'Awakenings', part II of a VI series
Directed by Eliot Rausch
Produced by Bittersweet Monthly
Edited by Brendon Bray
I don't think we have a clue about our history of racism, about which we do not want to speak.
ELIOT RAUSCH Walter Bruuu-eggemann.
WALTER BRUEGGEMANN Brueggemann.
BRUEGGEMANN With the umlaut (¨) it should be Breeggemann. But nobody says it that way.
RAUSCH Do you think that's why you've been, like, a hidden mystical prophet — because people can't spell your last name and search you on Google?
BRUEGGEMANN [laughter] Could be!
RAUSCH God’s protected you with a complicated last name.
BRUEGGEMANN That's right!
RAUSCH Does God ache, Walter? Is God up there weeping, with us weeping?
BRUEGGEMANN I think so. In Jeremiah and Isaiah, you have some of God's romance. In fact, I tried to make the case out of that. I did very well, but the prophets portray God not so much angry as sad.
RAUSCH So is God using our suffering? Using or creating it — causing it?
BRUEGGEMANN I don't know, but I think people would say: not causing it but making use of it.
RAUSCH That's Calvin?
BRUEGGEMANN I don't know if that's Calvin particularly. That's good Christian theology. It would be like, I suppose, the crucifixion of Jesus: God didn't cause it, but made good use of it.
Poussin, Nicolas. 'The Jews Gathering the Manna in the Desert.' 1637. [o]
RAUSCH So is there an atonement?
BRUEGGEMANN I don't know. I always say that's above my pay scale.
RAUSCH Those are hard questions.
BRUEGGEMANN They are, that’s right. I'm much more interested in the economy than I am in atonement.
RAUSCH And why is that?
BRUEGGEMANN I study the Old Testament, which I've come to think of, more recently, as essentially a book about economics. I've written a book recently called Money and Possessions and I learned so much by doing that book.
RAUSCH And it's something we just don't want to talk about — for some reason.
BRUEGGEMANN That's right. We’ve invented categories to avoid. The issue is not really socialism or capitalism. The issue is how do we organize the economy to act out the deep truth of neighbors. I suspect we're always going to have that we have now is a mix of socialism and capitalism. It's always going to be a mix. And to have an argument about those mantras I think, is wildly unhelpful.
RAUSCH Have you changed your mind a bit? Do you feel like it's less about trying to attack the ideology and form a new language around?
BRUEGGEMANN We have to do both. We have to do critical teaching about the ideology — and we have to be politically engaged locally and in every way you can imagine. But the political engagement is no substitute for ideology critique. We have to do both. And for the purposes of any ideology critique, the Bible is a huge, urgent reference point. And the reason it continues to be a huge reference point is that the Bible is treated in distorted ways as a legitimator of that destructive ideology, so we have to have an argument about that.
RAUSCH And do you think that's why there's a bit of a mass exodus, because the prosperity gospel, in some ways, isn't truly transforming the community?
I'm much more interested in the economy than I am in atonement.
BRUEGGEMANN No,. The prosperity gospel is a fraud from the ground up, because it's simply an endorsement of pragmatism and individualism. It doesn't have anything to do with a neighborly economy.
RAUSCH As we're making this film, how do we have eyes to see? Is it our job to begin to dissect everything which is so entangled this way?
BRUEGGEMANN It is. It depends on what you want to do, and what you're able to do in the film. But if the film is a part of the teaching — of what I've said already in my book, Prophetic Imagination — is that the two pieces of work are to critique the ideology that is a phony worldview, and to imagine an alternative; and the alternative is a neighborhood. So that's the work, and what I hope is that your film will get on both those tasks.
RAUSCH But this is really stepping out into a certain wild wilderness kind of trust that something out there, that's not here, is going to come in.
