Monday, January 31, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January, 31 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

The storytelling of the "local tradition" takes hold out in the wilderness away from Empire - again from Brueggemann.
The slave community proceeded in fits and starts, through the wilderness to Sinai, the venue for the construction, formulation, and embrace of Israel's "local tradition."  Thus, "local tradition" looks at the world differently than the empire; it tells an alternative and opposing story to that of empire centered on the covenant with YHWH.  This local tradition is joined to the memory of empire by its opposition to the empire: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Exodus 20:2).  YHWH is the decisive agent for departure (Exodus) from the empire.

So different is the community of God's people in the world that it took time away - really away - from the power of empire in order to begin to shape these people.  Within this faithful storytelling, the people of God are reminded just how different they are to be.  It is as different as the structure and power of empire and the lost, wandering tribe that depends completely on their God for the very life that is theirs.  It is this "local tradition" that is handed down as the story.  This is us.   In the face of the power of empire, this is us.  God's beloved come together around the one who sustains and liberates and shapes us into something other than the rule of empires and oppression.  The way of this people is the way of the God who acts and pulls and leads and will not abandon in the face of any power.  

Connection: This is the greatest 'retreat' story we have.  And yet, we each need to know that we do not need to go through such a 'retreat' out into a wilderness far from our every day world of power over power.  We can - because of the stories previously told - learn to see the new life that is ours even as we are surrounded by the forces and illusions of empire.  
O God, continue to pull us up into the vision of your holy Reign where you alone rule all things and call us all to be apart of the living rule of your peaceable reign.  Amen.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January, 28 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Here's a bit more about empire and what faithful people can do in the face of its power.
The idea of empire is writ large in the Old Testament.  the paradigmatic narrative of Moses begins in empire, that of Pharaoh.  Pharaoh fully embodies his empire, ruthlessly placing the needs of production over those of human beings and holding himself accountable to nothings and to no one.  But then, so the story goes, Moses and Aaron led the slave community out of the coercive productivity of the empire, and Pharaoh was helpless to hold them.  The Exodus narrative reports the limit of the empire in the face of human groan and holy hope.  The story speaks of the hope of the slaves, the capacity of YHWH to "get glory," and the pitiful impotence of Pharaoh (Exodus 14:4, 17).

From the Exodus, we do not merely hear of a story of liberation - we are invited into its ever-present availability.  For those of us who are not Jewish, it does not mean it is not a story that brings life.  Rather, it once again reminds us of the power for life that is handed to us by our God who seeks the welfare of all.  That welfare is usually tied up with liberation.  Yes, this can be a liberation from internal demons and powers, but it is always a liberation from the powers of the world that operate as though all life must be sacrificed for the sake of the power of the day.  We are being told again and again that life is more than the powers of the day attempt to create through their violence and seductive ways.  Life out in the Wilderness away from Pharaoh will be a life that breaks the hierarchy of power that is usually in the position of ruler.  Instead, the Wilderness will be the homefield for a life where slaves and nobodies can become the fruit of a whole new life together - a community life that binds us together rather than separates. 

Connection: That radical journey from Pharaoh's rule and the Wilderness community that is guided into a new life by God is radical it the change of place.  It is most radical in the fact that lives change.  We do have the capacity to be turned around and see news ways of living together - ways that honor and do not abuse. 
O God, when you bind us together it is not always an easy journey.  And yet, we know those voices of new life that continue to point us in the direction of your Reign.  Inspire us to follow those voices of hope and encouragement.  Amen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January, 27 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Today we will move into a new chapter "Awaiting Babylon" in Walter Brueggemann's book "Out of Babylon."

The entire prophetic literature is to be understood as a sustained summons to Israel to repent and return to Torah obedience.  Israel, however, was hard-hearted and confident of its own destiny in the world, and consistently refused to heed the poets.
In a parallel way, the United States as empire has had a long tradition of summoning poetic voices that have warned about socio-economic exploitation and political injustice.  The list of such poetic, prophetic utterers out beyond imperial categories  is long and honored.  Contemporary voices that belong to such a risky honor include Martin Luther King, Jr., Daniel Berrigan, Michael Lerner, William Sloane Coffin, William Stringfellow, Jim Wallis, Jim Forbes, Gordon Cosby, Will Campbell, and many others readily named.  Like that ancient empire however, the United States empire, living in a cocoon of self-justification, has been largely immune to such warning.

