Entering the Wreckage: Grief and Hope in Jeremiah, and the Rescripting of the Pastoral Vocation in a Time of Geopolitical Crisis

Article excerpt

The pastors I know, including myself, are exhausted. Leadership is taking a high toll on our marriages, our relationships with our children and friends, our bodies, and our beings. More in our bodies than in our brains, we know that the church is living in a state of perpetual white-water, and that the certainties and securities of Christendom's stable past are no more. The problem is that we pastors were not trained for our task today, which is the post-Christendom renegotiation of the church's vocation. Christendom afforded the church and its pastors many advantages, but those advantages of power and prestige blinded the church to the many ways the word of God became compromised to causes subversive and many times antithetical to the reign of God. Nevertheless, so terribly enamoured with those advantages, we pastors are pressured by anxious church folk and our own anxious selves to keep what we have cherished from slipping through our fingers.

The collapse of Christendom is a crisis that can no longer be denied. Nor can highly functioning and competent pastors expertly manage the church's dislocation from its once privileged position in American culture. We are trained in the skill sets of life within a modem world in which technology and technique provide answers to every problem. Those skills are not helpful now, and our over-reliance on them only proves that the assumptions and practices of the dominant culture have co-opted our imaginations to a way of organizing our lives according to technique rather than the Bible.

Hard work and the competent management of our technological resources will not allow us to continue to live in denial; we are standing in the wreckage of our cherished past and unable to engineer the future. Our denial has kept us from grief, and until we learn to grieve we cannot move forward. Any good pastor who cares for the bereaved knows that. Yet, we have not identified ourselves as bereaved persons living amid cultural wreckage.

I think the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 crack wide our denial and force us to grieve, whether we want to or not. This geopolitical crisis, which ended America's naivete about its life in the world, begs pastors to do more than serve as chaplains to our nation's collective grief. We are called, as Ricoeur has pointed out, to the twin acts of suspicion (asking hard questions about our past compromises) and recovery (re entering strange, neglected biblical texts in order to "rescript" imaginations too long captive to dominant ideologies). This work of suspicion and recovery is precisely the pastoral work the prophet Jeremiah was called to practise in the midst of his nation's wreckage. In and around the decade 598-587 BCE, Jeremiah confronted the pastoral denial and mistaken management strategies of Judah's religious and political leadership.

Current scholarship helps us to see Jeremiah as more than a single, nearly deranged prophet operating on the fringes of Jerusalem society. Jeremiah was a spokesperson for a political movement within the Jerusalem establishment that dared to view the situation from a very different point of view. With strong ties to the Deuteronomic tradition and the torah reform movement under Josiah, Jeremiah and the leaders of the movement (which included Baruch and the highly influential and prominent family of Shaphan) critiqued textually, that is, from the vantage point of torah, the assumptions of Jerusalem's political and religious establishment.

The book of Jeremiah, including its influence among those living in the wreckage of the exile, plus the birth of new forms of community life exemplified by Ezra in the restoration, testifies that among a society of pastors, who intentionally and regularly enter an alternative reading of our current situation, God is at work bringing to birth enormously potent missional energy. By this action, God converts our exhaustion and rebirths us for ministry among tired and terribly compromised congregations. …