Most of us love stories. I was read to as a child. When my dad was on shore leave from the Navy we had a gluttony of stories (mostly the classic fairy stories, but it was because dad was reading that it became an event)!
Stories are scripts! They can be about anything, teaching us profound truth or just sheer drama for sheer drama’s sake. And when heard enough times, they can become a script that shapes how we view the world (To this day I don’t eat green beans because of Jack and the Beanstalk.)
Theatres have scripts. The script shapes the play, in contour, flow, character development and dialogue, each actor playing their part! It is the controlling element in the play. It was Shakespeare who said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” So a stage has a script and we are all beholden to that script!
And everyone on the planet has a script. We have our own personal script, and we all partake in group-scripts, like the golf club, social club or the church. Each group, each church also has a script. The reason why I’ve chosen the text (or script if you prefer) in Rom 12:1-2 is because the Bible, the Gospel, insists that our scripts need to change. The classic Gospel call to “repent and believe”, is an invitation to change the script, the script of the Old Adam to the script of the New Adam, which is Christ Jesus.I would like to take us on a scripted journey. All these points are from the excellent Old Testament scholar Walter Breuggemann (left), with most of them shortened, and some re-contextualised because he writes in an American context (I own any misunderstandings and mistakes of other kinds – apologies in advance for that). The web link for his article can be found at the end of this one.
But before we start, there was another form of script in my childhood that I was reminded of often. You know, when I moaned and complained (even though I was such a sweet boy), but when on those rare occasions I did, my mum would just simply turn around and calmly say, “Oh change the script, Gralefrit*!” That’s precisely what I needed to do. Thanks mum!
All of us present, here today share the same cultural script. To put it negatively, cultures are like dragnets, scooping up masses of stuff in the same net, all of us together, with roughly the same problems and challenges. This is the world we inhabit. We might even believe “It’s the real world!” But it’s not. The world of the Gospel, with our faces set to the Kingdom of God and our minds renewed in Christ-likeness is the real, real world. So…..
Everybody has a script. Something shapes everyone in belief and practise, from the, “My dad always says….” To the great political ideologies such as Marxism or Capitalism. Sometimes we know what they are, often we don’t, we’re just “wired” that way!
We get scripted. Our childhoods, friends, family, form us as we grow, our socialising, or lack of it script us. This is what convinces us, ‘Our world is the real world.’ When what we mean is, ‘My script is the only script.’ Not according to Jesus.
The dominant scripting in our culture today is a therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism that permeates every dimension of our shared life.
- Therapeutic refers to the assumption that there is a product or treatment or process that alleviates any and all pain and trouble so that we may live in maximum inconvenience.
- Technological is the current chief god of the Western world and assumes that technology is the answer to man’s woe’s.
- Consumerist because we live in a part of the world that condemns billions to utter poverty and ruin because we consume more than we should.
- Militarism is the protector that ensures all the others can be delivered. It’s budget in the West dwarf entire economies in non-First World countries. That is not exactly how to love our neighbour is it?
That Script, is enacted or reinforced mainly through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially through TV and the internet, with all sorts of promises and claims. Maybe you are worth it, but please….!
That script has failed! This failed script cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. The wealthiest nations on earth have proportionately more anxious, depressed and unhappy people around (Robert Coles discovered this – see a recent post; and Barbara Enrenreich in her brilliant book ‘Smile or Die’ makes the same point). The happy-ness we pursue, the more miserable we become.
The Gospel calls us to abandon this cultural script. And more, it demands that we “…be transformed in the renewing of our minds….” That Christ and His Gospel may be our new script. A new script for a new person in a new community, biblically called the people of God, or rather: The Church!
In his mind-renewing book called ‘The Jesus Way’ Eugene Peterson says, “So many who understand themselves to be followers of Jesus embrace the ways and means of Western culture as they go about their living in ‘Jesus name’. ‘Getting on in the world” he says, “means doing so on the worlds terms, and that the ways of Jesus are useful only in a compartmentalised area of life labelled ‘religious’. This is wrong thinking, and wrong living. Jesus is an alternative to the dominant ways of the world, not a supplement to them.”
And it is precisely the task of this community, through ministry, prayer, preaching and the like, to detach us from that old script. Mark’s bold opening, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…..repent and believe the Good News…” was a heavenly call to ‘descript’ from Rome and ‘re-script’ in the Gospel of God’s Son. The real world was always the Gospel, the one we thought was the real world, ‘the way things are’ was an imposter, a usurper, a faker, an idol.
This task of ‘de-scripting’ is undertaken through the steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we testify will truly make us safe and joyous. This is called preaching and teaching. When a church community forgets this crucial point, and becomes tired, jaded, a bit weary, we’ve forgotten exactly what has been entrusted to us. Not a mere message, but the Gospel. Not another story, but the Story. Not some nice things, but the treasures of Heaven. Free and joyous are the results of this Gospel script. Recently I discovered a most wonderful line by a Greek Orthodox theologian who said, “The greatest sin in the Christian life is joylessness.” The Old Script is joyless, the New Script is joyful. That’s why he says it is sinful to be joyless when you should be joyful!