The voice of the prophet is not always heard within the flow of the day.  Our minds and our lives can be so caught up in how things are moving along and how we will stay up with the flow of the ordinary stuff of the day that these voices that attempt to wake us are not heard.  Then again, when they are heard, they are odd voices that speak of things in a way contrary to what is considered the voice of 'reason' or the voice of 'security.'  It is easy to become a hard-hearted people.  That does not mean a 'nasty' or brutal or vicious people.  Rather, it is a people who no longer hear and move to the sound of the God of all people who is always calling us to turn around and be involved in the healing of the world.  It can be so hard to see that the world as we know it is broken and in need of healing.  And yet, the prophets keep calling out and point out what is right in front of us - that which we have come to make a part of ourselves. 

Connection: I always wonder what it is that helps a person have their switch flipped.  What is it that helps you hear the words of the prophets and poets of the day?  Is it because you already see the brokenness and the distress and the words of the prophets help amplify them?  Is it that the words strike you like a whip that snaps you into moving in a new direction?  The prophets voices and words are still singing out among us.  
O God, open up our ears and our live and turn our hearts to move into the realm of your gracious rule where mercy and loving-kindness burst into life among us.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January,26 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Some reflections about us - that is the U.S. and what we must remember. 

As the Jews in the Babylonian Empire had to struggle with the seductions and insistences of empire, so Christians in the midst of U.S. empire must struggle for peculiar identity.  The tradition of Deuteronomy worried that prosperity would  produce amnesia, so that the "local tradition" of emancipation would be forgotten in the face of newly granted entitlements:
"The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams,, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees.....
Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances and statutes, which I am commanding you today." (Deuteronomy 8)

In the land - as they became the people who were shaped out in the wilderness - they were to remember.  They were to remember whose they were and who it was that pulled them to the promised land.  In that way, the wealth of the land and the power that comes with being settled and in place will not win them over and create in them hearts that are turned-in-on-self.  God's beloved are always reminded to be the children of God - the liberating and restoring God - and never turn into the privileged who forget about he shalom of God's Reign. 

Connection: How quickly we are able to use our religious foundation to create a foundation for the powers of the world. it seems like it is next to impossible to stay separated and know how to act as people of faith in the midst of a society without trying to run it as we think we have been blessed to do over against anyone else.
O God, keep us bold and humble and faithful.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January,25 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

After a spell of illness, let's get back to Walter Brueggemann's observations about Babylon and the U.S.

I propose this parallel between ancient Babylon and the contemporary United States in order to ask a question: is this sense of privilege and entitlement, bolstered by an uncritical joining of Bible and flag and underwritten by military and economic dominance, a proper legacy to leave coming generations in the United States?  I ask this question cognizant of the fact that political discourse in the United States, in a variety of modes, is essentially a conversation about how to sustain this "God-given" advantage in the world.  I say this, fully mindful of evidence of dissenting reality:(he notes 9/11 as a savage protest against hegemony, the crisis of global warming - living standard, rise of Islam - tied to oil supply, rise of Chinese economy as challenger)
The signs of challenge to the present hegemony are everywhere.  Empires rarely notice such challenge in time, nor do they concede anything to those who mount the challenge.  Thus the prospect, as with Babylon until Cyrus the Persian  arrived, is that the U.S. sense of entitlement and control will continue to drive public discourse and policy formation long after the facts on the ground indicate otherwise.

So, what is to come and what role do we play in the churning and turning of the world scene?  More and more we must be willing to listen to other voices that attempt to opening up the painting of the world and the ways things are moving.  Unfortunately, we are - for many - the empire that will never end.  Therefore, why think of another way to be in the world.  Many times I think the blending of flag and prayer is one that turns us away from any movement toward peace, reconciliation, conversation, and shared responsibility.  As long as the U.S. sees itself destined by God to lead the world, are we any different from the ancient powers that call upon their gods to create their might and then sustain them against their enemies.  Unfortunately, none of them were sustained - we dig up fragments of their greatness.  And yet, Scripture keeps calling God's people to be a light to the world. Not a new power - a light.  The light is not afraid to see the truth - that is what light does - it shines and uncovers and opens up life.  Is there room in our empire for an alternate way - and how will that way spring to life?  

