Friday, July 1, 2016
I am indebted to the American Old Testament scholar, Professor Walter Brueggemann for the thoughts expressed in this Rhodeside. Professor Brueggemann says the Old Testament can be divided into three major parts – The Torah, the Prophets and the Wisdom literature. He describes how these three parts of the Old Testament parallel our spiritual growth. The Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, correspond to the first half of life, where we shape our identity “through law, tradition, structure, certitude, group ritual, clarity, and chosenness.” Here we feel loved and safe. The Prophets introduce the necessary suffering, "stumbling stones," and failures that initiate us into the second half of life. Prophetic thinking is the capacity for healthy self-criticism, the ability to recognize your own dark side, as the prophets did for Israel. Without failure, suffering, and shadowboxing, most people (and most of religion) never move beyond narcissism and tribal thinking. This has been most of human history up to now, which is why war has been the norm. But healthy self-criticism helps you realize you are not that good and neither is your group. Wisdom literature, (Psalms, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and the Book of Job) introduces us to the language of mystery and paradox. We are strong enough now to hold together contradictions, even in ourselves, even in others. And we can do so with compassion, forgiveness, patience, and tolerance. We realize that our chosenness is for the sake of letting others know they are chosen too. We have moved from the Torah's exclusivity and "separation as holiness" to inclusivity and allowing everything to belong. Richard Rohr describes Brueggemann’s pattern of growth as order-disorder-reorder, saying, “After order (Torah) we must go through disorder (Prophets) or there is no reorder (Wisdom)! No exceptions.” What a profound pattern of life found in the Old Testament books!