The alternative script is rooted in the Bible and enacted through the tradition of the church. Being transformed in the mind is another way of saying what Karl Barth meant by becoming accustomed to “The strange new world within the Bible.” There is much in the Bible we look for but do not find (that just means we hardly even know what to look for), but what we do find is the mystery and majesty of a God of salvation in a world of story, history, parable, fable, metaphor, poetry, symbols and signs that continuously subvert the current cultural script.
And the defining factor of this new Gospel Script? The key character? The Triune God who we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This Script is not one dimensional or seamless or predictable. This is because the God of the Bible will not conform to the god of this age. God will not be domesticated or thought of as a goody-goody Middle Class gentleman enjoying the banality of the suburbs! And it seems at many times this God knows nothing of pastoral sensitivity. When Job cries out in utter anguish and ruin, God speaks and says, “Let me tell you about my crocodile and my mountain goats.” That’s an automatic fail for any minister!! “But I’m sufferrrrrriiiiiiing!” “”Have you considered the lilies?”
This Script cannot easily be smoothed out. When it is flattened and smoothed and becomes soothing to us as a kind of opium, we’ve made Scripture in the image of the very script we need rescuing from. And when Scripture is so domesticated, flattened, it can be made to suit or fit any dominant ideology – it should come as no surprise that mad creatures from Satan himself though to Hitler and others have all used the Bible script to justify their own ideology!
The entry point into the Gospel Script is baptism. The act of baptism is a counter-cultural event. It challenges the dominant script with the bold confession, “Do you renounce sin, the devil and the world?” That is another way of renouncing the Old Script. “Do you renounce the current prevailing cultural script of therapeutic, technological, consumer militarism?” Good, now get in that water and be transformed by the renewing of your mind!
The Christian growth, the nurture, formation and socialisation through church fellowship into this new Gospel script with God at the centre, is the work of ministry. We do this in the joy of Christ by the practices of preaching, teaching, confessing, liturgy, Christian education in theology and the like, social action, authentic spirituality and oh yes, telling one or two others along the way, using these tools that we might invite them into the Gospel script.
However, most of us are in fact ambivalent about the script. Most of the time in our daily life, we struggle because we do not decisively choose between the scripts. We want both and get neither. Or we want one and get religion. Or we want the other and are labelled mad for taking this New Script a bit too seriously! We hear Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal – “Which will you choose, Yahweh or Baal…choose now!” Or Jesus’ famous challenge, “You can’t serve God and money!” Most people hover in the shadows between the two, holding out for as long as possible, vacillating, caught in two minds. This is what drives much fear, anxiety and adversarial conflict within Church life. This is how the Church is secularised! The Old Script invades the Church and trumps the New Script more than we even imagine!! Ask yourself now when did you last consider the lilies? And then ask yourself which script is winning in your life! Christian ministry is conducted in this middle ground!
The Good News is this: Do not be discouraged that you, that I, often stand between worlds, double-minded and lost in the shadows, not knowing which world to choose. Praise God this is precisely the place that the Holy Spirit goes to work. When we as Christians cover over and deny our ambivalence (There’s nothing wrong with me Jack), our faith does grow hard and takes the heart with it, and we find ourselves committed to our previously scripted versions of the Gospel minus the grace and imagination to rethink. The words of Romans 12:1-2 become words for others. “I’ve done enough changing – thank you very much.” The Spirit’s work is to speak into that situation, not to create a crisis within you, but to enable you to name the crisis that is already within you and so “be transformed.” This is precisely the task of preaching, to give voice to our dilemma that at least reveals that under Christ, we can choose His way. Ministry in this regard is for truth telling about the shape we are in, and that truth telling makes us free.
Ministry and mission is precisely the call to be faithful to the New Script over the Old Script, and to do that in faithful and creative ways. This work, our renewing of the mind, our transformation in Christ is slow and steady, that we individually and more importantly together, are able to renounce the old scripts of death and literally enter the new scripts of life. The hallmark of the church is not certainty, but trust, childlike trust that God will one day show us His crocodile and mountain goats, a trust that dares to waste time staring at lilies. And we can only do what the Spirit does and go where the Spirit goes. We wait and watch. We keep our little oil lamps burning. We are not transformed when we stick to the Old Script. And the church cannot move forward if the church’s New Script merely imitates the Old Script.
Finally, the Gospel Script is therefore indispensible. It is the salt that preserves the earth. It is the light by which the world sees. No-one else but the community of God’s people have the joy and privilege of naming and challenging the ambivalence between the scripts we find ourselves in.
No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he or she is born again. To be born again is to begin to have your mind renewed, and to begin to have your mind renewed is to say ‘No!’ to the Old Script and a great big fat joyful shrieking ‘YES!” to the New Script of the Gospel.
“Therefore, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Walter Breuggemann’s original article can be found here: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3307
* Not real name!