Here is Part 2 of a three part series on incarnation. In Part 1 I shared a reflection about the importance of having eyes to see the theological and philosophical constructs of our culture. In Part 2 I talk about Brueggemann’s work, Prophetic Imagination, and how a second element for incarnational witness is the embrace of pathos and lament.
Embracing Humanness – Mourning, Pathos, and a Shock to the Numbness
Jesus embraced humanness in the incarnation and we are invited to follow him in that way of suffering love. But there is a problem in our culture to which the church in the West is largely unaware. The problem is that there is an inability to embrace suffering and mourning. Walter Brueggemann makes this clear in his work,
The Prophetic Imagination. We are scripted into a cultural status quo (or Royal Consciousness) that presses us to live for the now. On a more sinister level, forces of consumerism are providing for us “ends” that leave us satiated in materialism alone. The story is a dark one and tells us that the highest point in life is to live for consumption. It masks the reality of impending death and doom shouting “peace, peace, all is well, just buy more stuff”, when there is no peace (Jer 6:14). The problem we are faced with in this situation is a denial of humanness that leads to oppression, for an illusion that ends in calamity.
How is this important for incarnation of the gospel in our time? Brueggemann plunges us deep into the narratives of Moses and Solomon to contrast the two consciousnesses they embodied. Under Moses, God was free and responded to the people’s lament and embrace of Pathos. Under Solomon, affluence, oppressive social policies, and static religion attempted to contain God and formed a consciousness that served the King. To answer the question, in our time today, we live under a Royal Consciousness that is not unfamiliar to the Solomonic one. Ours is the worship of the economic, capitalist King that is uninterested in the greater values of God’s heart; to act justly and love mercy (Micah 6:8).
If we are to live our faith genuinely in communities, it will require that we embrace our humanness and suffering in the way of Jesus and the prophets that preceded Him. This should happen as we journey with Jesus; for in conversion there is a mourning that leads to dying that leads to new life. Both personally and corporately, the church’s task in the numbness of culture is to embrace pathos to teach it to mourn. In addition, embracing pathos will help us to embrace our humanness, shock us out of Royal numbness, and fund for us a way to imagine an alternative future that belongs to God. Brueggemann put it best in concluding his book. He reflects on the beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn”:
“There is work to be done in the present. There is grief work to be done in the present that the future may come. There is mourning to be done for those who do not know of the deathliness of their situation. There is mourning to be done with those who know pain and suffering and lack the power or freedom to bring it to speech. The saying is a harsh one, for it sets this grief work as the precondition of joy. It announces that those who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy.”
Part three and the conclusion tomorrow.