Neighborhood Economics: Walter Brueggemann

Summary of the Keynote address given by Walter Brueggemann at the Neighborhood Economics conference in Louisville, KY on November 12 & 13, 2014


The Economy of Pharoah- The Narrative of Totalism

Pharoah’s economy (and by the way, Herod’s way is just a re-performance of Pharoah’s economy) is an economy of “Totalism”.  Pharoah’s economy is, “Make bricks.  Make more bricks.  Make bricks without straw.  Make more bricks.  Do not take a break.  Keep working.  Keep producing.  Keep making bricks.  These bricks will benefit Pharoah and the building of Pharoah’s reign.”  Totalism is defined by scarcity, anxiety accumulation, monopoly, and violence.  The narrative of Totalism always leads to violence toward people who do not submit.

Pharoah’s law for the predatory economy is “be more productive.”  Those who are not more productive do not get resources.  It is coercive productivity.

Pharoah is so anxious about losing his status, belongings, and authority that he chooses to kill his own work force, Hebrew baby boys.

The Bible is the story of interrupting the narrative of Totalism.

Interruption to the narrative of Totalism #1- Fearing God:  Two midwives, we even know their names, _&_, in the face of Totalism, they choose another way.  They choose to birth babies even though Pharoah’s decry is death.  The midwives feared God.  They did not accept the narrative of Totalism.

Interruption to the narrative of Totalism #2-  Ferocious Confrontation against Totalism:  Moses angrily kills the Egyptian slave driver.

Interruption to the narrative of Totalism #3- The people brought their suffering and pain to speech.  They grieved a life that was not right.

Interuption to the narrative of Totalism #4- The emancipatory God of the Bible heard and responded.  God does not appear until chapter 3 but when God does, we learn that those who confront Totalism are allied to God.  God’s preferential option for the poor is evident.  Human agents who run the risk of thinking, asking, and trusting outside the narrative of Totalism are God’s chosen ones.

Rules to live by

All framing narratives bring with them guidelines, framework, and expectations.

When God’s people left Egypt, they arrived at Sinai (10 commandments).  These were 10 rules for neighborliness.  “Do not make God into a usable object.  Do not make your neighbor into a commodity.”

“How did the 10 commandments come to be so misunderstood that a nutty judge in Alabama can claim them as his own property?”

The 10 commandments were intended to contend Pharoah’s 10 rules- “Make bricks.  Make more bricks.  Make bricks without straw.  Make more bricks.  Do not take a break.  Keep working.  Keep producing.  Keep making bricks.  These bricks will benefit Pharoah and the building of Pharoah’s reign.”

God’s 10 commandments are commandments of neighborliness, a departure from totalism.  When the Israelites crossed the Jordan,  the 10 alone weren’t quite adequate.  They needed interpretation. The interpretation (Deut, Numbers, Lev.) were writings of organization, organizing a neighborly economy.

Our society mirrors that of Pharoah’s Totalism

Our society has a deep hatred for poor people because they do not produce enough bricks to justify their existence.

The church is generously repeating Pharoah’s predatory reading and not highlighting the generous neighborhood texts. (ex. Deut)  Why have we kept the Deuteronomicl vision of a generous neighborhood hidden in our society?

The Kingdom of Interruption – Welcome to the neighborhood- A Narrative of Departure

We keep being drawn back to the narrative of Totalism.  In Exodus 16, they take 2 verses into the wilderness and then say “let’s go back.”  We tend to do the same thing.

Wilderness is a place beyond the reach of Pharoah.  When they got there, they realized that this place they thought had no viable life supports actually had viable life supports- quail, manna, water.

You Have been emancipated for the neighborhood!  Don’t forget!

The work of the church in departing from the narrative of Totalism includes:

  • Bring pain to speech.  Help the local community grieve the arraignment of power that is not acceptable.  Pain brought to speech brings energy.  Not bringing pain to speech=violence.
  • Ask yourselves the question, How do I/we participate in the narrative of Totalism?
  • Explore the ways in which there is meaning and human possibility outside of the narrative of Totalism.
  • Even the best of us are children of the narrative of Totalism. We carry along in our bodies the burden of this tug of war between the dominant narrative from which we were born and what we know is of God.
  • Blessing: Encouragement,  Affirming the other, Acknowledging God’s work.  The power of blessing is outside the narrative of Totalism.
  • The vocation of our common life is the endless capacity to depart from the narrative of Totalism.
  • How do we speak about sustenance of life outside of the narrative of Pharoah? If you use Pharoah’s language and structure to describe, you’ll be co-opted back into Totalism.  So, the Bible uses imaginative images to describe hope and possibility.  The words we use reinforce our structures.  What language do you use to reinforce a narrative of Departure from Totalism?
  • Create liturgies of departure into an alternative world. This can take place in a number of ways: routine, worship, the ordering of life, the work of the people.
  • Ask yourself, “What are the ways of performing the narrative of departure that we haven’t thought of?”
  • What are the ways in which Totalism seduces us and keeps us from the narrative of Departure?
  • Your work is the negotiation between two societies- Totalism and Departure/Neighborllness. One of these societies has been made plainly visible in the church and society and one has been kept hidden.Why have we kept the neighborly economy texts (Numbers, Deut, Lev.) hidden in the church and society?   Read Deut 23-24 to refresh your memory on some of the neighborliness texts.
  • Articulate with utter clarity what the vision of God is, the radical vision. Then and only then we can/will do the hard work to get there.  Name the future and show where it exists in the present.