Re-imagining life outside Bizlam

By Clark Sidial-Whitney

There has been a lot to chew on in “A Bigger Circle.”  One particular line
of thought has been taking shape for me and when Joy posted her blog on
‘Bizlam’ it was a prompt to draw it together, or at least draw the threads
together that were weaving themselves together inside me.

Bizlam.  Joy noted that she “can hardly imagine a life outside it.”  I’m
with her on that one.  I would like to believe that I could-imagine life
outside Bizlam.  However, so many of my everyday assumptions about life and
the living of it are complicit with a culture that I have allowed to define
me:  my day to day choices, my long term choices, my aspirations.  Anything
that I can ‘imagine’ is held captive to a view of life that sees the world
around me as resource (human, natural or otherwise) and not as creation
gift.  All is commodity:  houses are not homes, but real estate; my time and
talent is a commodity I exchange for compensation, not necessarily the
realization of a wider vocation of service.  Even ‘church’ can be commodity:
we consume spiritual experience or produce spiritual experience in search of
the ‘best’ that religion has to offer, or at least one that fits our view.
We might admire people who choose to live simply but we might also consider
them slightly suspect, the heretics who question the orthodoxy of allegiance
to Bizlam.

Subversive imagining

I think Joy is asking us to engage in some subversive imagining.  How can we
re-imagine life outside Bizlam?    How can we re-imagine life at all?  While
thinking about those questions, I was reminded of the thread of discussion
running through the blogs that touched on Genesis.  Not the debate about
creation versus evolution; a rat hole that offers little by way of good
news.  Rather, I am more interested in listening to the story itself and
asking:  So what?  In one of Paul’s blogs he said that he understood the
Pentateuch was written during a period of exile so that “even though they
are stories about an earlier time they would also be about the situation of
the day.”

I want to explore this just a bit. (I’m thankful to Brian Walsh
and his book Subversive Christianity for what follows.)  The Israelites were
not only in exile, they were living as slaves in a foreign land, in Babylon.
The Babylonian creation story, the Enuma elish, is essentially the story of
a violent war between the gods that resulted in the bodies of the defeated
gods used as the raw material to create the world.  Priests and royalty were
ordained to be the earthly images of the victorious gods while ordinary
human beings were created to serve as slaves to this royal elite and the
gods.  The enslaved Israelites were even lower in the pecking order.  How
could they imagine a life outside of Babylonian exile?  If you are
constantly being reminded of your status as a slave, is there any hope?
Perhaps by taking the time to write down and remind yourself of the story
that your people have carried with it from the beginning, in fact the call
to all humankind.

And what is this story?  Instead of a beginning grounded in death, the
creation is brought about through a life giving Word; instead of an
inherently violent place, creation is declared good; instead of slaves,
humankind is created to be God-imaging gardeners.   The Israelites seized
that inspired moment in exile to remind themselves-in the midst of service
to a form of Bizlam-of their creaturely call.  They remembered that there
was another way of understanding the world that was not in the service of
the gods of Babylon and they wrote it down.  All history is framed from a
point of view and Genesis — certainly the opening bits — can be viewed as
confessional history and within the Babylonian context, a subversive account
of the meaning of creation, life and the God who made it all happen.  I come
from a place of recognizing and accepting the biblical canon.  This doesn’t
mean that I don’t have questions about the text; it does mean that I accept
that there is good news even in Genesis and especially for those who suspect
there is another way of imagining the world that is not enslaved to Bizlam.
As complicit as I may be.

Imagine . . .

Imagine if the citizens of the world called upon their governments to
declare Jubilee.  Imagine if the corporations of the world understood that
the world was a gift, not a commodity.  Imagine if stockholders viewed
themselves as stewards not owners.  Imagine if one percent North Americans
did not consume (at least) twenty percent of the world’s bounty.  Imagine
though we are created in God’s image, like Jesus, we learn to be servants of
all.

What story would you believe?

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2 Comments

Filed under Joy's entries

2 responses to “Re-imagining life outside Bizlam

  1. John E

    Clark, your ‘imagine’ section made me think of Walter Brueggermann’s work on prophetic imagination in worship, “what is needed is imaginative, liturgic world-making that enacts a world more credible than the world of the Empire” (or Bizlam?); and a poem by Wendell Berry quoted in Colossians Remixed (by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat).

    In “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” Berry offers us resources of transformed imagination by contrasting the anonymous world of “the quick profit, the annual raise,” in which we receive “everything ready-made” and in which “when they want you to buy something they will call you,” with that subversive alternative rooted in love.

    So, friends, every day do something
    that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
    Love the world. Work for nothing.
    Take all that you have and be poor.
    Loved someone who does not deserve it.
    Because this is a vision of life that embraces humility and patience.

    Give your approval to all that you cannot
    understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
    has not encountered he has not destroyed.
    Ask the questions that have no answers.
    Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
    Say that your main crop is the forest
    that you did not plant,
    that you will not live to harvest.
    Say that the leaves are to be harvested
    when they have rotted into the mold.
    Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

  2. John

    Words fail me in expressing my appreciation for Clark’s article and John E’s response!
    They are both gifts because they feed the imagination with the freedom we too frequently reason ourselves out of embracing.
    I wonder, especially as I read the Wendall Berry quote, if I was feeling what the first hearers felt when they heard the words: ‘Consider the lilies, they neither labour nor spin…’

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