Friday, June 29, 2012

The Gods of Comfort vs the Prophets of Discombobulation

"But against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, not a dog shall growl; that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel."

Walter Brueggeman, on Moses, Egypt, impartiality as read through the lens of Exodus 11:7, quoted above:

[This declaration] occurs not in a doctrine but in a narrative and an uproven memory that we must let stand in all its audacity. It is not reflective theology but news just for this moment and just this community. The God who will decide is not the comfortable god of the empire, so fat and well fed as to be neutral and inattentive. Rather, it is the God who is alert to the realities, who does not flinch from taking sides, who sits in the divine council on the edge of his seat and is attentive his special interests. It is the way of the unifying gods of the empire not to take sides and, by being tolerant, to cast eternal votes for the way things are... 
There is not much here for the reasoned voices. No prophet ever sees things under the aspect of eternity. It is always partisan theology, always for the moment, always for the concrete community, satisfied only to see only a piece of it all and to speak out of that at the risk of contradicting the rest of it. Empires prefer reasoned voices who see it all, who understand both sides, and who regard polemics as unworthy of God and divisive of the public good. But what an energizing statement! In his passion and energy, Moses takes sides with the losers and powerless marginal people; he has not yet grown cynical with the "double speak" of imperial talk and so dares to speak before the data are in and dares to affront more subtle thinking... 
Seen at a distance, this bald statement is high theology. It is the gospel; God is for us. In an empire no god is for anyone... [T]he urging I make to those who would be prophets is that we not neglect to do our work about who god is and that we know our discernment of God is at the breaking points in human community.

It is not that the prophetic voice isn't looking for truth, but she will not be satisfied by the "There are two sides to every story" false equivalence. He is not placated when he sees injustice. The prophets leave the comfort and familiarity of home and hearth and even their own country to report and point and scream and jump up and down and shock the kings and queens with discomforting stories. The prophetess does not side with the people she was raised with, but with her new people. Her people are now the marginalized, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the hurt, the evicted, the suffering, the sick, the rounded up, the pushed out, the expatriats.


The gods and priests of the empire - of the markets, of consumption - in their "impartiality" are truly really partial. They prefer the way things they are. They do not like to be upset. They want all to remain as it has been and forever will be. They may change a few seats on the deck, but the boat remains in the same direction, the majority of those seated remain seated, barking out orders followed by men with bullhorns and whips, demanding extra sweat, extra steam, extra breath from the rowers and steam room workers.

These are the gods, and their priests, who do not concern themselves about the oppression. Because concerning themselves about such things in any significant manner means to upset the cart. And the cart cannot be upset. The order of things cannot change nor be brought down. They must, at all costs, remain. They do not hear the cry of the slaves, the sick, the outsiders and lepers.

But God and the prophets of God do. They hear, and they cry out to the pharaohs and demand to, "Let my people go!" And when they are not heeded, when Pharaoh and his gods do not relent but harden their hearts, the Almighty Bearer of Justice liberates them by overthrowing the carts, by flinging the chariots and their horses (and their industrial bombers and nuclear weapons) into the sea. It is the prophets' job to declare liberation and seek justice - and not to settle for the way things are. Because the way things are is not right, and the God of Justice seeks to make all right.

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