20 February 2013
Carnival Kingdom: Biblical Justice for Global Communities
Introducing Carnival Kingdom: Biblical Justice for Global Communities, co-edited by Marijke Hoek, Forum for Change coordinator.
In an age where the public discussion is prominently located and shaped in the media, we have the opportunity to imaginatively express a timeless truth that really is good news for society. In her chapter 'Yeasting the Public Debate with Good News', Marijke Hoek advocates that the creative use of the media can draw attention to structural dysfunction, raise public awareness and awaken its conscience. Critically, such public engagement is an effective way to communicate how our faith motivates us to develop a more just and compassionate way of life.
Living out the radical nature of Jesus' teaching requires a lifestyle of costly, selfless, loving acts of daily commitment to peace and justice - in the playground, workplace, family and community. It demands a daily walk of mercy, humility and justice reflecting Christ's reign that invades the world, not hindered by our 'weakness' but rather displayed in it. And yet, the transformative elements also concern a wider stage and public role for which we have received a creative grace to seek and enact the wellbeing in our spheres of influence.
As James Davison Hunter poignantly states in his book To Change the World, culture is most powerful when it is self- evident. As long as each(sub-)culture tells and lives out a world-story that is to some degree incompatible with the gospel, Harvey Gallagher Cox calls for our Christian theology and our storytelling to constantly expose the false and unjust values that prevent human flourishing and are destructive to God's will. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas describes the social-ethical task of the Church as being 'the kind of community that tells and tells rightly the story of Jesus. We continue this truth when we see the struggle of each to be faithful to the gospel as essential to each of our lives'.
Jesus' parables are provocative stories, inviting the hearers to leave conventional understanding and encounter new and potentially transformative views. The point of a parable is to transform how we intersect with the world. It is designed to rupture, to shake up and reconfigure. Jesus' challenge is not to hide our light but, rather, to raise it on a stand so that people may see and praise God. It motivates us to tell the tales publicly (Matthew 5:15).
We see this exemplified through the work of Charles Dickens - a primary storyteller who addressed injustice in his time. He wrote A Christmas Carol in the context of the reform of the English Poor Laws. The New Law concerned orphanages, workhouses and debtors' prisons. While on the surface The Poor Law Act appeared to provide for the poor, Dickens challenges the poor stewardship of the ecclesiastical boards who governed with harshness rather than kindness, compassion and mercy. His Carol is undergirded by his critique of society and of a form of Christianity that lacks mercy and contains an ardent advocacy concerning the oppression of the weak. Dickens is considered to be one of the most persuasive advocates for the poor of his time.
Media is a primary storyteller in our time, and thus, very influential in shaping the culture. Any focus on a more just society must be a multi-lateral vision that includes a creative and pro-active media engagement. In The Practice of Prophetic Imagination, Brueggemann provocatively states that the biblical narrative is rarely recognised as a genuine alternative to the dominant narrative. Rather, it is more often reckoned as 'a footnote or a pin prick to the dominant narrative but not the real alternative'. The telling of alternative tales is like the 'salting and yeasting' of the public debate.
In our aim to be a prophetic voice and a catalyst for change, the Christian community needs to imaginatively create acts that can be storied. Our prophetic role involves the affirmation of what is good, the critiquing of what is bad and the proposition of a more just alternative. While that is best lived out, our voice needs to be heard publicly, reflecting the diversity in our vocations to seek society's wellbeing and address structural dynamics which hinder the flourishing of all, and the poor in particular. Blessed are the shalom seekers, the peacemakers. Blessed are they who have a glimpse of the renewed earth they will inherit, the first rays of which already illuminate their lives. For it disturbs, challenges and inspires them today, invites to new frontiers, awakens the hopeful imagination and makes them gloriously creative.