As the British election results sink in and we move on into the unknown but highly speculated upon future, there is little doubt that the mandate of those of us who profess to Hope, to Love and to have Faith, is largely unchanged…whatever our particular political convictions are. That mandate includes being salt and light; preserving and keeping fresh all that is good in our society and protecting against the toxic ‘social infections’ which ravage and destroy well-being. And, in addition, faithfully bringing revelation, insight and truthfulness into the public square to enable vision and expose lies. We certainly must neither lose our saltiness nor let the light dim and Jesus encourages us to remain in him in order that we ‘bear much fruit’ and stay salty and full of light; in fact his assertion was so strong he added ‘apart from me you can do nothing'(John 15:5). It is a good reminder to keep humble but it is also an urgent call to keep engaged and effective…Thomas Merton, in his reflections of Christian presence and resistance to evil in the chapter The time of the end is the time of no room, in his book Raids on the unspeakable, puts it this way:
It is therefore very important to understand that Christian humility implies not only a certain wise reserve in regard to ones own judgements-a good sense which sees that we are not always necessarily infallible in our ideas-but it also cherishes positive and trustful expectations of others. A supposed “humility” which is simply depressed about itself and about the world is usually a false humility. This negative, self-pitying “humility” may cling desperately to dark and apocalyptic expectation, and refuse to let go of them. It is secretly convinced that only tragedy and evil can possibly come from our present world situation. This secret conviction cannot be kept hidden. It will manifest itself in our attitudes, in our social action, and in our protest. It will show that in fact we despair of reasonable dialogue with anyone. It will show that we expect only the worst. Our action therefore seeks only to block or frustrate the adversary in some way. A protest that from the start declares itself to be in despair is hardly likely to have positive or constructive results. At best it provides an outlet for the personal frustrations of the one protesting. It enables him to articulate his despair in public. This is not the function of Christian nonviolence. This pseudo-prophetic desperation has nothing to do with the beatitudes…No blessedness has been promised to those who are merely sorry for themselves…the meekness and humility which Christ extolled in the Sermon on the Mount and which are the basis of true Christian non-violence are inseparable from an eschatological Christian hope which is completely open to the presence of God in the world and therefore to the presence of our brother who is always seen, no matter who he may be, in the perspectives of the Kingdom. Despair is not permitted to the meek, the humble, the afflicted, the ones famished for justice, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers…They refuse to despair of the world and abandon it to a supposedly evil fate which it has brought upon itself. Instead, like Christ himself, the Christian takes upon his own shoulders the yoke of the Saviour, meek and humble of heart. The yoke is the burden of the world’s sin with all its confusions and all its problems. These sins, confusions, and problems are our very own. We do not disown them. 1.
So how do we go about ‘owning’ the ‘burden of the world’s sin with all its confusions and all its problems’? Even for those who are rejoicing and relieved at the outcome of recent elections and certainly for those who are tempted to despair at the results, there can be no doubt that over the course of the next 5 years our nation faces considerable challenges to social cohesion; the possibility of growing outbreaks of instability rooted in growing inequality has neither evaporated nationally, nor even more significantly, globally and I find Walter Brueggemann’s insights on how we can participate constructively very helpful. In his book Deep Memory Exhuberant Hope: contested truth in a post-Christian world Brueggemann speaks of how we identify the dominant, destructive narratives of our time, their effects in society and how we can imagine and enact alternative narratives which subvert them. He nails the dominant narrative, or version of reality as one of VIOLENCE:
This can run all the way from sexual abuse and racial abuse to the strategy of wholesale imprisonment of deviants to military macho that passes for policy. It eventuates in road rage and in endless TV violence piped into our homes for our watching pleasure. I suspect that underlying all of these modes of violence is the economic violence embedded in free-market ideology, which denies an obligation of openness to the neighbour who is in truth a deep inconvenience and a drain upon resources. (p6)2.
He suggests that a resistance to this Dominant Version of reality will require acts of ‘sustained imagination’ in 3 main areas: The first area is that of MATERIAL DEPRIVATION ‘fostered by a myth of scarcity,the driving power of market ideology’ (p6) the antidote to which is a generous sharing and affirmation of abundance which is rooted in the faithful generosity of God the PROVIDER. The biblical account of the provision of enough in the wilderness and Jesus’ feeding of the thousands were subversive counter-narratives to the social myth of scarcity which breeds fear, insecurity and violence. In Brueggemann’s paraphrase, Jesus was demonstrating that even in times of oppression ‘where the gospel is trusted, loaves abound!’ (ibid) The second area he highlights is the BREAKDOWN OF CONNECTIONS-the ‘severing of elemental social relationships’ which drives people into isolation and defensive fearfulness. The antidote to alienation is the affirmation of covenantal community and solidarity which is precedented in the ‘offer of covenant, a vision, a structure, and a practice that binds the “haves” and the “have nots” into one shared community, so that we are indeed members of each other… where one suffers all suffer and when one rejoices all rejoice together…the only available alternative to the dissociation that fosters and legitimates and thrives on violence from below and violence from above.’ (p7) The third and final area he notes as being an important ‘breeding ground’ for violence is the SILENCE ‘of being vetoed and nullified and canceled so that we have no say in the future of the community or of our own lives’ (p.7). The antidote to silence is the legitimation of speech a ‘speech that breaks the silence of violence and the violence of silence’ which often comes officially unlegitimated ‘from below in the daring speech of the silenced.’ Brueggemann notes a function of the Psalms as legitimating the voice of the oppressed and in doing so breaking the collusion of silence ‘speaking truth amidst power, speaking truth to holiness and evoking newness’ (ibid)
1. Merton, T. (1994) Raids on the unspeakable, Burns and Oates Ltd.
2. Brueggemann, W. (2000) Deep Memory Exhuberant Hope: Contested truth in a post-Christian world, Mineeapolis: Augsburg Fortress