BRUEGGEMANN That's right. In Israel — in the paradigmatic story — is the Exodus. They were in Pharaoh’s totalism, and they left and they went to the wilderness, and they thought they were going to die: because if you leave the totalism it feels like you're going to die. And what they found there was manna bread. What they found there was meat from quail that flew in. They found water from rocks. It turned out that everything they needed for life was available in the wilderness. But, they had been led to believe by Pharaoh that you couldn't live out there because Pharaoh was not sending supplies. It turned out in the narrative that God provides for life outside the totalism. And then, in the New Testament, that wilderness story gets reperformed when Jesus does his feeding miracles in the desert, in the wilderness. He feeds 5000 people, then he feeds 4000 people. We saw that what the church wants to say is, if you stay close to Jesus, there's plenty of bread. We don't know how. We don't explain it. It's a start. These are astonishing stories!
RAUSCH But would you argue that until you step away from the dependency or attachment you can't truly . . .
BRUEGGEMANN That’s right. You cannot, we cannot know it. And most of us are not ready to step away very far.
RAUSCH The Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount: how do you understand it in this context? Was it a bunch of poor people that have left everything?
"My life and my wellbeing and my freedom all depend on the fabric of neighbors." [o]
BRUEGGEMANN It was Jesus giving assurances that an alternative life, after his manner, will be a better life. So when he does the Beatitudes — “Blessed are . . . blessed are . . . blessed are . . .” — those are all anti-totalism guidelines. Blessed are the pure at heart so they shall see God; which means: if you try to live with the divided heart that is required by the totalism, you will never see God. Blessed are those who mourn. Well, there's no mourning in the totalism. It’s all upbeat, all the time. They will not be comforted, and you can go down the list. Then the ending: Blessed are you when they persecute you for having stepped outside the totalism, for great will be your reward elsewhere.
RAUSCH Blessed are you when you're at the end of your rope, because at the end of your rope there's less of you and more of God. That's Eugene Peterson's.
BRUEGGEMANN That's beautiful. That's great.
RAUSCH Do you believe that?
BRUEGGEMANN I believe that. I don't always have the courage for it, but I believe it.
RAUSCH What about grieving with those who grieve?
BRUEGGEMANN What we crave are people to be in solidarity with us in the most elemental places in our life. So then sociologically or politically it becomes a question about how the haves can be in real solidarity with the have-nots, and so on. Or, how can Whites be in real solidarity with African Americans? I don't think we know much about that. But the healing of our nation, I suspect, requires that.
RAUSCH What do you think about this putting off a certain lament, or, putting off the grief that's actually here now upon us? It almost feels like we're too afraid to grieve the mistakes we've made.
BRUEGGEMANN We will not get past our violence till we do that. We have to have a great national reckoning about our racism. It's just astonishing when you think about how racism has dominated Congress, dominated the Supreme Court. It’s written in the Constitution. I don't understand that very well, but I don't think we have a clue about our history of racism, about which we do not want to speak.
"We have to have a great national reckoning about our racism." [o]
RAUSCH And you don't think it's socio-economic?
BRUEGGEMANN It's all of that, it’s multidimensioned. For obvious reasons of color, we're more likely to be aware of race than we are of class, because it's so easy not to notice. As soon as someone from below calls attention to class, people who are on top say, “Oh, that's class warfare!”
RAUSCH But isn't it kind of primal, a sort of survival of the fittest. . .?
BRUEGGEMANN The deepest ideological mistake is to ask the question: What is the social unit of meaning? We have been taught that the social unit of meaning is the individual person. So, it's me in competition with all the other individual persons. Or, as the covenantal tradition of the Bible says, if the social unit of meaning is the community — and that's a huge contrast — so that my life and my wellbeing and my freedom all depend on the fabric of neighbors. In a biblical ethic, the neighbor is definitional. But in a market economy there are no neighbors; there are only competitors, rivals, and threats. The goal is complete privatization — because I don't want my affluence used for the sake of someone else's wellbeing. The biblical ethic that you shall love your neighbor, as you love yourself, is non-negotiable. That's what's in jeopardy among us. ≈ç
ELIOT RAUSCH is a filmmaker whose short films and documentary series have won numerous awards. He worked alongside Alejandro González Iñárritu, directing the documentary A World Unseen, a complimentary piece to The Revenant. He remains a local where he was born and raised, in Los Angeles.
BITTERSWEET MONTHLY is a magazine website that presents short films that “counter the negative new cycle using art to transform statistics into stories, and awareness into action.” They are the non-profit arm of Bittersweet Creative, a media production company based in Washington, D.C.