These days I’m reading a lot of the Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann.
His writing is prose infused with poetic (and prophetic) outbursts that, depending on, cause the reader to sit up, gasp, cackle, or pause in stunned silence at the implications of his speech.
I like him.
So I share a few words from him that seem particularly Adventy:
My thesis is that preaching is a sub-version. You will recognize the play that I intend. Preaching is never dominant version, never has been. It is always a sub-version, always a version, a rendering of reality that lives under the dominant version…an alternative version of reality that says another way of life in the world is not only possible but is peculiarly mandated and peculiarly valid. It is a sub-version because we must fly low, stay under the radar, and hope not to be detected too soon, a sub-version, because it does indeed intend to sub-vert the dominant version and to empower a community of sub-versives who are determined to practice their lives according to a different way of imagining. (Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope: Contested Truth in a Post-Christian World, p. 4)
Why is this excerpt Adventy?
Because Jesus, despite all attempts to either spiritualize or domesticate him, was subversive.
Mary knew it before the kid was even born. The Magnificat, the hymn she sung after she visited Elizabeth, lilts with subversiveness:
(Luke) 46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Can’t get much more subversive than that.
“…for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…”
God did not look on Mary for her marvelousness (though I am sure she was all of that), but for her lowliness. As liberation theologians tell us, God has a preferential interest in the lowly.
“…he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Scattering, bringing down, lifting up, filling up, sending away.
Nothing is where we last left it.
The sub-version is arising…at least for those who now see reality subversively, who are emboldened to be subversives, to speak a different version than the one Brueggemann calls the dominant one.
It takes, as Brueggemann acknowledges, some imagination.
In fact, I would argue that subversives, rather than choosing to “to practice their lives according to a different way of imagining” are actually the only ones imagining.
Engaging in the status quo, in the dominant version, takes very little (if any) imagination at all.
It’s the default reality.
But being subversive, living according to a reality that seems everything but realistic, now that takes imagination, courage, chutzpah, community, and the vision of Mary who knew that the world can indeed be other than it is.
Maybe, just maybe, it is already other than it seems to be.
As an Advent meditation, then, it might be an interesting, chutzpah-esque, visionary, imaginative exercise to consider what the dominant, unimaginative reality is in your world.
And then it might be particularly Adventy, in the adventurous, anticipatory sense about which I have recently written, to become the subversive you know you have always wanted to be.
At least the one you are called to be.
For, as Bruce Cockburn knows in his fantastic tune, “Cry of a Tiny Babe:”
And there are others who know about this miracle birth The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth For it isn't to the palace that the Christ child comes But to shepards and street people, hookers and bums And the message is clear if you have ears to hear That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fears It's a Christmas gift that you don't have to buy There's a future shining in a baby's eye Like a stone on the surface of a still river Driving the ripples on forever, Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe
You should know as my husband.
Your Visionary Subversives is right on. How can we help pastors (and laity) to have the insight and courage to be sub-versives as Mary was? Not many pastors preached on the Magnificat this last month when it came up as an alternative gospel text. Pourquoi?
Under the radar…you said. So we are not noticed as radical? As a parish pastor I know how difficult it is…wanting to stay employed and not lose one’s pension. So help me know how to encourage this kind of preaching in the Lutheran Church…and wherever.
Thanks again and Happy New Year…George S Johnson,
Laguna Woods, CA firstname.lastname@example.org
author: Beyond Guilt
Thank you so much for this comment!
I think you hit on it: We are neither noticed as being radical, nor are we always…and for good reasons, as you point out.
I fear that too often the matter has been addressed through either marketing or programming.
It’s really theological.
But then again, as a systematic theologian, what would you expect me to say?
How to change it is worth another blog. In fact, it’s worth a presentation, and I’m working on one right now with a stack of good books to inspire and guide me.
Let me mull and get back to you with some hopefully forthcoming substance.