13 November 2009

Into the promised land or into the desert?

This is a crosspost from the Stranzblog
As I think back to the end of the GDR 20 years ago a theme I return to is that of the promised land or the desert. In large part this is because of an encounter with a lecture by Jürgen Ebach early in my time in Wittenberg. About a week before the GDR was due to celebrate its 40th anniversary in early October, Ebach was on a tour of some churches in the GDR, speaking in particular to ministers, theology students and church workers. He spoke passionately about developing a theology that takes failure seriously - sometimes those who fail are the greater heroes (I remember being rather surprised at the time that he mentioned Scott of the Antarctic in this respect - probably because I assumed it was a story not much known outside Britain). Moses who receives the promise of the promised land never actually gets to live there and only glimpses it from afar before death.

It is only now though that I realise how very carefully thought out Ebach's lectures were and also how deeply pastoral. It would not have occurred to him or to any of us that the Berlin wall would no longer be there 6 weeks later. So underpinning what he was saying was a deep commitment to using the biblical texts about the 40 years in the desert leading to the promised land as a resource for reflection and resistance for the context of the churches in the GDR - perhaps for the next forty years. Are you so sure that you have been in the desert for 40 years? Are you sure that you are not only now leaving Egypt?
I can see now that he was trying to encourage the leaders of the church in local situations to continue to dialogue with biblical texts and let them speak to their situations. In a way he was saying, your struggle is going to go on, how are you going to help the faithful wrestle with the fact that after 40 years there was no promised land - and although I have often thought about and returned to his lectures it is only now that I can sense this layer in the insights he was sharing.
So was the opening of the wall the promised land? I can remember being a bystander as people voted for the first time in March 1990 and then again twice more that same year - the enthusiasm already beginning to wane.
So I wonder ... if Jürgen Ebach revisited his lectures today what would he try to say to the tiny minority churches in the former GDR? Are we all in the promised land or are we in the desert? Is state communism more or less of a desert than social market economies? Is capitalism the only promised land available? Where is the wicked Pharaoh we are fleeing from - even though we also yearn to be back in those fleshpots of the past when faced with the rigors of desert living?
Meanwhile I can't help thinking how very clever the CDU was with its horrible election slogan of Wohlstand für Alle - it really tapped in to desires for the future and offered quite a greedy promise. Of course the biblical land of promise is not one where all have good incomes but rather one in which the basic necessities of all can potentially be met. A land in which there will be pasture enough for you to milk the sheep and pollen enough for you to harvest honey. God won't be raining the manna and quails down from heaven. It's actually the promise of a semi-nomadic lifestyle in a slightly less difficult environment rather than a completely nomadic existence in a mainly hostile environment! Trying to sell that in your political programme may be rather dififcult.
Posted by Jane


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