Connection: Listen to the voices of some who attempt to paint us a picture of what we due.  Some movements within the U.S. today long for another day.  A day when in their imagination, we were a city on a hill.  When was that?  When is an empire ever a light on a hill - except when one empire is overwhelming another.  that is when we tell stories of our invincibility and blessedness.
O God, continue to open our hearts and make us a people who are not afraid to witness to your shalom in the world.  Amen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January,20 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Here is why I consider Brueggemann to be a voice to which we must listen as we face the day at hand and our place in it as followers of Jesus. 

The emergence of the United States as empire had pivoted on its point of unrivaled military advantage.  But U.S. military advantage was and is closely tied to U.S. economic leverage, so that the U.S. flag, without any precise formulation, has come to symbolize both a powerful military commitment and an aggressive capitalism that is endlessly in pursuit of new markets and natural resources.  All of this, moreover, has been intimately tied to 'the Bible,' so that there is missional fervor and rationale for the imposition of U.S. cultural domination in the world.  Indeed, much of the missional energy of the U.S. church carried with it the U.S. flag and U.S. dollars, so that it has become very difficult to sort out what in such missional efforts, belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.  The outcome has been an unprecedented accumulation of power, influence, and leverage in the world, with enormous benefit to the United States in terms of a seemingly limitless standard of living.

As some of you know, I have been involved with a small group of pastors who have tried to face off with a 'religious' group that is so intimately tied to people of power within the U.S. government that it is quite hard to distinguish whether the 'missional efforts' of the U.S. 'belongs to Caesar' or 'belongs to God.'  This tie that happens between the government (or empire) and religious groups who hand over religious language to be used as an instrument to further and benefit the empire is something that we must all watch very closely.  As people who follow Jesus, this Good News - this Law of Love - this peaceable Reign, cannot be used to bless the work of nations that are not at all fulfilling this vision.  Even when the nation does do good work and seems to be working for justice and peace in the world, we can speak up and say "Yes."  But we cannot stand up and say "Yes" when the reality is not that.  We must be a people who remember how to say "No" and step back from allegiance to powers that are contrary to the one God who call us God's own.   

Connection: So, faithful language that becomes faithful action can create a bit of turmoil and discontent.  That - will not always be appreciated.
O God, abide with us and be our encouragement for the day.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January,19 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Linking Babylon to the U.S. will continue for the next few devotions.  
Nonetheless, the study of such a linkage (U.S. - Babylon) is an enterprise worth pursuing, because our own situation of empire in the United States matters enormously to all those with alternative loyalties especially people with "local traditions of faith."  Christians in the United States are accustomed to read the Bible in a democratic context where we have political-religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution or, even more, to read the Bible the United States cast in the role of god's chosen people and the carrier of God's will for freedom in the world, an exceptionalism that pervades our public discourse.  Such a reading becomes a very difficult matter, however, when the facts on the ground exhibit the United States as empire, as the place for faithful reading and faithful living according to an alternative loyalty that is in deep tension with the totalizing claims of empire.

It can become and it does become a mixed bag when we - people of the empire - also insist on being the ones who bear the truth for God vision of the world.  It is a mixed bag because the bag is full of empire trappings that are not necessarily the word of God's Reign.  Instead, what happens so easily is that we blend the two together and the values of the empire take on the language of the faithful and, I think, the empire grows stronger in regard to its influence.  Some of you may have run into church leaders who speak for their church but also - in the same breath - claim to speak for the nation as though it is a special task force of God's choosing - a task force that will help save the world.  Unfortunately, the work here is work to change the world so that it will conform to the values of the country and not that of the Reign of God we claim in Christ, Jesus.  So, it seems that  we must be constantly watchful of our language and the way our life will constantly try to reconcile empire and faithfulness even when it is not what we need.  

Connection: Faithfulness is a journey on which we must stay aware of who we are as children of God and also let ourselves be citizens.  This must always be a relationship that is in tension - no matter what the empire of the day may be.

O God, as we move within your Reign, keep our eyes on the vision that is beyond any of the surrounding powers that continue to woo us and long for our allegiance.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January,18 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Linking Babylon to the U.S.  Here where we begin to look at something closer to home.
....It is no new thing to suggest that the contemporary United States mirrors ancient Babylon in its totalizing propensity.  Our study here....links Babylon and the United States because Babylon has metaphorical force in the ongoing theological tradition and because the United States is our current context and venue for accommodation, resistance, and alternative.  There are, of course, no easy or obvious or exact moves from "then" to "now," and the parallels are necessarily imaginative, impressionistic, and inexact.

