The Prophetic Imagination – Prophetic Energizing and the Emergence of Amazement, pt.1

This week we are reading through Chapter 4 “Prophetic Energizing and the Emergence of Amazement” of Walter Brueggemann’s book The Prophetic Imagination. In this chapter, Brueggemann writes about the second half of what the prophetic imagination looks like in practice.

Prophetic Energizing:

As we looked at in Chapter 1, the prophetic imagination is not simply about criticizing the current reality, rather the prophetic imagination must give a vision, a hope, and an energy looking towards a new reality and new order. The prophetic imagination “must energize the community to fresh forms of faithfulness and vitality.” p.59. It must bring “people to engage the promise of newness that is at work in our history with God.” p.60.  In short, the second part of the prophetic imagination is about hope. See, Eph. 4:4, Heb. 7:18-19, 1 Pet. 3:1.

A Hope Denied:

Brueggemann wants us to see how the managerial nature of the royal consciousness denies hope. The royal consciousness wants us to simply live in the present and to manage the present circumstances. Hope can only take place within a vision of the future. Hope resides in that which is not seen. Rom. 8:24, Heb. 11:1. But, when the world leads us to believe that tomorrow will be no different than today, it denies us the reality of any hope. The royal consciousness seeks to annul the future, and thereby annul the only place hope can reside.  

As Brueggemann points out, the annulment of the future is the very basis of the royal consciousness. p.61. It is against change and new beginnings. The chess pieces can be rearranged, but the game must stay the same. If society can simply buy into the present reality as the only reality, then the status quo will always prevail.

Societal and the Personal:

Although Brueggemann sets up his dichotomy between the prophetic imagination and the royal consciousness as contained in two distinct societies – the first under Moses and the second under Solomon – he wants us to all see that these two visions of reality reside in each of us individually. p.62. We see a personal hopelessness and despair in the message of Ecclesiastes – life is not fair, life is not just, nothing will ever change, and life is futile and meaningless. Ecclesiastes, which tradition holds was written by Solomon at the end of his life, is the ultimate expression of what a denial of hope in a person looks like.  

Brueggemann wants us to personally see how this hopelessness operates in our own lives so that we can leave it behind and be energized by the prophetic imagination. He tells us that when we hold on too tightly to the things of our lives we cannot experience hope, because hope requires change and newness. If we confine ourselves to the little world surrounding us, we cannot have hope. Hope only comes when we have the capacity and will to imagine something different.

Penetrating the Dispair:

Brueggemann lays out three ways to overcome the hopelessness of ourselves and our society – specific and traditional Symbols, Expressions of hope and yearnings, and a Newness of redefinition.

First, Brueggemann says that “symbols of hope cannot be general and universal but must be those that have been known concretely in this particular history.” p.64.  Through these symbols, the prophet mines the memory of a particular people and recognizes how these symbols can shape consciousness and define reality.

Second, Brueggemann writes that the prophetic imagination and ministry is “to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings” that have long been denied and suppressed. p.65. Going back to our discussion last week on poetry, Brueggemann says that the public expression of hope cannot be “explanatory and scientifically argumentative; rather it must be lyrical.” p.65.  The language used must touch the heart and must evoke the connection between a personal, loving God and the community.

Finally, Brueggemann writes that although the prophet must speak lyrically and metaphorically, he must also speak “concretely about the real newness that comes to us and redefines our situation.” p.67. The prophet is not laying out policy goals or positions but is concretely laying out what the prophetic imagination looks like for each of us. It is laying out what God is concretely doing in our lives. The prophetic imagination ultimately shows us what Easter morning can specifically look like for us.

The working example (which I assume Brueggemann had in mind in 1978) of this penetration of despair, is the civil rights movement, and specifically, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech:

  1. In the speech, King uses the concrete historical symbols of the American flag and the Declaration of Independence These symbols contain a hope and a promise that all men are created equal and that any government that does not promote equality is illegitimate, engages in tyranny, and is subject to rebellion.
  2. Listen to King’s penetrating oratory. His speech is not about laying out rational arguments in favor of civil rights but bringing forth the hopes and yearnings of the oppressed.
  3. King concretely lays out his concrete vision: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
  4. These three points will come together in King’s conclusion where he quotes My Country, ‘Tis of Thee

If you have time before Tuesday, read pp. 63-67 and see how Brueggemann draws his three points from I Have a Dream.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is clam chowder. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,  From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream

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