Last week, several of our staff members and I attended the annual Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Churches conference in Charlotte with hundreds of Episcopal clergy and lay leaders from across the United States. One of the highlights was listening to our keynote speaker Professor Walter Brueggemann.
I smiled as I heard Walter speak, because we have arranged for Dr. Brueggemann to come to St. Thomas Church from Friday to Sunday, April 27-29 and each of you can hear him. He’s amazing!
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity as many consider Dr. Brueggemann to be the greatest living American Bible scholar. He speaks and preaches like a Hebrew prophet. Here are a few of the things that Dr. Brueggemann taught us in Charlotte:
- The Psalms insist that the whole truth must be told. The Psalms may seem like fair tales but they offer an alternative view of reality that challenges our world of greed and amnesia, our mindset of scarcity, normlessness, hopelessness and fear.
- If we say we are spiritual but not religious it is code for saying that we don’t want to be held accountable to anyone and that neither our vision of God or of ourselves has any staying power.
- Many of us have become couch potato consumers in a national security state where we venerate a false liberal progressive god who as we say “has no hands or feet but ours.” We often envision an impotent, harmless God who can do neither good nor evil and is remotely far from the true God of the Bible.
- Despair is a vision of a world without God and where no new gifts are given. The psalms meanwhile imagine God opening new futures to us.
- In the story of Joseph, which begins in Genesis 37, Pharaoh represents greed. Pharaoh has nightmares about food. We see a common pattern reoccur here and countless times later in the Bible about anxiety, accumulation, scarcity, fear, power and monopoly, which always leads to in violence not only in the Bible but also in our society today.
- It’s all about fear that someone from outside the monopoly might get in on the system of greed and therefore create more scarcity among those who already control most of the wealth and resources of the economy.
- Solomon wasn’t all that he was made out to be. He traded arms. He controlled the supply and demand system. He had 700 concubines – this was probably an alliance system created to hold together an economic system. Solomon accumulated and collected things and people and the accumulation process became a narcotic.
- We dislike reading the biblical texts with seriousness like this because we do not like to look at our culture with lenses like this because it shows us in a bad light. So we prefer a religion which uses only those biblical texts which shores up our culture’s own vision of reality.
- The narrative of creation in the Bible always has to do with God and the fact that creation is good. It’s not about science, but rather about the notion that God has infused creation with a source of renewal so that the gifts always keep giving. Society doesn’t understand this and focuses on a viewpoint of scarcity, which is always inappropriate in a creation where the gifts keep on giving.
- Genesis 1.29 tells us when God gives God’s breath we live, and when God restrains God’s breath we die. So God is portrayed as the great iron lung that sustains creation.
- Doxology – singing God’s praise – is the litmus test of understanding the God of creation. The more wealth a church has the less well they sing, and when they have a lot of wealth they can hire people to sing God’s praises for them. They lose the gift of doxology – the ability to praise God. Doxology is the great contradiction to the theology of scarcity.
- Sabbath is the sign that God trusts the world. On the seventh day, God doesn’t show up for work, because God trusts that the world doesn’t have to work all the time. Exodus 31:12 commands us to keep the Sabbath. It says that if you don’t keep the Sabbath you will die. It’s true. We forgo the Sabbath – a day of rest and renewal – at our own risk.
- This story tells us that God was depleted and God needed to be restored, and we are made in this image of being depleted and needing to be restored. Depleted people are easily manipulated. Restored people realize that they have choices and alternatives.
- Because we in our society are beholden to Pharaoh, even though we have enough we don’t realize that it is an abundance. When I have my sanity, I realize that I have enough.
- Biblical illiteracy, affluence and intellectual sophistication go together.
- If the manna narrative of God providing food in the middle of the wilderness as a free gift is ridiculous, then so is the chief service of this Church – the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving.” This, too, must be ridiculous.
Give yourselves a once-in-a-lifetime treat and hear one of the greatest Christian speakers of our time. Visit thecenterforbiblicalstudies.org to take advantage of the low early bird registration cost for our Bible conference and sign up now.