Thursday, September 25, 2014

Walter Brueggemann on Theology of Ferguson: "Every Revolutionary Movement Needs People Who Think and Study and Write and Analyze"

Micky Jones interviews biblical theologian Walter Brueggemann for the Theology of Ferguson website. Jones tells Brueggemann,

For seminarians, or for myself as an African American seminary student, it has been difficult to focus on study. I feel like, "What am I doing here taking classes when there is work to be done on the ground?"

And Brueggemann replies,

There is also work to be done in study. Every revolutionary movement needs people who think and study and write and analyze. A revolution is not sustainable if there are only people on the street. You have to have what the great Italian sociologist [i.e., Antonio Gramsci] called "organic intellectuals". You have to have intellectuals doing the homework and background work that will sustain the movement. For people like you, who are in seminary, that is an important part of your work. Do that homework and hard head work that will sustain.

And then he concludes: "The purpose of study is to keep the movement from running out of steam."

I'm struck by Brueggemann's observations about the connection between thought, discussion, study, and transformative action (which seem absolutely correct to me) because people not uncommonly denigrate the dimensions of thought, discussion, and study as they talk about transformative action for social change. People — especially in the American context, where anti-intellectualism has always been strong — like to speak as if thinking carefully, discussing seriously, and studying deeply are all diversions from action.

But as Brueggemann insists, they're necessary preconditions for meaningful transformative action in any movement that envisages social change to build a more humane world. There's a reason, I suspect, that Jesus accompanied his own transformative actions — reaching out to touch and heal the sick, breaking bread and sharing it with the poor, sitting at table with people regarded as unclean and sinful — with a great deal of plain old talking

With stories. With dialogical exchanges with his followers. With attempts to try to get his followers to understand that he was about something other than the too-facile messianism they were predisposed to want him to be all about. 

Heck, if some of the comments in threads here of late are any indicator of the state of Christian "thinking" these days, the challenge of getting convinced Christians who assume their lives are models of salvation for the rest of humanity to read Jesus's parables carefully and think about what they say has only just begun. The challenge, in particular, of getting the most convinced Christians who are most certain that they are models of righteousness for everyone else in the world to sit down with Jesus and listen carefully as he tells his parabolic stories that turn our so-certain and so-assured moral universes upside down is as acute as it ever has been.

Perhaps even more acute, in Catholic circles right now.

The graphic: Fra Angelico's depiction of the sermon on the mount, from San Marco in Florence, available for sharing at Wikimedia Commons.

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