During my presentation at CityLights today, members shared some of their experiences working under the order of Pharaoh: the insatiable, grasping, perfectionist, reductive, and never-satisfied energy of imperialism.
Sometimes, I said, it’s not that we’re working for Pharaoh; it’s that we’ve become so accustomed the culture of Pharaoh that we enact its ideology on others and on ourselves. It’s the air we breathe and we don’t have to be instructed into it. Resistance takes much more work.
A group member reminded me that Pharaoh’s rules aren’t only in effect in the public and corporate sectors, among governments and business leaders. They also operate in the third sector, among non-profit heads and religious administrators.
It’s disconcerting to hear “I won’t give you straw. Get it yourselves wherever you can find it; but you’ll still have to make the same number of bricks as before” from the same people singing “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
But there’s a reason we hear those dissonant notes: just as Moses was trained to be a pharaoh before he was trained to be a shepherd, we’re members of mainstream society before we’re members of counter-cultural groups. We learn imperial logic and relational habits before we learn that there are viable alternatives, before we recognize we’re called to put flesh on our ideals and live those alternatives with other people.
Building prophetic community means acknowledging all the ways our prior training seeps into our new societies.
It means recognizing that when we confess with Brueggemann that “God’s people in the world are not commodities to be dispatched for endless production [but] subjects situated in an economy of neighborliness,” we’re not just working against the currents of the external social world. We’re also working against the currents of the social world that flow through us.
Just for you
Download my handouts from today’s talk, “Sabbath: Rest and Resistance.” There’s a neat life design exercise on the second page.