Henri Nouwen became interested in trapeze artists shortly before he died, coming to believe that this circus act was a paradigm for the spiritual life: letting go of the first bar, hovering between the bars, and being caught by the person on the second bar. As I have read more and more of Brueggemann, I see that he understands the prophetic task similarly…
Order (as in the “old order”)–letting go
Disorder–hovering between the bars
Reorder–being caught by God on the second bar.
Reorder begins with hope. We would never let go of the “old order” without seeing the “new creation,” believing it is really there, and trusting God (the trapeze artist on the second bar) to catch us when we reach for it. No hope–no leap. The prophets always set judgment in the larger context of redemption–in the context of hope.
Reorder continues with down-to-earth action. It is essentially the undoing of empire. The main ingredients are the renewing of Covenant (the way of love), the practice of neighborliness, and working for the common good. It is a joint effort of political leaders (monarchs), religious leaders (priesthood), and the general public. It is the return from exile to the holy land.
Reorder began (or was meant to begin) with the rebuilding of the Temple, from which the renewal of Covenant would then take place. Today we put it this way: the Church is the nation’s conscience, and renewal must start there. Brueggemann describes the changes in worship and proclamation which must occur for such renewal to occur, rooting it in the Eucharist.
In society the renewal happens as elitism and exploitation (empire) give way to inclusion, generosity, and the promotion of wellbeing for all. Using insights from social scientists (e.g. Jonathan Haidt) and combining them with biblical interpretation Brueggemann identifies building blocks for overcoming empire and rebuilding the foundations of the common good: caring, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.
The prophets arose to be instruments through whom God worked to announce judgment on “the kingdoms of this world” (empire) and to point to a return to the Kingdom of God (shalom). In a spirit akin to advocates of emergent Christianity (e.g. Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren, and leaders in the New Monasticism), Brueggemann shows how the prophetic task has needed to be repeated throughout history, and he sees the present day as another time in history where it is called for.
Further Reading in Brueggemann
‘The Covenanted Self’
‘Journey to the Common Good’
‘The Word that Rediscovers the World’
‘Mandate to Difference: A Challenge to the Church’
‘The Word Militant’ (prophetic preaching)
‘Worship in Ancient Israel’
‘The Practice of Prophetic Imagination’
‘Social Criticism and Social Vision’
‘Rebuilding the Foundations’