THE FUTURE AND PRESENT NEIGHBORLINESS
HOPE IN THE FACE OF LOSS. A friend sent me an article titled "Hope in the Face of Loss" by Walter Brueggemann (from The Other Side magazine, March & April, 1999). It connects the way ancient people handled loss with how we respond to loss today. It also shows how some people chose to respond to their troubles with hope--and how we can, too. Brueggemann confirms a lot of what I've been trying to convey about Biblical hope--how it impacts our sense of the future and actions in the present.
POINTING BACKWARD. At a time in which Christian identity is being pulled in every direction, Brueggemann points Christians backward to Jewish patterns of hoping, saying "we need to maintain our hope by reaching into the past for assurances that the future will restore what the present has destroyed."
A CULTURE DEFINED BY LOSS. "The enduring sense of loss that accompanied the destruction of Jerusalem and the death of Jesus continues into the present day," asserts Brueggemann. "We live in a culture defined by loss. That loss touches everything and everyone. It includes the failure of the social fabric, the failure of intellectual certitudes, the failure of organizational structures, the failure of worldwide economic viability. Our U.S. society now struggles to…embrace a loss that is more than can be imagined."
THREE TEMPTATIONS IN THE FACE OF LOSS. Noting that ancient Jews and Christians faced some of the same temptations we as a society face when dealing with great loss, Brueggemann articulates three such temptations: "Then, as now, some engaged in DENIAL, imagining that not much is happening, that the loss is not deep or permanent (except that Jerusalem was really gone and Jesus was really crucified). Then, as now, some also engaged in FANTASY, committing irresponsible private actions that fly in the face of public need. Then, as now, some acknowledged that the old patterns are really over, but had NO IDEA OF HOW TO DEAL WITH THIS. But some, "drawing upon a determined, resilient memory," engaged in massive buoyant acts of recommitment to the future."
BASIS OF HOPE. Brueggemann roots hope and hopeful acts deeply: "People who hope are not people who have a vague sense that things will work out all right. People who hope are those who know the name of God and God's characteristic gifts: steadfast love, compassion, and faithfulness, the three great qualities that eventuate in the wholeness of shalom.”
ACTING UPON THE FUTURE. “Without denying the present disorder or confusion or distortion, people who hope and watch and wait and pray and expect know that God's shalom is as good as done. People who hope are people who act in the conviction that God's future is reliably present-tense and therefore act upon it before it is fully in hand."
PRESENT NEIGHBORLINESS. What do Christians do in the meantime? What is our signal of faith that the future of God's shalom wins out? Brueggemann invitingly says: "God's future is enacted as present neighborliness." Instead of joining in with functional atheists in greed, injustice, acquisitiveness, exploitation, brutality, self-absorption, and ethnic pride, we are called beyond such self-destructive idolatry to a simple but all-encompassing life: Love God and love neighbor. Not either, or; but both, and.
CAN’T SEPARATE GOD FROM NEIGHBOR. "We now live in a society," concludes Brueggemann, "that wants to separate God and neighbor, to keep something of God without the neighbor who comes with God. But that is futile. God's coming shalom, which is sure for the world, is a gift of neighborliness. Widow, orphan, illegal immigrant, poor, homeless, disabled--all count, all are citizens of God's shalom."
WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR? In a society that has very subtly, sophisticatedly separated God from neighbor, I am convinced that the most haunting, compelling, redeeming question for this generation (and perhaps especially for the most zealous of Christians) is: "Who is my neighbor?" Answering it will take a lifetime of service and joy in fellowship with our neighbors and with God.
A FEW QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
1. Brueggeman says "we live in a culture defined by loss" and he names several "failures" that combine to increase our sense of loss as individuals, groups and a society: failure of the social fabric, loss of intellectual certitutdes, failure of organizational structures and failure of worldwide economic viability. In what ways have you noticed some of these failures and a mounting sense of loss they bring? These are not personal failures, but they have an impact on individuals. How do you think they have an impact on you or those you know?
2. Of the three temptations in the face of loss--denial (what loss?), fantasy (build bigger walls to protect us! hoard! retreat into private enclaves!) and shutting down (wallow in depression, helplessness)--which do you see most at work in our society today? Which of these the greater temptation for you?
3. An alternative is to face real loss with what Brueggemann describes this way: drawing upon a determined, resilient memory, engage in massive buoyant acts of recommitment to the future. What memories of God's faithfulness, character, actions of salvation, covenant, and grace can you/we cultivate and draw upon? What certainties for the future do we know God has pointed you/us toward? Then, what possible "massive bouyand acts" might you/we engage in?
4. Perhaps no act so counters the present culture of loss so much so as genuinely loving our neighbor as an outworking of authentically loving God. If "God's future is present neighborliness," what questions do you/we need to be asking? Perhaps:
- Who is my neighbor?
- Do I love him/her/them?
- If not, why not?
- If so, how do I actively (not passively!) express this love?
- Am I able to be faithful to God without loving the neighbors to whom I am sent or who are sent unto me?
- What future am I prophesying with my attitudes and actions regarding neighbors--especially difficult neighbors?
- What spiritual resources do I need to love my neighors?
- How might we love our neighbors together?
Go to Daily Doses of Hope to access journaling, spiritual exercises and sacred lyrics that accompany this reflection. There's a Daily Dose of Hope for each day of Advent 2007.