speech of the poet can evoke new forms of human life which even the power of arms and repression is helpless to prevent….. The language of the Psalms permits us to be boldly anticipatory about what may be, as well as discerning about what has been. (17-19)




What Does the Bible Really Say About Social Justice? – Wisdom From Walter Brueggemann

In view of the response to Glenn Beck’s statements and some of comments I have received since posting the link to Bread for the World’s petition I thought that I would do some reflections this week on a biblical view of justice.  Now having said that let me hasten to add that i am not an academic theologian – rather a practitioner and advocate who has struggled for theological understanding in the midst of refugee camps and communities of poverty.

My theology has been shaped by theologians like Walter Brueggeman and NT Wright who grapple with issues of justice and the holistic nature of God’s concern for our world in a much wiser way than I ever could. I thought that I would do a series of posts over the next couple of days looking at some of their ideas.

Listen to Walter Brueggeman talking about the covenant God made with the children of Israel.

The new community now to be proclaimed and called into being bears at least three marks, according to Jeremiah.

1. It is a community of God’s Torah: “I will put my torah in their midst” (31:33, the translation “within them” is excessive personalizing). The new covenant anticipated here is one whose content is torah (which we do a disservice to render “law”). Torah that marks the new community is not a practice of law to clobber people, not a censure to expel and scold people, not a picky legalism. It is rather a release from small moralisms to see things through the eyes of God’s passion and anguish. The torah is a reminder that God’s will focuses on large human questions and that we also may focus on weighty matters of justice, mercy and righteousness.

Read the entire article here

I would also love to know who has shaped your views of Biblical justice so would appreciate your comments

Lent – Finding Freedom in the Desert

Over the weekend I read through Thomas Merton’s book Seasons of Celebration an interesting little book that looks at the meaning of the liturgy and the liturgical seasons.  One line in particular stood out for me

…the People (of God) first came into existence when the children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt and called out into the desert to be educated in freedom, to learn how to live with no other but God himself” (p13)

I had never thought much about where the children of Israel learnt the principles and practices of God’s new world.  I knew that Moses gave them the Ten Commandments but it had never occurred to me that the whole experience of 40 years in the desert was actually a training session to educate them on how to live in God’s new world with a strong sense of mutual care and concern and with particular concern for the weak and the vulnerable.  It was in the difficult places of the desert, not in the abundance of the promised land that the Hebrews learned what it meant to live by the law of love of God and love of neighbour.  

A Jewish rabbi told me recently that the Hebrew language does not have a word for charity because the idea of care for the marginalized and vulnerable is an integral part of their law and their faith.  

As I thought about this I was reminded of one of the great differences between the Australian and American founding experiences.  Whereas the American continent was lush and green encouraging people to go their own way and carve out a little space for themselves, the Australian continent was harsh and dry.  The European settlers learned very early on that they could only survive if they worked together and looked after each other.  

Adversity encourages mutuality, sharing, generosity and cooperation.  It encourages us to take notice of the weak and vulnerable and hopefully to accept our responsibility to care for them.  It writes the laws of God on our hearts not just on our minds.  Something that we need to think about as we responds to the current recession.  In fact I wonder if as a world society we are entering a season of Lent in which God wants us to be educated into the freedoms of life lived in a covenantal relationship with God.

In From Anxiety and Greed to Milk and Honey a recent article in Sojourner’s magazine Walter Brueggemann reminds us that 

Biblical faith is an invitation away from autonomy to covenantal existence that binds the self to the holy, faithful God and to neighbors who are members in a common economy.

This was the lesson of the 40 years in the wilderness for the children of Israel and it  seems as though there has never been a better time to think about this than now.  What do you think?  What lenten lessons are you learning as a result of this recession that are enabling you to live in a way that is more representative of the kingdom of God culture?

More on Injustice At the Table

Following on from the article I posted earlier today about injustice at the table, here is a very interesting article by Shannon Jung entitled God’s Diet and the Retraining of Desire.

I want to invite you to think with me about our abundance and our role in others’s hunger and how that produces a hunger in ourselves.  A very different hunger to be sure.  A different sort of appetite or desire.  The kind H. Richard Niebuhr was talking about in his book Radical Monotheism when he asked, “What is the center of value for us?” What do we most desire?”  Niebuhr’s questions reiterate—though in a positive way—Jesus’  warning to his disciples, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (MT 6:21).

read the entire article

I high recommend that you read not only the article itself but also the responses by Walter Brueggemann;  When we Grow Our Own; Kim Braken Long; Real Food And the Eucharist; and Charles Raynol’s A Commitment For Others to Eat