Preaching and the Dominant Narrative -- More on Brueggemann
When a preacher enters the pulpit (or otherwise begins to preach), he or she faces a dilemma. The message of the Gospel runs counter to much of what we have invested our lives in creating. There are, Walter Brueggemann suggests, in his book The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word, two narratives -- YHWH's (The Gospel) and the Dominant Narrative. Because we live in a world caught up in the midst of this dispute, Brueggemann writes, "many congregations and many preachers would much prefer to keep that dispute hidden or silenced."
Prophetic preaching is difficult -- in part because many practitioners either engage in predicting the future or offering harangues about social justice, but also because "the adherents to the dominant narrative are acutely vigilant about any hint that that narrative may be placed in question" [Brueggemann, Walter (2011-12-15). The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word (p. 4). Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition]. In other words, if one challenges the dominant narrative, when likely will suffer the consequences.
Indeed, Brueggemann writes as he opens the book:
The task is difficult because such a preacher must at the same time “speak truth” while maintaining a budget, a membership, and a program in a context that is often not prepared for such truthfulness. Indeed, given the seductions and accommodations of many congregations, not to mention larger judicatories in the church, such venues are often not readily venues for truth-telling. [Brueggemann, p. 1].
Recognizing the difficulty and the challenges, what is this dominant narrative and what is its message? Brueggemann writes a bit later:
The dominant narrative—one I have characterized as “therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism”—is committed to the notion of self-invention in the pursuit of self-sufficiency. Between a beginning in self-invention and a culmination in self-sufficiency, that narrative enjoins to competitive productivity, motivated by pervasive anxiety about having enough, or being enough, or being in control. Thus it is an acting out, in quotidian ways, of the modern sense of an autonomous self that eventuates in a rat race that readily culminates in violence if and when that self is impinged upon in inconvenient ways. That dominant narrative is seldom lined out, rarely seen in its coherence, and hardly ever critiqued in its elemental claims. That, I propose, is the matrix for prophetic preaching. [Brueggemann, p. 4.].
Note that this narrative involves "self-invention" and leads to "self-sufficiency." Listen to the political rhetoric -- what is the message. Take care of yourself. Be self-sufficient. Yes, and because there's scarcity, you'll have to protect what you have. That leads, at least in some cases, to violence as we seek to protect what is ours -- whether it's property or place in society.
When this is the case how shall the word of God be proclaimed?
Consider the thesis of Brueggemann's book, as you ponder this question:
Prophetic proclamation is an attempt to imagine the world as though YHWH—the creator of the world, the deliverer of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whom we Christians come to name as Father, Son, and Spirit—were a real character and an effective agent in the world. [Brueggemann, p. 2]
As we proclaim the good news in word and in deed, do we do so believing that YHWH is a "real character and an effective agent in the world"?