2018-12-23

Some Brueggemann and Some Poems

Reality Amid Ideology, part 1

The call to neighborliness is the promise we have made to mystery.

This may seem a perplexing claim. By the time we get to the end of part 3, I hope it will make sense. Today, for part 1, I set the stage with some readings.

Reading 1: Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, from Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Progphetic Tasks -- adapted.
The prophetic task in our contemporary society as in ancient Jerusalem, is to counter the governing ideology – in both cases that of exceptionalism. The prophetic task is to expose the distorted view of societal reality sustained by the ideology that breeds unrealistic notions of entitlement, privilege, and superiority. Prophetic work in the wake of such exposé is to advocate and enact an alternative that refuses the illusion of the ideology and that takes seriously the reality of historical existence. From the perspective of Israel’s prophetic tradition, the ideology of exceptionalism in Jerusalem seriously miscalculated on two fronts. First, it reduced YHWH to be patron of the dynasty and a guarantor of city and temple. It failed to acknowledge that YHWH is not simply a guarantor and patron, but is a lively character and active agent with a will and purpose other than that of the beneficiaries of the ideology. In imagining its own ultimacy, the Jerusalem establishment had shelved the ultimacy of the God who will not be mocked and consequently had failed to recognize its own pen-ultimacy, its dependence upon and accountability to YHWH. This hubris, expressed as autonomy, imagined that the ones with power to do so could exploit in greedy and violent ways as they chose, taking advantage of the weak and vulnerable. The prophetic critique exposes this sense of autonomy from God and unfettered freedom -- as disregard for the neighbor. The prophets, following the covenantal tradition of Deuteronomy, identify “widow, orphan, immigrant” as the visible representatives of the socially, economically vulnerable. The prophets insist that abuse of the vulnerable neighbor is an affront to God and a violation of Torah. Moreover, such abuse is an unsustainable policy, giving rise to destructiveness and costly consequences for the body politic. The disregard of both God and neighbor permits a predatory society to seem normal and acceptable.
The next readings are all poems, or excerpts from poems. They are contemporary illustrations of prophetic critique.

Reading 2: Bud Osborn (b. 1947), from “Complaint of an Advocate”
Sad, lord
Tired and worn
And sick
So sick
Of power politics
Of turf wars
Of meetings and committees and subcommittees
Sick of everything that loses
Focus
Because every deception
Every agenda
Every meeting
Every resentment
Every control grab
Every move for money
Slams down hardest
On the most wretched human beings
In north America
Who are suffering and dying
In the streets and alleys and shit-hole hotels
Of the downtown eastside
All the pettiness and ambition
Slams directly down
On those who are most afflicted
By poverty and illness
Addiction and discrimination
Homelessness and demonizing propaganda.
Reading 3: Guatamalan poet Julia Esquivel (b. 1930), "Thanksgiving Day in the United States"
In the third year of the massacres
by Lucas and the other coyotes
against the poor in Guatemala
I was led by the spirit into the desert

And on the eve
of Thanksgiving Day
I had a vision of Babylon
the city sprang forth arrogantly
from an enormous platform
of dirty smoke produced
by motor vehicles, machinery
and contamination from smokestacks

It was as if all the petroleum
from a violated earth
was being consumed
by the Lords of capital
and was slowly rising
obscuring the face
of the Sun of Justice
and the Ancient of Days…

Each day false prophets
invited the inhabitants
of the Unchaste City
to kneel before the idols
of gluttony,
money,
and death:
Idolaters from all nations
were being converted to the American way of Life…

The Spirit told me
in the River of death
flows the blood of many peoples
sacrificed without mercy
and removed a thousand times from their hands,
the blood of Kekchis, and Panzos,
of blacks from Haiti, of Guaranis from Paraguay,
of the peoples sacrificed for ‘development’
of the trans-Amazonic strip,
the blood of the Indians’ ancestors
who lived on these lands, of those who
even now are kept hostage on the great mountain
and on the Black Hills of Dakota
by the guardians of the best…

My soul was tortured like this
for three and a half days
and a great weariness weighed upon my breast
I felt the suffering of my people very deeply!

The in tears, I prostrated myself
and cried out: “Lord, what can we do?…
Come to me, Lord, I wish to die among my people!”
Without strength, I waited for my answer.
After a long silence
and a heavy obscurity
The One who sits on the throne
to judge the nations
spoke in a soft whisper
in the secret recesses of my heart:

you have to denounce their idolatry
in good times and bad.
Force them to hear the truth
for what is impossible to humans
is possible for God.
Reading 4: From another Julia Esquivel poem.
The walls of the Temples of Mammon
Are like polished steel
And in their windows
Reality is distorted,
And so are the lights ignited
By the petroleum which its priests
have taken from the people
Who now struggle for life and freedom
On the other side of the Rio Grande.
Reading 5: From a third Julia Esquivel poem
And in a third poem she writes:
In the most obscure and sordid place,
In the most hostile and harshest,
In the most corrupt
And nauseating places,
There You do Your work.
That is why Your Son
Descended into hell
In order to transform what IS NOT
And to purify that which IS BECOMING.
That is hope!
Reading 6: Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (b. 1923), “Tortures.”
Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain;
it has to eat and breathe the air, and sleep;
it has thin skin, and the blood is just beneath it;
an adequate supply of teeth and fingernails;
its bones can be broken; its joints can be stretched.
In tortures, all this is taken into account.

Nothing has changed.
The body shudders as it shuddered
before the founding of Rome and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are just as they were, only the earth has grown smaller,
and what happens sounds as if it's happening in the next room.

Nothing has changed.
It's just that there are more people,
and beside the old offences new ones have sprung -
real, make-believe, short-lived, and non-existent.
But the howl with which the body answers to them,
was, is and ever will be a cry of innocence
according to the age-old scale and pitch.

Nothing has changed.
Except perhaps the manners, ceremonies, dances.
Yet the movement of hands to shield the head remains the same.
The body writhes, jerks and tries to pull away,
its legs fail, it falls, its knees jack-knife,
it bruises, swells, dribbles and bleeds.

Nothing has changed.
Except for the course of rivers,
the lines of forests, coasts, deserts and glaciers.
Amid those landscapes roams the soul,
disappears, returns, draws nearer, moves away,
a stranger to itself, elusive,
now sure, now uncertain of its own existence,
while the body is and is and is
and has nowhere to go.
Reading 7: Ada Limon (b. 1976), “A New National Anthem”
The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets’
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps
the truth is that every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the shortgrass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?
* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Reality Amid Ideology"
See next: Part 2: Imagination Shortage
Part 3: Prophetic Call to Neighborliness

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