Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Change Is Possible
I was listening to another episode of Speaking of Faith, this time with Avivah Zornberg regarding a midrashic approach to the Exodus story - which looks beneath the surface of the story to the deeper spiritual and existential implications and resonances. At one point during the interview the host, Krista Tippett, asked about the ways that the Exodus story has inspired oppressed peoples throughout history to seek liberation. I thought Dr. Zornberg's reply was especially interesting in light of my previous post:

Ms. TIPPETT: The great theme of the Exodus — and this story has been used by other people in other situations also. African-Americans, slaves were very inspired, and in the civil rights movement, were very inspired by this Exodus story. There's liberation theology. It's been empowering for all kinds of people in all kinds of bondage. But tell me, when you think about the theme of human freedom, human liberation. I mean, what are the layers of the message that this narrative tells about that experience?

Dr. Zornberg: Well, I think one of the important issues is one we've touched on, and that is the need for those who have to be liberated to achieve in themselves some sense of the possibility of change. I think there comes a situation in totalitarian regimes of all kinds in which there is what Vaclav Havel, the Czech leader, calls in one of his books, a kind of automatism, in which everyone somewhere becomes the system. People don't just accept their role, they almost become that role. There are no choices involved anymore.

Nadezhda Mandelstam writes about the Russian situation under communism also as one in which no one believed that there could possibly be any change, nothing would ever change again. And this is not only those who are imposing the regime but also those who suffered under it. So it seems to me that the story of the Exodus is one in which, in a quieter way, but I think in a very real way, one of the most important themes for liberation is the need for a process of growth within the persecuted if they are to have a history.
One of the marks of oppression is the sense that change is not really possible. That's interesting in light of my complaint in the last post about how people in America these days seem to have this despair of actually being able to make a difference in politics or change the minds of our leaders. While I certainly wouldn't go so far as to compare America to a totalitarian state, it seems to me that there are signs that we are slowly slipping into this mindset that change is impossible. How many of us are apathetic towards politics because we assume that the system will never really change? How often do we accept or ignore corruption in our leaders because we've already fatalistically assumed that corruption is inevitable (indeed, we often laugh about it these days... have you heard the one about how a politician is like a dirty diaper?...)? Do we decline to be a part of radical social movements, peace marches, protests, and other symbolic acts because deep down we feel like they wouldn't do any good anyway? Does our knowledge that the system - of government, economics, education, society, etc. - is fundamentally broken lead us to want to do whatever we can to fix it, or does it lead to despair and resignation, feeling like we are too small to really make a difference?

If those things are even a little bit true, then I am encouraged by Zornberg's suggestion that part of the subtext of the Exodus story is that change is possible - slaves can be freed, oppression can be overcome, regimes can topple. There is a better way and it is attainable. Another world is possible, and we can have a part in bringing it about.

Though of course part of the challenge for the persecuted and the oppressed is to bring real change through their actions and not simply become like the persecutors and oppressors that they've replaced. But that's a whole 'nother post...

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posted by Mike Clawson at 2:24 PM | Permalink |


9 Comments:


At 7/11/2007 07:51:00 AM, Blogger Rhonda

Mike
It's one thing to think our system is flawed but it's an entirely different thing to compare us to the evils of Al Qaida.

I really don't know how to respond to this post...
I have a feeling we won't change each other's minds but we are the family of God.

I would like to say I sense a real arrogance when you speak of us being apathetic and despairing.
Maybe you should keep that as "first person" instead of telling us, that's what we are?

We live in a wonderful time filled with hope and possibility.
Life is beautiful but some things are not.

God changes hearts and minds and He is in charge.

 

At 7/11/2007 11:22:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"It's one thing to think our system is flawed but it's an entirely different thing to compare us to the evils of Al Qaida."

When did I do that? I went back and re-read my post and I don't see it.

(Though if you're interested in that topic you may want to watch this video and think about whether you want to argue with Saint Augustine.)

"I would like to say I sense a real arrogance when you speak of us being apathetic and despairing.
Maybe you should keep that as "first person" instead of telling us, that's what we are?"


Perhaps you're right... and yet national participation in the political process is at an all time low. And if you talk to most people about corruption in politics, they just sort of laughingly assume that of course politicians will be corrupt. I do occasionally feel like change is impossible myself, though most of the time I do not. I was really just commenting on the spirit that I perceive among my peers and neighbors - a growing sense of disillusionment and corresponding apathy towards politics and large social causes. Everyone I know seems to be leaning libertarian these days - they'll do a little bit of personal charity work but seem to think that trying to fix things on the large scale is pointless.

 

At 7/11/2007 11:58:00 AM, Blogger Rhonda

Sorry for putting words in your mouth. I read into your post and shouldn't have.

Everyone you talk to isn't the end all. There are a lot people that care and aren't laughing.

I've thought about arguing with St. Augustine but can't find him.
Did I say I wanted to argue with him?
It's sad to think you think my comments are about me defending pirates and Emperors aka bullies.

I get it...America is evil.

 

At 7/11/2007 04:04:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

America is not evil, nor is it good. But it sometimes does evil things, and as citizen's of Christ's kingdom we should not hesitate to call that out.

I've said this before, but it's not about "hating" America. It's about having a higher loyalty. Jesus said that no one can serve two masters. You can't be loyal to both the Kingdom of God and the "Kingdom" of America.

 

At 7/12/2007 07:16:00 AM, Blogger jazzycat

The Exodus story is a picture or "type" of spiritual salvation, not temporal concerns.

The bondage the redeemed are delivered from is the power of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ.

 

At 7/12/2007 05:28:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"The Exodus story is a picture or "type" of spiritual salvation, not temporal concerns.

The bondage the redeemed are delivered from is the power of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ."


Don't you believe that the Exodus actually happened? Or is God no longer concerned about freeing actual slaves?

 

At 7/12/2007 07:30:00 PM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

I only glanced through the post, but from what I read I think Mike underlying point is good.

The Exodus did happen, and I don't think Jazzy denies that. Yes, it was God delivering his people from bondage. Taken literally it is history. Jazzy is right that it is a picture of salvation, but Mike is also right that it shows hope for the oppressed and held captive. Look at Iraq, Russia, The Czech Rep., Germany, etc. I think Iraq(Although very poorly done, and will possibly never be victorious) is a prime example of a regime falling and the people set free. However, just like the Hebrews, the Iraquis have never known freedom in their lifetime. They don't know what to do.

 

At 7/12/2007 09:06:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"The bondage the redeemed are delivered from is the power of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ."

I might also say that even on this logic you could still say that one of the ways sin holds people in bondage is through literal slavery. I mean slavery is a sin, yes? So if Jesus comes to set us free from sin then wouldn't that include literal slavery?

 

At 7/15/2007 10:06:00 AM, Blogger Steven Carr

'At one point during the interview the host, Krista Tippett, asked about the ways that the Exodus story has inspired oppressed peoples throughout history to seek liberation'

Yes, and look what happened in 70 AD when people tried to seek liberation.

They had forgotten that God had stopped killing the first-born of the oppressors.

 

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