A challenge for preachers this Sunday: fragments borne from classic reggae interfacing with Walter Brueggemann

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March 1, 2014 by jmar198013

My regular readers may find this post rather odd, for I do not usually write as I am about to.

My mood is pensive. The music on includes “Rivers of Babylon” by the Melodians; Burning Spear, “Slavery Days“; “Human Market Place,” by Third World; and Desmond Dekker, “Israelites.” It might help if you listened to these while you read–especially if you’re not familiar with old reggae. That stuff will soothe and heal your spirit.

Preachers, particularly you American preachers, and especially you Church of Christ preachers, I have been listening to you talk for nigh on thirty four years. I know you have an impossible gig. But please stop selling us what ain’t bread. Quit dressing our wounds as if they’re nothing. God didn’t shut a fire up in your bones so that you could comfort the comfortable. Don’t interpret the Bible for us with applications we could have just as easily gotten at the Kiwanis Club meeting or the College Republicans prayer breakfast or watching Dr. Phil. We don’t show up on Sunday mornings to be told that we are okay and God is in his heaven and all is well. We know that our world is hell-bent and we are children of wrath. We need God unleashed down here–the wild God who spoke Hebrew because it was the only language feral enough not to try and tame him. Release the God who chased the money-changers and sacrificial beasts out of the temple to make room for the excluded little ones. Bring us to the God of Cross and Resurrection.

Preacher, in a world of war–you have the words that bring peace. In an unmerciful world, you have the softer answer that hurts us in the best way. In an unforgiving world, you can offer the ministry of reconciliation. We come to hear you every Sunday clothed in the isolation of Babylon, in pregnant silences masked by bad cologne and tailored suits, grins and handshakes and slaps on the back. We long to break our silences, but we have been conditioned to silence. Preacher, this Sunday break our silences. Tear them apart like the Red Sea and make a space for us to walk across. The words of Walter Brueggemann spring to mind:

The taproot of violence is sure 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 . . . We of all people have the textual resources authorizing and legitimating and modeling speech that breaks the silence of violence and the violence of silence. (“Preaching as Sub-Version,” Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000], 7).

Preacher–why don’t you teach us to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? We come to you in exile, some of us in Babylons we were born into or thrust into, others in Babylons we have made ourselves. Don’t tell me that the Lord’s song is a broadside against queers or a ditty about how I’m not really the Rich Young Ruler or that its harmony depends on properly parsing some obscure Greek word. The Word of God does not break the silence with three points and a poem. The Word of God does not break the silence with an “application” to be abstracted from the story. The Word of God breaks the silence with a community–a salt and light people capable of living together truthfully without killing one another. The Word of God speaks into being a people who forgive the debts we owe each other because we know that we all stand as forgiven debtors before our maker. The Word of God forms a people who practice resurrection in a world of deathliness. If you’re not coming to teach us to make those words flesh, then you might as well join us in our silence.

Preacher–give us words to chant down Babylon.

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