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A Dangerous Life

This post will wrap up my series on exile, using Walter Brueggemann’s book Cadences of Home as our frame of reference. Though each post functions on its own, be sure to check out PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE.

In previous posts, we’ve established that life as a Christian believer in much of the Western World feels disconnected from feelings of home. While few are geographically in exile away from home, the emotional and spiritual sense of home is fleeting in society today for those who desire to follow Jesus. To be a Christian today feels counter-cultural and embraces that life will look different than the prevailing notion of how to live by those around them.

These realities cause a variety of responses, most notably a movement toward assimilation with the dominant trajectory of society, or despair over these new realities with little strength to endure through them. Though these are common responses, Brueggemann shares that in order to be part of the remnant of exiles who continues to seek a home of faith we must embrace living a dangerous life.

What Is a Dangerous Life in Exile?

1. Dangerous Memories

Exile causes us to either forget the past or embrace weak memories. We need the memories of faith lived before us to instruct us and empower us today.

When we forget the past we subsequently overvalue the present and lose a bigger perspective.

When we embrace weak memories we lose the opportunity for “sustained remembering, bearing daily and concrete testimony to the way in which God works life in the face of death, to the way in which God creates newness out of nothing, to the way in which hopeless faith discovers the power for life” (pg. 121).

2. Dangerous Criticism

“To be an exile and to resist assimilation and refuse despair, one must not grow too cozy with the host empire. It was a powerful temptation for exile Jews, whose story had run out, to live themselves into the story of Babylon and to reidentify themselves as citizens of Babylon.”

3. Dangerous Promises

In exile, who is able to have hope? “Only the baptized, only those who regularly enter a zone of alternative possibility that is not rooted in present technology, but in gifts yet to be given, in promises yet to become visible, in gifts and promises guaranteed by God” (pg. 126).

4. Dangerous Song

“There is even more to be said for unruly, unruled imagination that dares to sing what is prohibited and outrageous and subversive, for such singing enthrones and dethrones, and the restless exiles sing until homecoming” (pg. 129).

5. Dangerous Bread

“There will not be genuine freedom until, having new bread, we refuse the offer of Pharaoh’s tasty bread” (pg. 131).

The embrace of this kind of dangerous life does not mean God will move at our beck and call, but we will be ready for this new move of God as it comes.

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Responding to Exile

This is the 3rd post in the short series on exile, using Walter Brueggemann’s Cadences of Exile to help initiate these thoughts. Be sure to check out parts ONE and TWO on this subject, because the three posts are deeply connected.

As we’ve already discussed, there are many aspects of Old Testament exile that are true for followers of Jesus in the western world today. Though we are only in rare cases geographically taken from our homes, it continues to get more difficult for Christians to feel truly at home in society today.

Exile often feels the same as the empty beginning, awaiting the promise. Brueggemann says:

“This community (Israel)…began bereft, barren, powerless, without hope in the world. Now in exile it has become once again what it was in the beginning: bereft, barren, powerless, without hope in the world…there is only waiting and grieving and wondering…Israel hopes but does not know” (pg. 112).

Exile Responses

The difficulty of exile prompts three different responses:

1. Assimilation.

“It is possible for baptized Christians to assimilate into imperial America…to embrace the dominant American hopes and fears that are all around us, to live so that the world does not notice our odd baptism or our odd identity.”

2. Despair.

“God has failed and we are helpless. This is the temptation for those of us who know better than to assimilate, but for whom resistance is a defensive posture without buoyancy.”

3. Fresh, imaginative theological work.

“…recovering the old theological traditions and recasting them in terms appropriate to the new situation of faith in an alien culture.”

If we could track the Biblical narrative into the terms of God’s promise (covenant), moving into God’s demand (Israel in the Promised Land), moving into God’s absence (exile), then it seems clear, following this absence is a new move of God.

Go stand on the seashore, and you’ll notice for hours on end the waves seem quite similar, but if ever the water goes out further into the sea than before, you can be assured the biggest wave yet is on its way—exile means the biggest wave is on the way.

So, which response is yours?

Are you assimilating into a society moving away from God? Or are you in a state of debilitating despair?

Or are you preparing yourself for the new move of God that is ready to come crashing down on us?

