Sunday, February 11, 2007

transgressing wisdom

A sunny day in February in the Pacific Northwest is certainly a lovely/loving disruption by the weather. Yesterday I ditched my winter wool coat, donned a sweater, and headed to the boardwalk along the Fraser River, which my apartment overlooks. Of course I brought some school work with me - wisdom literature from ancient Syria. I sat in the sun, reading, listening to the sounds of the river life, and then when I got too cold (it is still February after all) I walked back to the public market and sat down inside with a cookie and notebook. I watched three kids between about 8 and 10 years old attempt to sit still at a table, waiting for their parents to return with snacks, all the while wearing rollerblades. Needless to say, it was difficult for them to sit still, and very entertaining. While sitting there I wrote a version of the following.

So lately I've been reflecting quite a bit on the "Ancient Near Eastern Wisdom Literature" I've been reading for school. I've also been reading some queer theory (see "queer" think questioning everything we take as normative, and seeing how normativity in economics, politics, sex and religion all keep oppressive power structures in place) lately for another class and it has added a new lens to my reading of "wisdom". I find myself wondering about when to rely on "wisdom" (think Proverbs) and when to question wisdom (think Job, sort of) or flip it around completely.

One of the most common proverbial sayings across the Near Eastern literature I've read thus far (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Sumeria, etc) goes something like: "To be successful, keep your head low and your mouth shut so you don't rock the boat".
I don't like that "wisdom".
I like rocking the boat.
Another way of framing it, this time in wisdom directed at political leaders, is a saying like: "Kill anyone who is noisy or tries to incite a crowd: they are dangerous."
Now that is interesting. Anyone know someone who that happened to?
So I'm wondering if wisdom, especially that last type directed at rulers, could be something of a guidebook for boat-rockers? Flip it around, and you've got guidelines for social transformation: Want to upset the ruling class and empower the lower classes? Speak out and incite crowds!

Like the kids who are supposed to sit still while wearing rollerblades (really now, what kind of parent does that? Sit still with rollerblades? You've got to be kidding me) some of us seem to be gifted with qualities that make "keep your mouth shut and lie low" awfully difficult to adhere to. Jesus certainly didn't seem to be able to stomach that particular morsel of wisdom. He wasn't complicit with the way things were: he spoke out, incited crowds, and he paid for it. But he didn't allow the machine of power and domination silently keep moving along, he attempted to jam a wrench in that machine.

So today I wonder what kind of wisdom we need. I wonder how we work together at discerning when to speak out and when to sit down. I wonder about how our bodies can be the body of Christ: a wrench in the machine of society. I don't know yet exactly how we do that, I know it starts with little things , and I know it requires constant discernment.

I think we also need to acquaint ourselves with the machine we're all a part of. This interview on with writer Chris Hedges is very insightful and worth a read. Hedges presents people with his startling and articulate analysis that America is teetering on the edge of fascism. If his read on the current situation is accurate, then there is even more reason for standing up and acting out. Fortunately there are lots of folks who can teach us how to do this in discerning ways: John Woolman, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer... who are your favourite revolutionaries?

And remember too that even revolutionaries can laugh and be funny. One of my favourites happens to be Margaret Cho who brilliantly weaves into her comedy strong messages about racism, sexism, heteronormativism (did I just invent a new word there?) and politics.

Ok, fellow meek ones, time to don some rollerblades and inherit the earth! 1-2-3....



  • Love it: a program for revolutionaries - speak out and incite crowds!

    Another favorite revolutionary: Toyohiko Kagawa.

    Good post, Shannon!

    By Blogger Christian, at 10:08 AM  

  • Hey there, lady! I'm jonesing for your next article! :-)

    By Blogger Christian, at 4:29 PM  

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