The United States seems to follow more along the tradition of domination started with the Greeks.  The Greek domination was one that did not deport - but rather, they changed the existing culture in the places of there influence.  But from a biblical perspective, it is Babylon who plays the part of the oppressive force that we can use to look at ourselves.  When we look at ourselves, it must not be merely as citizens of the U.S.  We must also see ourselves as part of the people who will not allow the powers of the day to determine who we are and who we are meant to be.  Therefore, the language of accommodation, resistance and alternative are a necessary part of who we are to be here within the empire of the day.  It means keeping aware of what is being said and what actions are taking place as we live within the empire of the day.  What is being asked of us and how are the followers of Jesus to live within the power venues on which we count for so many aspects of our lives.  From the Jewish voices of the prophets of old, we may come upon a way to stand on who God calls us and to live from that place no matter what ways we are being asked to walk.

Connection: Being faithful in the middle of the powers of our world demands that we know how to bow and bend and yet hold onto the vision of God's Reign.  In that way, we can always be ready to stand up for the way of God's shalom even when it is being rejected or ignored. 

O God, hold us within your vision of new life and encourage the way we come to life within it.  Amen.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January,14 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Now from "Out of Babylon," Brueggemann starts to open up the meaning of Babylon power.  It will soon come close to home.

Completely apart from its relation to Jewish life, Babylon was a hegemonic power whose goal was to be all-defining for life in the world.  It is the work of such hegemonic power (empire) to exercise total governmental control and, where possible, total economic and cultural control as well.  Empires like Babylon lack both patience and tolerance toward those whose ultimate loyalty belongs to someone or something other than the empire itself.   In response to such resistant loyalties, the empire will move beyond total control into totalitarian "final solutions."
Viewed from the "localism" of a competing loyalty among Jews, Babylon may become an unwelcome venue for faith.  The poems concerning Babylon in Isaiah 13 and Jeremiah 50-51 portray a ruthless power of enormous arrogance that in the long run cannot be sustained.  That arrogance is characteristically articulated as a menacing imposition upon the local population, and was understood as a challenge to the rule of God.....  Faith in YHWH recognized the illusionary nature of the empire's claim to ultimacy.  Such recognition, on the lips of the Jews, served to keep Babylonian hegemony penultimate, a conviction given in the formulation of Daniel: "until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and gives it to whom he will: (Daniel 4:25, 32).

This is a lengthy quote but it shows the need for the people of God to make sure that in the middle of oppressive powers - or simply powers that have a way of controlling everything - there will be a voice that reminds the people who they are and who is available to shape them even in the face of powers that would want them to be something other than what their God has called them.  That is vital for us to hear today. The followers of Jesus cannot be a people who somehow find ourselves in the places of political and cultural power - as a part of that power and no longer as ones who walk in the way of Jesus.  Empires overwhelm lives and long to bring everyone into their fold.  The "Most High" invites those whom God calls 'my beloved' and nurtures them in the way of God's Reign.  For the Jews in Babylon, God's beloved were those who God had raised up since the days of Abraham and Sarah.  Today, God's beloved are a people with no boundary or mere ethnic background.  All are invited to truth the "Most High" and never fall in line with the lesser gods of cultural fame and glory.  

Connection: So, once again, how do we live in the middle of an empire?  How do we bring the glory of God into the reality of life around us so that we do not become a part of any hegemonic power as we seek to serve and live in the the name of the God we call Holy?
O God, this is when we sing to you, "Lead us, Guide us, along the way."  We need you to make us bold and wise and faithful to you alone.  Amen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January,13 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Again from "Out of Babylon" by Walter Brueggemann.

Within the Old Testament, Babylon occupies a central position in what it means to be Jewish.  In the Old Testament, the imagining of Babylon is inescapably from the perspective of Jewishness.  To start with, Jews perceive Babylon as threat, but then Babylon is also recognized as a viable venue for faithfulness over a long period of time:
"Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  (Jeremiah 29:5-6)
And for some Jews not of the tenacious variety, Babylon became a homeland in which Jewish identity could be practiced, albeit with all sorts of inevitable compromises. 