Friends, I fear that all too often the response of the church is a mixture of assimilation and despair. Next week we’ll look at how to embrace the anticipation of the new move of God in an exile context.

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The Discombobulation of Exile

Let’s continue working through our short blog series on what Old Testament exile might have to teach 21st century believers in the western world. We’re using Walter Bruggemann’s book Cadences of Exile as a jumping off point. Make sure to check out the first post in this series because each post will build on the previous ones.

The Babylonian exile has some striking similarities to our own cultural climate. Though this specific exile started in Babylon, it was eventually taken over by the Persians, who provided support for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, written about in Ezra and Nehemiah. Over the course of several generations, the nation of Israel had gone from a global superpower, to later be run out of their own homes, overtaken by another nation. The entire experience had to be discombobulating.

Though many Christians globally are exiled in a geographical sense, like the Israelites, our sense of exile today is a sense of emotional loss. Christians were once understood to be the leaders of society throughout the western world, now many core Christian understandings about society are seen as damaging. We are, in a unique way, in our own time of exile, having to relearn how to exist as followers of Jesus when doing so stands in contrast to society as a whole.

What can we learn from the Babylonian and Persian exile?

Brueggemann shares 5 characteristics about the Babylonian exile that can be instructive to us in our own time of exile:

1. The Israelites understood that in their time of exile, disengagement from the power structures of their new geographical home was necessary, in order to exist as an alternative community.

2. Having been delivered by God out of captivity many generations before, Israel made it a practice to “think and rethink and rearticulate its faith and practice in light of its liberation” (pg. 102).

3. In exile, Israel had to make up everything as it went along. “This was a process of deep transformation of what was borrowed, transformed according to Israel’s central passion for liberation and for covenant” (pg. 103).

4. In exile, Israel lost many of their community bonds their previous home made easy, and they became a segmented community of extended family units and tribes.

5. The community of Israel was socioeconomically marginal. “Israel was indeed a new church start.”

Two things here should jump off the page:

1) First, the Israelites learned to accept they were no longer in charge of determining the direction of their society as a whole.

2) Second, the Israelites focused on existing as an alternative community exemplifying a different path for life than the predominant narrative around them.

Followers of Jesus today should deeply consider how their lives might operate differently if they embraced those two learnings.

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Church Talk

I’ve been working through Walter Brueggemann’s wonderful book Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles. It’s a book comprised of various essays he wrote in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Though it is a book about the craft of preaching, it’s more a book on a theology of exile. Over the next few weeks I’m going to highlight a few insights the book provided for me, giving a foundation for conversations needed some 25-30 years after his original thoughts were expressed.

The context for the work as a whole is a comparison between the current cultural climate in America for Christians and the climate for the Hebrew people in captivity through exile, written about extensively throughout the Old Testament in books such as Isaiah. While we could debate this comparison, the move within our society away from a traditional Christian perspective on faith is apparent and has left many with a sense that they are no longer at home where they exist.

This prompts several necessary questions:

—How do we support and equip Christian believers within an exile context?

—How do Gospel-sharers speak to a society that no longer speaks the same language they do?

These are the questions we’ll be leaning into on this post and several to follow.

One big issue for Christians today is the lack of Gospel proclamation that speaks to both the believer and the lost. Our sharing of the Good News about Jesus that is only understandable to the believer becomes insulated. Our sharing of the Good News about Jesus that is only understandable to the outsider becomes worldly.

Brueggemann paints a picture of bridging this gap through “church talk” also functioning as “public talk” without ceasing to be “church talk” (pg 80). In this, I think he has articulated one of the great issues with how Christians engage the society they find themselves in. Here’s how he paints this picture:

“Preaching addresses exiles but believes at the same time that its claims addressed to exiles have pertinence and compelling authority to the Babylonians as well.”

Or to say this differently, the Gospel has something vitally important to say not just to believers, but to everyone!

One way I’ve tried to incorporate this perspective in my preaching ministry is by beginning with an overarching question about life that applies to everyone, whether believer or not, such as, “What’s the goal life life? or, “Is a life focused on simple pleasures actually fulfilling?” These questions provide grounding for me to say “we all long for the same things.” Then I spend the rest of the time showing how the Gospel stands in contrast with the prevailing notion of our day in answering that question.

