Week With Walter: Jenny Flannagan

Jenny and I met in London. She hosted conversations with TearFund, an NGO based in the UK, and we were invited as the leaders of Amahoro Africa. Only weeks later we’d meet up in Mombasa, Kenya for our annual Amahoro Gathering. In our times together I learned Jenny not only served TearFund, but was also a talented singer, actress and writer. She’s passionate about her neighborhood, practicing radical and gracious hospitality. We share a penchant for incarnation, as evidenced in her post on Inspiration & Incarnation. I just knew we’d connect over (prophetic) imagination, too! So how does an artist, activist and  neighbor encounter this book?

 

week with walter_1

“What a commission it is to express a future that none think imaginable!”

Walter Brueggemann frightens me.

I had never read a Walter Brueggemann book all the way through until this month; I had never dared. Finally Comes the Poet made its way into my sticky but innocent grasp some years ago and I was transfixed, exposed, entranced by its invitation.  And utterly terrified.  My hands shaking, I put it down again, two chapters in.

[“We are fearful and ashamed of the future we have chosen.”]

And now, years after buying The Prophetic Imagination for both my husband and my best mate – who both seemed to me to be in possession of that same imagination I feared I lacked – I finally turned to it myself.

Even in its early pages I heard that same, familiar song from before – a soul-deep, otherworldly chorus that gave shape to my clouded grief and my barely disguised longings.

“Yes!” I cry, from the depths of all I am, “Yes, I want to sing that song, I want to pour my whole being into its melody and sing it loud.  This is the purpose for which I was created.”  And then I weep for the slightness and inadequacy of my thin strains.

I am a singer and I know when my voice cannot do a song justice.  I am a writer and I know when my words are only dancing on the surface.

In this past month as I have inhaled Brueggemann’s words on trains and in late night snatches, I have also sat in rehearsal rooms and turned over the question of creating a new piece of theatre with our company – a piece of theatre which I must write.  What is courage, we asked, and what kind of courage leads to transformation?  I spoke from what I had read, from what was pulsing in my veins, from my desperation to be able to imagine another way to live and to be – or rather to remember it.

And I heard an unexpected echo back.

Something struck a chord in a room of unreligious artists.  They identified with the fight to imagine an alternative to the dominant narratives of our day – capitalism, consumerism, systematic inequality – and to give it a voice, a melody, an incarnation.  Have our imaginations been bought-out or is there still the possibility of a different song?

Artists often live on the edges of the empire, alive to its injustices and limitations, its blind-spots and ludicrous prejudices.  Brueggemann talks about how Jesus’ disciples are able to move towards the new possibilities Jesus embodies because they are already, by virtue of their position (or non-position) in society, “disengaged from the old ordering that is under criticism…denied riches…[and] have ended their fascination with that other ordering.”  This could describe many of my neighbours in London’s inner-city estates, but in other ways it also describes artists.  And for the artists there comes a calling to create from out of that knowing.

That is why, I realise, I am an artist.  It is the deep-down-knowing in my soul that something true must be sung out – the agony, the sham, the hope.

It terrifies me still because it matters so desperately, I believe, and I know too well the truth of Brueggemann’s confession – “I discover that I am as bourgeois and obdurate as any to whom I might minister.”  Too much of me still bears a deep allegiance to “the world of competence and competition”; I find myself competing daily.

And wrestling with it all, still.  “Our ministry will always be practised through our own conflicted selves,” writes Brueggemann.  How can this hope, this other story be somehow known to everyone on the deepest level, and yet forgotten, hidden unrecognisable?  Those “very hopes and yearnings…have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there.”  And they take form and shape in a someone, a specific someone, the wrong someone – too quickly written off and dismissed by all of us who think we know the stories already.

This is my challenge, my calling, the one I must not shirk off.  There is a song that must be sung, and sung in hope that others will remember it too.

 

jennyJenny Flannagan is a writer, actress and film-maker.  Basically, she loves telling stories.  She has worked for Tearfund (a UK Christian development charity) for the past 8 years, and travelled a whole lot. She is also a founding member of the theatre company The Ruby Dolls. She lives on a council estate in inner-city London with her husband Andy, where they are trying to love their neighbours and be ‘downwardly mobile’.  They are part of The Well Community Church and lead a fledgling missional community.

Blog: jennyfromtheblock // Twitter: @jennyflannagan

<<You can still link up with your response to The Prophetic Imagination HERE.>>

Please read and comment on Jenny’s post, as well as those offered by Russ Graeff, D.L. Mayfield and Luke Harms. And don’t forget to read the post on the link up – I’ve read them all and they are wonderful reflections worth of our interaction! Also… there’s a giveaway in play. Comment on any of the above posts and be eligible to win a copy of WB sermons!

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8 thoughts on “Week With Walter: Jenny Flannagan”

  1. Joanna
     ·  Reply

    I absolutely love this. It resonates so much with my own reaction and you have expressed things I didn’t manage to put into words myself. I am especially fascinated with the unexpected echo you heard in a group of nonreligious people because I keep hearing an echo like that too. I have heard it in a group of people who are dedicated to transforming their town by selflessly building a local food culture and thereby ensuring a better future for their children and grandchildren; and I hear it every time I go to a spoken word event locally and listen to people pouring out poetry that is passionate in the true WB sense of the word. I don’t know what to do with this, the realisation that many of the poets and prophets would literally not even be seen dead in a church.

    • Jamie Wright Bagley
       ·  Reply

      It’s a joyful realization that God’s Spirit is not confined to the boundaries set by those who invoke his name. I hear the echo, too. I keep getting surprised by grace and hope.

  2. Jamie Wright Bagley
     ·  Reply

    “And they take form and shape in a someone, a specific someone, the wrong someone – too quickly written off and dismissed by all of us who think we know the stories already.” This is what I have been pondering but unable to put into words as you have done and expressed so well. We think we know the stories; the cause, the means, and the end. But God continues to astound and amaze us.
    Thank you for sharing from your perspective as an artist. There is indeed a song that must be sung, and I will sing it, too.

    • Jenny Flannagan
       ·  Reply

      Thanks for the encouragement Jamie. That last piece is the hard part…I love to celebrate all the common ground and the shared truth, I love how I continually stumble across it, but it falls short when it pulls away from the someone – and yet that seems to be most of my experience. I live in hope that he becomes more visible and more arresting to me and in me….

      • Jamie Wright Bagley
         ·  Reply

        My experience has been the same for the most part. But the fact that there IS some common ground, a meeting place, tells me that God is working in ways I cannot fathom but surely can praise. I, too, share your hope.

  3. Cat
     ·  Reply

    Oh Kelley, you were so right! I love this.
    Thank you Jenny- thank you for giving words to this great internal struggle of knowing how much we (I) participate in the empire, while trying to disengage others with it. Sigh.
    I loved that you said you knew this is why you are an artist – because ‘something true must be sung out’ – despite the struggle. So beautifully said, and so encouraging. Brueggemann continues to terrify me, but your words help to give it context. Thank you.

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