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The Offering of Symbols

November 23, 2009

“In offering symbols, the prophet has two tasks. One is to mine the memory of this people and educate them to use the tools of hope. The other is to recognize how singularly words, speech, language, and phrase shape consciousness and define reality. The prophet is the one who, by use of these tools of hope, contradicts the presumed world of kings, showing both [the people and the king] that the presumed world does not square with the facts and that we have been taught a lie and have believed it because the people with the hardware and the printing press told us it was that way. And so the offering of symbols  is a job not for a timid clerk who simply shares the inventory  but for people who know something different and are prepared, out of their own anguish and amazement, to know that the closed world of managed reality is false.”

-Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination [p.64]

This runs very closely alongside the teaching from Mars Hill this past week. Skye Jethani taught and, aside from having one of the coolest names I’ve heard in a long time, he combed through the verses in Matthew 5 about “an eye for an eye” and brought out new nuances and strains in those words that I hadn’t thought of before.

There is a much, much larger story that God is telling and in this story, we are not left alone. Rather, we are invited to experience God through the person of Jesus to such an extent that it alters how we see the world. This experience that births belief emboldens, not asks, us to walk the second mile, to give our shirt to the one who steals our coat and, above all, keep telling beautiful, compassionate, resurrected stories because we know that they are more true than any others. In our ‘anguish and amazement,’ we know there are no other stories worth telling. We invoke these stories as the symbols that outlast time because we know that exile is always temporary and that as He did for the Israelites, so God is bringing us, even now, even this very moment, out of exile and into His hope.

The gist of the message was that if we truly believe that we live in a God-soaked world, a world in which God is constantly and in all ways with us, then we are assured that there is no safer world in which we could live. This doesn’t discount the danger and evil that still stir within the four corners of the world (and even within our own hearts); it simply doesn’t give that darkness the last word. If God’s last word is justice, then injustice is fleeting. Should it be fought? Absolutely. As I read what Brueggemann wrote tonight, it is proclaimed necessary to take up the symbols of hope and insist that the ‘managed reality is false.’ But we fight this reality because we know it is weak and must crumble and fall.

It comes down to this: do you listen to the stories of those with the hardware and printing press, or do you listen to the story of Jesus? Your choice dictates the world in which you live. For myself, I will choose the story of Jesus. I know no other story worth choosing; I know no other reality worth living in.

“The LORD is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?”
-Psalm 27:1

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