A Script to Live (and to Die) By: 19 Theses by Walter Brueggemann

These 19 theses by Walter Brueggemann are the most interesting thing I’ve read all day [to be sure, it’s been a bit of an admin marathon today], an encouraging invitation to those of us striving to live by, and to train others to live by, what Brueggemann calls ‘the alternative script’:

1.        Everybody lives by a script. The script may be implicit or explicit. It may be recognised or unrecognised, but everybody has a script.

2.        We get scripted. All of us get scripted through the process of nurture and formation and socialisation, and it happens to us without our knowing it.

3.         The dominant scripting in our society is a script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socialises us all, liberal and conservative.

4.        That script (technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism) enacted through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, promises to make us safe and to make us happy.

5.        That script has failed. That script of military consumerism cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world.

6.        Health for our society depends upon disengagement from and relinquishment of that script of military consumerism. This is a disengagement and relinquishment that we mostly resist and about which we are profoundly ambiguous.

7.        It is the task of ministry to de-script that script among us. That is, to enable persons to relinquish a world that no longer exists and indeed never did exist.

8.        The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement is accomplished by a steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we say can make us happy and make us safe.

9.        The alternative script is rooted in the Bible and is enacted through the tradition of the Church. It is an offer of a counter-narrative, counter to the script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism.

10.    That alternative script has as its most distinctive feature – its key character – the God of the Bible whom we name as Father, Son, and Spirit.

11.    That script is not monolithic, one dimensional or seamless. It is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent. Partly it is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because it has been crafted over time by many committees. But it is also ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because the key character is illusive and irascible in freedom and in sovereignty and in hiddenness, and, I’m embarrassed to say, in violence – [a] huge problem for us.

12.    The ragged, disjunctive, and incoherent quality of the counter-script to which we testify cannot be smoothed or made seamless because when we do that the script gets flattened and domesticated and it becomes a weak echo of the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism. Whereas the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism is all about certitude, privilege, and entitlement this counter-script is not about certitude, privilege, and entitlement. Thus care must be taken to let this script be what it is, which entails letting God be God’s irascible self.

13.    The ragged, disjunctive character of the counter-script to which we testify invites its adherents to quarrel among themselves – liberals and conservatives – in ways that detract from the main claims of the script and so to debilitate the focus of the script.

14.    The entry point into the counter-script is baptism. Whereby we say in the old liturgies, “do you renounce the dominant script?

15.    The nurture, formation, and socialisation into the counter-script with this illusive, irascible character is the work of ministry. We do that work of nurture, formation, and socialisation by the practices of preaching, liturgy, education, social action, spirituality, and neighbouring of all kinds.

16.    Most of us are ambiguous about the script; those with whom we minister and I dare say, those of us who minister. Most of us are not at the deepest places wanting to choose between the dominant script and the counter-script. Most of us in the deep places are vacillating and mumbling in ambivalence.

17.    This ambivalence between scripts is precisely the primary venue for the Spirit, so that ministry is to name and enhance the ambivalence that liberals and conservatives have in common that puts people in crisis and consequently that invokes resistance and hostility.

18.    Ministry is to manage that ambivalence that is crucially present among liberals and conservatives in generative faithful ways in order to permit relinquishment of [the] old script and embrace of the new script.

19.    The work of ministry is crucial and pivotal and indispensable in our society precisely because there is no one except the church and the synagogue to name and evoke the ambivalence and to manage a way through it. I think often I see the mundane day-to-day stuff ministers have to do and I think, my God, what would happen if you took all the ministers out. The role of ministry then is as urgent as it is wondrous and difficult.

[These theses were presented at the Emergent Theological Conversation, September 13-15, 2004, All Souls Fellowship, Decatur, GA., USA]

12 thoughts on “A Script to Live (and to Die) By: 19 Theses by Walter Brueggemann

  1. Hi Jason, I came to your site via a painting when I was searching for non-cartoon religious images for a preschool Bible lesson. Now I visit you almost everyday. I’m not a theologian or a pastor but rather a poet and writer cum stay-at-home mom. My 2006 book, The Burning Word: A Christian Encounter with Jewish Midrash, was graciously endorsed by Walter B. His 19 theses put me in mind of that great scene in the movie Contact, when Jodi Foster goes into space and says oh! they should have sent a poet! We invest a lot in our scripts, and it takes the trickiness of ministry and/or poetry to pull us to a new way of seeing. Thanks.

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  2. Simply excellent. This has been the battle for the minister from the very first generation in the churches. No matter how long we have followed this way-the way of our Master, we always need affirmation like this. I especially love point 14 and often think our failure begins here: we simply do not repudiate/renounce the dominant script of the world, of our flesh. We must do so daily or there is no hope to enjoy the promised blessings of the counter-script. This goes to the heart of the battle of the enemies of God and his annointed: if we are convinced of His perfect wisdom, love, and His person, then conformity to Him and His purpose leaves us no other option. We must renounce the one and embrace from the heart the other. Have we indeed failed to make that crystal clear in our churches?

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  3. Thank you for putting up this list.

    As a minister I often wonder, what on earth is it all about! Bruggemann has given me a renewed vision. I particularly like points 12 and 14.

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  5. Excellent post. however, it is truly sad that it perpetuates the patriarchal script of the deity as male. The damage done by ignoring the principles of the Sacred Feminine is behind many of these “scripts.”

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  8. As usual, Brueggemann hits the mark. The one piece of his description that I would question is his notion that “we may be the unhappiest society in the world.” By most measures of well being (including self-reported “life satisfaction” questions) North Americans are not particularly “unhappy.” I think the bigger question comes when we confront the massive injustice, inequality, and violence upon which much of the material basis for our well being rests. In other words, if I want folks in the congregation I serve to question the dominant script, saying “you’re not happy” is a nonstarter because most of them would not see themselves that way at all (outside of particular circumstances of loss and grieving that are not culturally specific). Most of the folks who walk through our doors (and most of the ones who don’t walk through out doors, but walk in and out of the shops and businesses nearby) may feel stressed and stretched and often hungry for deeper meaning, but they don’t usually describe themselves as “unhappy.” The dominant script does “work” for some of us, but it does so on the backs of many more. Almost all of us Mainline Protestants in N. America are part, globally speaking, of the 1%. We wrote the script. We benefit from it. It makes many of us happy. And it is massively unjust and unsustainable.

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