Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
On Relinquishing and Receiving: A Christian Approach to Tikkun Olam
by Walter Brueggemann
It is an ancient realization, always relearned in resistant, recalcitrant ways, that we cannot receive what is new without relinquishing something of what is old. The anniversary of Tikkun is a time to notice that Tikkun, from the outset, has advocated receiving what is new for Israel and the Palestinians.
The Hebrew Bible is saturated with that learning. Abraham and Sarah had to "set out" in order to receive the new land. The Egyptian slaves had to "depart" to the risk of the wilderness to get to their new place. And Isaiah (43:18-19) reminded the generation of deportees that a "new thing," a restored Judaism, required the relinquishment of old, treasured miracles:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing,
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In sports parlance, it is "No pain, no gain." In Christian confession, in popular summary, it is "No cross, no crown," by which it is asserted that the Friday death of Jesus was essential to Easter newness in the world.
Put in such poetic or theological ways, the cost of newness seems clear enough. It is less clear and less compelling when put to the test of real issues. And that is what Tikkun has been doing all this time, testing such hope against the unforgiving facts on the ground. The hope of Tikkun and its many readers is for a safe, peaceable, viable "Holy Land" with a guaranteed existence for the state of Israel. That is what we hope to "receive." But we cannot, so it seems, get from here to there. We cannot because we variously cannot relinquish old claims and old imaginations, old claims for a "Greater Israel," or old imaginations for a land without the nation of Israel. So we go round and round without relinquishing. And we learn, many times over, that there are no new gifts given in such resistance.
We of course may know this, because the same truth is given in the great insight of Freud that has led to contemporary psychotherapy. The process to health is the acknowledgement and relinquishment of old patterns of self, and the embrace of new self, the incorporation of what has been denied and resisted. For the most part, consequently, we choose to remain our less-than-healed old selves, finding relinquishment too demanding.
The same hard learning presses against imperial dimensions of the American dream. We are now, manifestly, at the end of the "American Century" (Henry Luce). We are finding our economy less than viable, with old extravagances now obsolete. We are finding (since Vietnam) that our military prowess is unable to meet local realities. We are finding our imperial policies less than effective; the sugar plums that have danced in our heads are no longer in full supply. It would of course be possible to "receive" a more realistic American dream. But old posturing and pretense die hard, and we keep imagining that more effort, more expenditure, or one more casualty will somehow let us be the way we were. We would like to embrace Tikkun magazine's teaching that "homeland security" can no longer be achieved through domination of others, but rather through generosity based on a new understanding that must emerge in the West (an understanding that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and the well-being of the planet itself). This message emerges from the holy scriptures not only of the Jews and Christians but also of most spiritual and religious traditions of the world. Yet the resistance to this new understanding is intense.
It is a Christian insight, appropriated from Israel's exilic experience, that Holy Saturday -- just between Good Friday and Easter -- is a null point that was (and is) reached in historical reality, in liturgic performance, and in risky imagination, from which may come new life. But of course we fear the null point when the old dies: we are left no longer in control and at the behest of what will be given next. That, however, is the only venue in which new gifts are given in the historical process. We live in hope, but mostly grudging and fearful, remembering the old "flesh pots" amid old enslavements.
Walter Brueggemann is professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Seminary, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and past president of the Society of Biblical Literature.
Source Citation: Brueggemann, Walter. 2011. On Relinquishing and Receiving. Tikkun 26(1): 34