Even among the faithful, the empire is a part of the shaping that goes on among those who long to live in the ways of God.  How do we live a contrary ethic and life if we are in the midst of strange ways that are quite at odds with the very way we see ourselves as God's beloved?  Some have made the decision to be obviously apart from the daily world of the empire - where they live - their physical appearance - resistance against cultural events.  Some blend into the world of empire and speak up as a contrary voice that will not be overwhelmed by the powers of the day - even when it is costly.  Still others attempt to turn empire into a part of the faith. 

Connection: How do we live within the middle of the empire of today?  The U.S. is an empire that controls much of the way of life for many within and beyond our borders.  When the actions of the empire are contrary to the way we see ourselves rooted in the way of Jesus, how do we faithfully express ourselves - how do we stay in conversation with the way of Jesus when we are pulled in many ways to follow other powers?
O God, sustain us and feed us with the life of your Reign.   Amen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January,12 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Here's how some of the storytelling filled in the gaps and created a vision. Again from "Out of Babylon" by Walter Brueggemann.

YHWH is the one who willed the deportation; Babylon is the agent who enacted that deportation.  this assignment of the roles to YHWH and to Babylon was accomplished through a daring interpretive maneuver that imposed a certain logic upon events, a logic rooted in the covenantal nomism of the tradition of Deuteronomy wherein Torah obedience or disobedience will variously yield blessings and curses.  The disaster of the sixth century, goes the paradigm, was a justly merited curse worked against those who had violated covenantal obedience.  this logic both imposed meaning on chaotic events and established the voice of the deported elite as normative for the larger community. 

Even though the remnant of folks told a story of the disobedience of the people it then becomes the way that the people will move into the future.  Now, based on how they had disobeyed, a new obedience can be brought forth.  I suppose this can have two sides to it.  One would contain the "if" as in - 'if we remain faithful, this kind of devastation will not happen again.'  The other "if" comes down from the negative side, as in - 'if we are disobedient, our God will once again deliver us into the hands of such oppressive chaos.  From either position of the storytelling, a path is made so as to enable a people to be shaped and to endure whatever has come upon them.  All around Columbus there are appearing those signs that say that the 'rapture' is coming on May 21, 2011.  From the storytellers in that group we also hear many 'if' and 'then' comments that are meant to shape the actions of people who call themselves Christians.  I was also thinking that nations do this too.  We draw up 'if' and 'then' scenarios that are meant to build the vision of a people around a way of seeing the past, present, and even the future.  That storytelling really does have a power to it - and that is not always good.

Connection: How often are you led by an 'if' and 'then' story?  Can faithful people move on without that element of threat?  Can we live and be pulled forward by the simple acknowledgement of our beloved status before God - no matter what is happening to us? 

O God, lead us and guide us in and through all the days of our lives.  Remind us of what it is to be faithfully yours.   Amen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January,10 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

We continue this week with more about that group of faithful folks who emerged from Babylon telling stories of life. 

This simple narrative construction made theological sense and coherence out of a deeply incoherent historical experience.  The story line offered by these Jews provided a theological case (punishment by YHWH) for Torah obedience, a task to practice Torah in a foreign land in order to maintain a holy people uncontaminated by alien context, and a hope for return home.  The sequence of case, task, and hope is reflected in the tenacious insistence of Psalm 137, a song of the deportees that keeps the energy of the community sharply focused on Jerusalem:
By the rivers of Babylon - there we sat down and thee we wept, when we remembered Zion ---
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.  (Psalm 137:1, 5-6) 

In some ways, this psalm is like the music we hear coming from oppressed people everywhere.  The great lyrics of gospel hymns are like this.  Full of an understanding of the facts on the ground and also filled with a vision for what can and will be.  Always moving toward hope with an understanding that the present day demands faithfulness in the promise of God to be the saving one who has a history of rescuing God's people even when it looks impossible.  And yet, the songs are sung and encouragement is offered and hope springs from tears.  It is the work of the poet to expand the vision and make for a reality that is beyond what is.   

Connection: The days at hand are filled with possibility.  More and more we must be able to hear from the voices of old and those of the day a story of freedom and hope.  This is not always easy - but those voices are around us. 

O God, you lead us into your future and we give you thanks and ask for the wisdom to see the way unfolding before us and the courage to take that way.   Amen.

