Friday, 4 September 2015

Vicar's Sofa – Subversive Wisdom

Random confession time - I love a snarky cross stitch. There is something about sitting down for several hours and stitching something wildly inappropriate that just makes me smile. Something cathartic about reversing what is normally something so twee and wholesome and making it into something that pokes fun at the world and how we live in it.


And that is a little bit like some of the wisdom writings that I love the best, what I call Subversive Wisdom. In previous posts we have looked at finding wisdom in nature and in the every day things of the world. It is an approach that sees the world as ordered, than a result inevitably follows an action, that there are good ways to live that will bring good results.

That, to be sure, has an element of truth in it. We all know that results follow our actions, that to a certain extent we live the life we build and we reap what we sow. But life is also a tricky old *insert swear word here!* at times! We certainly don't always get what we deserve. Children get ill, relationships get derailed, wars break out and life is simply horribly unfair.

That is what Subversive Wisdom is all about. It is about saying 'hang on a minute with your Proverbs and your advice this totally *bleeeeep* thing is happening to me. What do you make of that?' There are two books in the Bible that particularly take this approach, the book of Job and the book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes is like a long catalogue of the rubbishness of life. 'Everything is meaningless' says the author. Everything ends and all that we work for is handed on to those who come after us whether they have earned it or not. The days are long and life is hard and at time inexplicable. He laments and argues and grumbles and snarks his way through twelve chapters.

Job, on the other hand, is a story of a man who has everything. For a while. Then catastrophe strikes and he loses everything, home, family, livelihood and health. It is the stuff of nightmares. Job is visited by a number of friends with appallingly bad advice but advice that sounds oddly reminiscent of some of the good life wisdom writings. Job, however, is having none of it and simply says 'No, this is rubbish and I've done nothing to deserve it. It is simply unfair and I'll hear nothing else.'

I like this stubborn resistance to glib reassurance and platitudes in Job and Ecclesiastes. I like the complete rejection of easy answers that avoids the reality that life can be bone crushingly hard. And do the authors get anywhere with this approach? Well of sorts. Job is commended by God for continuing to protest his innocence. Ecclesiastes swings between darkness and light, seeing the joy in life as well as the sorrow.

But ultimately they are both books that end with a great big question mark, just like the difficult chapters of our own lives. No reason appears. No safe answer that we can comfortably accept appears. We just struggle on and pass through and keep going hoping against hope that new life that is waiting for us on the other side.

And so I love this side of the wisdom literature, this gritty, dark side. It allows us to get real about the realities of life and death. It challenges any attempt to control or make safe the tempestuous journey of life. For every piece of advice about living life well perhaps we also ought to take a dose of this to heart.

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