This, however, must be bigger than just a preaching technique. It must be the way we approach conversations with everyone, whether people of faith or not. The saved need consistent reminders of how the Gospel speaks to their lives today, and the lost need the opportunity to hear how the Gospel can reframe their entire lives.

While some may question the power of the Gospel to speak to the hearts and minds of people today, often it is the Gospel proclaimer’s inability to bridge the gap between the world of the believer and the world of the lost that leads to an ineffective message. Gospel proclaimers must work to understand the times they are in so that the Good News has something to say to everyone, not just those who have already taken steps of faith.

Let your church talk always function as public talk without ceasing to be church talk.

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Chelsea Patterson Sobolik on the Pain of Childlessness (Called Out Episode 020)

chelsea patterson sobolik podcast

One of the often unspoken realities is that 20% of women are facing childlessness, whether through miscarriage or inability to get pregnant. Churches are filled with women and couples who carry with them the pain of their loss or unmet desires. This is a subject that must be addressed in order for people to be able to experience the healing Christ offers.

On this episode of Called Out hear from Chelsea Patterson Sobolik on how her personal journey has shaped her unmet desire for motherhood, and how to support women who are struggling with the pain of childlessness or loss.

Chelsea currently works for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as the Policy Director, with previous experience working in Washington D.C. in various policy oriented capacities.

Listen to the full episode below:

You can also find this episode anywhere you listen to podcasts, including:

Apple Podcasts || Spotify || Google Podcasts || Overcast

Links from the episode:

—Chelsea Patterson Sobolik’s first book Longing for Motherhood is directly related to the subjects discussed in this episode, and is definitely worth your time.

—You can find Chelsea on Twitter @ChelsPat.

Private Life is a feature-length film available on Netflix.

—Tish Harrison Warren recently shared about experiencing loss as a mother on the Betwixt podcast, with focus directed toward lament as overlooked and needed.

—Check out the 7-day Bible reading plan titled “Grieving with Hope After Miscarriage and Loss.”

ABOUT CALLED OUT

Called Out is a show helping the church move from the reality of its brokenness toward the healing power of Christ. 

You can follow the host of the show on Twitter @tylerbraun.

 

 

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The Sunday Morning Battle

Last fall I shared a sermon with my church from Hebrews 4:1-10, with verse 3 from that passage continuing to stick with me weeks later. The whole section in Hebrews 4 is a comparison between the New Testament Hebrew people and the Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land because they did not take God at his word, that he would give them the land. Verse 3 then answers the question: if this rest is still available to us, how do we enter it?

“Now we who have believed enter that rest.” Hebrews 4:3

It is by faith that God’s rest is entered into. This is not only a Sabbath rest from work but also a salvation rest, leading to eternal rest. Rest in the Kingdom of God is approached only through faith. It is not merely abstaining from work, but rather seeing all of life with eyes of faith.

This insight surrounding rest has caused me to consider whether I approach other areas of life through faith or sight. It is quite possible to be a person of faith and not live by faith. I can believe in Jesus, trust in him for salvation, and yet navigate life by what I can see, touch, feel, and understand. Living by faith has prompted several questions for me:

  • How might I approach parenting my kids by faith instead of sight?
  • What does it look like to engage with God’s Word by faith instead of sight?
  • Can I approach conversations with people differently if I’m navigating them by faith instead of sight?

One of the shifts I’ve been trying to emphasize is Sunday morning. As a pastor my Sunday mornings are tied up with leading the church in worship, in prayer, and often in opening God’s Word to teach from it. I love the gathering of God’s church. It’s always a high point of my week. But Sundays are relentless. They keep coming. Just as one finishes, planning for the next one begins.

As with anything routine, it’s easy for me to approach the Sunday morning church gathering time as just another week, no big deal. But here’s the reality of the church gathering on Sundays: they’re a war-zone. God’s Word is clear that the enemy “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1st Peter 5). Paul also reminds us that our battle often takes place in what is unseen (Eph. 6).

Eyes of faith help us to see and understand that anytime there is an effort to worship, glorify, and submit to God, the enemy will be prowling, seeking to thwart those plans. Satan desires that our pursuit of God would be incomplete, fake, and impotent. Jesus desires that we might see the transforming power of God’s presence in our midst, made possible through His sacrifice and unending life.

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