Redeemer Devotions - January,11 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

The critical time of exile became the shaping point of a whole people. is the deep fissure of this sixth-century disaster that has given Judaism it primary form, so much so that Jacob Neusner can judge that the theme of exile and return has become paradigmatic for all Jews for all time to come:
"The vast majority of the nation did not undergo the experiences of exile and return.  One part never left, the other never came back.  That fact show us the true character of the Judaism that would predominate: it began by making a selection of facts to be deemed consequential, hence historical, and by ignoring, in the making of that selection, the experience of others who had a quite different appreciation of what had happened - and, for all we know, a different appreciation of the message.  For, after all, the Judeans who did not go into exile also did not rebuild the temple, and the ones in Babylonia did not try."

Again, the ones who tell the stories have an opportunity to shape the character of those who are listening.  Therefore, defeat can be overcome.  Death can be pushed out of the way.  Hope can rise up when there is nothing about which people can hang their lives.  This all takes eyes that can expand what is so that what is becomes a part of the wonder-filled possibility of God's power to bring life and sustain a people.  Prophets have a way of doing such things.  They look out and they can envision the Reign of God and they paint it within the framework of what is.  Sometimes people will laugh at them because it does not fit what can be seen.  At other times, their words and actions shake our foundations and help us turn around and look again at who God sees in us when God looks upon us.  It is empowering to be called the beloved of God when you are not feeling loved or cannot see the fruits of love around you.  

Connection: We need that voice among us.  We need someone to cut through the boxes in which we attempt to live so that we can begin to dance to the themes of God's domain. 

O God, Lord of the Dance, teach us to move to the beat of your vision and the tune of your graciousness.    Amen.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January,7 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Today we will continue with Brueggemann's comments about the 'intentional, intense group' that took up the task of interpretation the facts on the ground in Babylon and beyond.

This cadre of interpreters opined about the causes of the destruction, the way of coping in the displacement, and the prospects for ending the displacement and returning home.  All of which is only to say that the dominant narrative account of Jews in the sixth century is not an objective, disinterested report, but rather one that bears the ideological fingerprints of the group that created this particular interpretation of events that is appropriate to those who offer the interpretation.  Perhaps inescapably, this account of the crisis of the sixth century draws all of its meaning close to this community of interpreters, that is, close to the deported elites in Babylon who understood and presented themselves as the faithful carriers and embodiment of true Israel in the future.

We all create our own stories in so many ways.  We see ourselves in ways that fit the way we view the world.  We tell ourselves those stories (wherever they come from) and those stories shaped - for good and for not so good.  This reminds me of the book Lies Our Teachers Told Us.  So many of the stories of the early years of the US that have become the patterns of thought for so many of us - are not all that accurate.  They produced an image that still guide and shapes us - even though many of the events never took place - or even took place along a story line that is nothing we would be proud of at all.  Here we are able to look to Israel and see how this "in between" place that is continually run over by bigger powers, becomes a power in its own storytelling.  And -- it is a story that has lasted and continues to create a community of people who follow its line of thought as though it is a saving light.  In many ways, it is. What power storytelling can have among us!?

Connection: So what is the storytelling that pulls you into the day?  What gives you the gumption to move on in the face of anything that might be thrown at you.  Stories have the power to lift us up.  Think about the story of resurrection and unbounded love - where does that put you? 

O God, you are at the center of our storytelling and we pray that you will be the power of new life that will lead us by the hand in and through all things.   Amen.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - January, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

I find that Brueggemann opens up the way I look at what we have been handed by the faithful of other times and places.  Here is the first taste.

It is not difficult to summarize these 'facts on the ground.' What requires careful attention, however, is the additional 'fact on the ground' that the story told about these events amounted to a vigorous, sustained interpretation by a determined interpretive community.  That community produced an ideological explanation that came to be constitutive for the ongoing community of Judaism.  Among those Jews carried off to Babylon, a small, intentional, intense group seized the interpretive initiative and established the governing categories for how the destruction and deportation were to be understood. 

For some, this could put people off.  Here is this community - coming up with the stories.  These are the stories that so many people take as 'television 21st century history in the making' - factual, with videotape included.  And yet, wrapping up a few bits and pieces of what can be held up as falling in line with what we know of the historical setting of the ancient middle east, there comes this grand, faithful storytelling.  These  stories are then held up as the foundational stones of so many people who count on the God of the Scriptures to be a powerful presence even now.  I think that is wonderfully wild.  This storytelling can thus be defining in the sense that it give a place and a purpose and a grounding to life that is not making of the powers of the world.  Rather, it shows that faithful storytelling within a community, can shape and make a people come to life

Connection: One thing I like to ask little children when they show me a picture or something they found or something they made is simply: tell me about it.  It is then that the stories emerge.  Their faces come to light and they begin to give voice to their creative side.  It shows some of their personality and their grounding.  And - it is simply great fun.  Faithful storytelling can also be great fun - meaningful fun. 

