Ms. Tippett: . . . I ask you to be a teacher, who were the prophets? What were they about and what's particular about that piece of the Bible?
Mr. Brueggemann: Well, I think they were — the two things that are important, it seems to me, on the one hand, they were rooted in the covenantal traditions of whatever it was from Moses and Sinai and all of that. The other thing is that they are completely uncredentialed and without pedigree, so they just rise up in the landscape. The way I put it now is that they imagined their contemporary world differently according to that old tradition. So it's tradition and imagination. There's no way to explain that, so we explain it by the work of the spirit, but I don't think you have to say that. I just think they are moved the way every good poet is moved to have to describe the world differently according to the gifts of their insight. And, of course, in their own time and every time since, the people that control the power structure do not know what to make of them, so they characteristically try to silence them. What power people always discover is that you cannot finally silence poets. They just keep coming at you in threatening and transformative ways.* * *
Mr. Brueggemann: The other text I'll read is Isaiah 43. It's a very much-used passage. "Do not remember the former things nor consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" And apparently, what he's telling his people is just forget about the Exodus, forget about all the ancient miracles, and pay attention to the new miracles of rebirth and new creation that God is enacting before your very eyes. I often wonder when I read that, what was it like the day the poet got those words and what did it feel like and how did he share that? Of course, we don't know any of that, so it just keeps ringing in our ears.
Ms. Tippett: You and I were together this morning at a gathering of preachers. I think that both of those themes that you named, you know, what feels like chaos. But then the hope that — and I think even an insistence that this must somehow give rise to new forms. The fact that we don't know how the world is going to be structured differently — you know, what will survive that we recognize — makes it still stressful even if it's hopeful.
Mr. Brueggemann: That's right. But the amazing contemporaneity of this material is that the issues are the same, that the world we have trusted in is vanishing before our eyes and the world that is coming at us feels like a threat to us and we can't quite see the shape of it. I think that is kind of where the church and the preachers of the church have to live, and people don't much want to hear either one of those words, that the world is vanishing or that a new world is coming to us, which is why this kind of poetry always leaves us uneasy, I think.
Ms. Tippett: But I think that you also think that that unease is a holy thing, or can be a holy thing, that, in fact, the Bible calls the faithful not to be too settled and too comfortable.
Mr. Brueggemann: I think that's exactly right.* * *
Ms. Tippett: A word you've used a lot recently, maybe you always used it, I think it echoes in what you wrote, but it's "disruptive."
Mr. Brueggemann: Well, that's more recent in my very limited vocabulary.
Ms. Tippett: Well, tell me about that evolution. Tell me about that word. Again, I don't think that's a word we associate in American culture with religion or the Bible or churches.
Mr. Brueggemann: Yeah, well, I think we think in terms of systems and continuities and predictability and schemes and plans. I think the Bible is to some great extent focused on God's capacity to break those schemes open and to violate those formulae. When they are positive disruptions, the Bible calls them miracles. We tend not to use that word when they are negative, but what it means is that the reality of our life and the reality of God are not contained in most of our explanatory schemes. And whether one wants to explain that in terms of God or not, it is nonetheless the truth of our life that our lives are arenas for all kinds of disruptions because it doesn't work out the way we planned. I think our recent economic collapse is a huge disruption for many people who had their retirement mapped out or whatever like that, and it isn't going to be like that. What the Bible pretty consistently does is to refer all of those disruptions to the hidden power of God.* * *
Ms. Tippett: I'd love to talk about your image of God, and I want you to talk about that more personally. But I thought I might start, you know, for example, in one of your sermons, you are talking about some poetry, Isaiah, and you talk about that it offers five images for God. This is just one — (laughter) one passage in Isaiah: "A demolition squad, a safe place for poor people who have no other safe place, the giver of the biggest dinner party you ever heard of, the powerful sea monster he will swallow up death forever, a gentle nursemaid who will wipe away every tear from all faces." How are normal people, not biblical scholars, how are they to make sense of a text like that? Of a God — who God is?
Mr. Brueggemann: Well, they're going to make sense of it if they have good preachers and teachers to help them pause long enough to take in the imagery. But you see, what the church does with its creeds and its doctrinal tradition, it flattens out all the images and metaphors to make it fit into a nice little formulation and then it's deathly. So we have to communicate to people, if you want a God that is healthier than that, you're going to have to take time to sit with these images and relish them and let them become a part of your prayer life and your vocabulary and your conceptual frame. Otherwise, you're just going to be left with these dead formulation, which, again, is why the poetry is so important because the poetry just keeps opening and opening and opening so more metaphors gives more access to God and one can work one metaphor awhile, but you can't treat that as though that's the last word. You got to move and have another and another. That's what I think. It's just amazing. In Isaiah, Jeremiah, Josiah, there are just endless metaphors.* * *
You can listen to the whole conversation here.