Dance Upon Injustice!

13 09 2009

The church we attended today is nestled in a small, historic building, right in the midst of Midtown.  They keep the door open throughout the service for anyone passing by, and the walls are thin enough (or perhaps the music was loud enough) that we could hear the first verse of “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?” as we we were walking in.  After we settled into the pews, the words really sank in for me, in a new way:

“Open up the doors and let the music play.
Let the streets resound with singing.
Songs that bring Your hope, and songs that bring Your joy,
Dancers who dance upon injustice.”

With the door behind us flung wide open, I suddenly had this vision of the church spilling open onto the streets, with the sounds of our worship resounding all around us.  This is exactly what “creative theology” is all about: an idea, a vision, for the kingdom lived out through music and dance (among other things).  Dancing upon injustice.

Sometimes the music and dancing is literally just that: music and dancing.  And sometimes, it’s the songs of our lives, our ministries, our stories, all coming together in kingdom-work onto the streets and into the city and into the world:

Do you feel the darkness tremble?
When all the saints join in one song
And all the streams flow as one river
To wash away our brokenness

And we can see that
God You’re moving
A mighty river through the nations
And young and old will turn to Jesus
Fling wide you heavenly gates
Prepare the way of the risen Lord





Prophetic Imagination and the Lord’s Prayer

23 08 2009

(Just in case you’ve lost track along the way — I almost did 🙂 — I’m in the midst of reading Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination and am blogging my thoughts, one chapter at a time.  This entry is inspired by chapter 5: “Criticism and Pathos in Jesus of Nazareth.”  Click for more food for thought about chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, or chapter 4)

Brueggemann opens his chapter about Jesus of Nazareth with a disclaimer: “Clearly Jesus cannot be understood simply as a prophet, for that designation, like every other, is inadequate for the historical reality of Jesus.  Nevertheless, among his other functions it is clear that Jesus functioned as a prophet.”  Brueggemann’s study give us the tools and language to understand that particular function of his ministry, and I have a feeling I’ll be referring to this book in my Bible studies for years to come.  Obviously, Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven are a huge part of that prophetic ministry, and his ushering in the kingdom can be seen a radical criticism of the status quo.

One thing that stuck out to me was the radical prayer that Jesus offers his disciples in Matthew 6.  On the surface, it may not seem immediately radical to us, especially for those of us who grew up in liturgical traditions and prayed this prayer every single week.  But some of the phrases stuck out to me for their rhetorical power in building up that alternative consciousness, which God has been establishing from the beginning:

Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.

Prophetic messages are empty if they are removed from God.  For prophets who proclaim social justice or religious freedom, it is essential to know the reason for that social justice and freedom and compassion.  And within the Judaic context, the prophet had a whole rich history of religion — the religion of a people in covenant relationship with their God — to use in his message.

Part of the prophetic message is about setting God apart from the gods of other religions.  Moses’ message declared that our  God — YHWH — is free to love and reach out and show compassion to the broken-hearted and oppressed (as opposed to the stagnant gods of Egypt, who served Pharaoh).  Second Isaiah’s message declared that God called the weary-hearted people near to him to carry them and save them.

Jesus’ ministry attested to both of these prophetic messages.  And in this prayer he sets this God apart, as hallowed in heaven.  This God is greater than any other god we could ever dream up.

Your kingdom come
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

Brueggemann makes the great point that the kingdom of God was radical for everyone, in one way or another.  In true prophetic form, Jesus’ kingdom message offered both mercy and criticism simultaneously.  For example … his ministry to the poor radically challenged the status quo of economic justice, and directly criticized those who profited from others’ poverty.  His ministry to the oppressed also implied that their was another class of people, the oppressors, who would be threatened by his message.  And so on.

So what did this kingdom look like on earth?  Jesus gave us some idea by the way in which he lived out his life, crossing social boundaries with his radical love and compassion.  He broke the Sabbath law, he ate with sinners, he touched the outcasts and the lepers, he crossed gender boundaries in allowing women to join his ministry, he criticized the temple.  Nothing was “safe.”  This kingdom on earth instituted a new social order and thus affected every aspect of life.  And today, we can learn both from the hope and the criticism, as we embody this kingdom-living in our own lives.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Earlier, Brueggemann established that the image of bread was used by Isaiah to symbolize the sustenance offered by God.  Jesus takes the image of bread several steps further: first he recalls Isaiah’s words as he declares that he is the bread of life, and later he breaks bread at the Last Supper to symbolize his own death.   In the first instance, he establishes himself as the daily bread referenced in the prayer; he is all we need for sustenance.  In the second instance, he shows how the process works — through his death and resurrection.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Stay with me here — this is the coolest part of the prayer.  Jesus’ ministry certainly demonstrated radical forgiveness, and we should never underestimate the power of forgiveness.  It has the potential to dismantle societies (in a good way — in a modern context, I’m thinking of initiatives like As We Forgive and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in various countries).  And notice the past tense of the second phrase — “as we have [already] forgiven.”  As Jesus instructed us during his Sermon on the Mount, we are expected to make our amends and be reconciled to our neighbors before we come to God in prayer or worship.

But it’s not just about forgiving sins — although that’s important.  The most literal translations use the word “debts.”  As in money.  As in, this prayer has radical social, political, and economic implications.  We often interpret Jesus’ debt-forgiveness parablesmetaphorically, forgetting how literally he speaks about money elsewhere in the gospels.   And in fact, the concept of debt forgiveness, among other things, had deep roots in Levitical law.  Leviticus 25 talks about a year of Jubilee, which proclaimed economic freedom for the poor of Israel, to be celebrated every 50 years.  This is the economic order as ordained by God.

So what a promise and blessing that must be for all of us, to know that we are living in the year of the Lord’s favor, as proclaimed by that radical prophet, Jesus of Nazareth!!