O God, who makes the day and delivers us into the next, you take us wherever we may be and you remind us to be - to be the beloved even if no one loves us.  You give us faithful imaginations that save the day and turn us then into your power of love.  We give you thanks.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - 5 January, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Today is a brief introductory bit that will be expanded upon later - it is enough to simply have Brueggemann note a few pieces of information about the time of this Babylonian experience.

For all of the historical stuff going on during this empires rules....The biblical evidence is terse....The evidence of the "facts on the ground" concerning the Babylonian destruction is not in doubt and is readily summarized.  What remained, however, was an enormous interpretive task, a task that evoked Israel's best imagination that in turn resulted in the production of much of the material that now constitutes the Old Testament.  
Though Brueggemann throws in the bits and pieces of this biblical evidence, it is most important that though it is 'terse', there is a whole creation that takes place during that time within the life of Israel.  As he notes here, much of what is in the OT comes from this time.  Some would argue that the first chapter of Genesis comes to life in this time as a counter-creation story that speaks of the one God that is the only God in the midst of the Babylonian powers and their god.  Does that mean the story of something like Genesis loses its 'weight' among the faithful?  Not at all.  I would argue the opposite.  This bunch of beaten folk emerge from this place of exile with a creation story that truly continues to create - even out of nothing.  It is a story of hope and power and identity that gathers a remnant into a people and into the eternal embrace of the God that abides with them and takes them into new life - always! 

Connection: We need such imaginative minds and hearts as a people who are called to live a life that is quite contrary to the prevailing powers that attempt to rule the day.  We need to be able to say "you do not rule here - you do not rule us."  And then, we need to live in the way of the liberating stories that come to light with a faithful imagination. 
O God, within the stories of our lives, we long to weave your love and creative power into the days at hand.  The truthfulness of these stories are grand for they show us our depth as a people and the power that comes to life within stories that are not molded by the culture and the influence and the brutality of the day.  Grant us the vision to hold such stories close to heart.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - 4 January, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

We continue with 'facts on the ground' in Out of Babylon by Walter Brueggemann.

The great geopolitical fact for ancient Israel in the sixth-century BCE was the Babylonian kingdom located in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley.  To some extent the kingdom of Egypt to the south of Israel functioned in the sixth-century, as it often did, as a counterweight to the great northern power.  There is no doubt, however, that Babylon was the defining, generative power in international affairs, and so constituted an immediate threat to Israel.  Babylon was a very ancient kingdom  with advanced cultural and scientific learning.  It experienced an important revival in the sixth century with the founding of a new dynasty....  The new dynasty presided over by two kings - father and son - had enormous expansionist ambitions, and so pushed relentlessly to the west.  The dynasty came quickly to a sorry end through a series of ineffective leaders, culminating in the defeat of the Kingdom at the hands of Cyrus, the rising Persian power to the east. Thus this Neo-Babylonian dynasty was only a brief episode in the long history of the ancient Near East.
A bit of history is good.  Our biblical storytelling is filled with the images of Babylon.  It was for the Jews a formative time because it was in this brief reign of Babylon that the people, Israel, were devastated -separated - defeated.  Expansionist powers have no care of those they choose to incorporate into their domain.  What will come from this rule will be the storytelling and poetry that will become the cornerstone of the Jewish people and  - by that - a part of the storytelling for all of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus.  It must be noted that the one who defeats the Babylonians while many of the Jews were in exile in Babylon was Cyrus.   In the bible, the word used to describe this Persian king was - savior - messiah - deliverer, because he let the people go back to establish themselves in their homeland.  Yes, that is the same word used for the messiah we call Jesus.  

Connection: When rulers expand over and into the lives of others, it is at a great cost to both those who become occupied and those who have chosen to be the ones who can occupy the lands and lives of other.  There are all sorts of reasons for empire to occupy the lives of others.  Most of those reasons sound just and right at the time.  Then again, over time, they are all still placed in one category - imperial expansionist. 
O God, deliver us from any attempt we make to rule over other as though it is our right and duty to do so.  Save us from ourselves so that we will always remember that you alone save all people.   Amen.