Friday, February 10, 2012

It's Not Working for Me

Recently I heard the modern-day prophet and poet Walter Brueggemann speak about the Psalms. He said before we can receive the counter-world offered us in the Psalms, we have to speak the truth about the world we live in. And that is a world characterized by, among other things, greed, anxiety, amnesia, and despair. We have to tell the truth, Brueggemann suggests, to be willing to say it straight up: “It’s not working for me.”

This strikes a deep chord with me. Brueggemann named something I’ve been struggling to articulate as I look around me at so many people I know facing uncertain finances, exhaustion, vocational upheaval, and nearly debilitating anxiety. While a generation past could count on stable jobs for decades, it feels lucky now to have one that lasts more than five years. Even for hard-working middle-class folks, it’s becoming a less-achievable dream to own a home or put kids through college. And yet every day we wake up again, go to jobs, run around busy as anything, trying to deny these truths or ignore them because what choice do we have? No wonder despair is the end of it all.

It’s not working for me. I am tired of pretending it is.

When I reach out to that most ancient prayer book for comfort, I struggle to believe, as Brueggemann told us, we need not inhabit this world we are given, that every time we do so much as read a psalm we are engaging in a subversive action, holding on to the hope of a world of abundance where a table is spread and all are welcome, where Yahweh is every faithful in spite of change everywhere, where all the world is not on its way to hopelessness and despair but to renewal and shalom and newness of life. I reach out for that world with eagerness, with desperation; sometimes I can believe in that world, but sometimes I cannot.

It’s been a week or so since I heard Brueggemann and as I sit with his words, the thing I remember most is the palpable relief I felt deep in my soul at hearing someone say, “It’s not working. Of course it’s not. You’re not crazy for wishing it were otherwise. It’s not working.” Wherever we want to go next, I'm certain that is the point to begin.

Maybe it is truth-telling itself that holds the key. Maybe not until the truth is told does the door begin to open to the counter-world that all our hearts are longing for.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Reading Genesis again I am struck by how often the Lord God says to Abram “Rise up and move your tent” or “Go.” And he goes. Later he even says “take your only son and offer him as a sacrifice.”

I can run through this in my mind several different ways, including thinking of the Hebrew scriptures as training a wayward people how to be faithful to God’s leading, or even all of it as a metaphor or allegory. But mostly it reads like God’s just messing with Abram.

A friend said to me recently that she had “transition fatigue.” There’s the sense that after a time you will have landed someplace, be doing some work that fulfills your vocation, your purpose. To be in mid-life and not have found that may be approximately the same as how Abram felt when God was forever telling him to pull up his stakes and “go” somewhere else. Again? Really? It’s exhausting and there is an emotional cost to constantly applying for new jobs, moving to a new place, starting again.

What comfort can be found in all this? Maybe that I think it’s a new story in my life but really it’s an old, old story. Uprooting and sacrifice and uncertainty. And in all of it, God going with you from place to place to place. I wonder what it takes, if it’s possible to see it in the midst of the confusion or only years afterward, to be able to see the angels going up and down, to proclaim with surprise like Jacob: “God was in this place and I did not know it”?