Anxious About Empire

by Wes Avrum (editor), reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

This collection of 13 essays was compiled when the United States was still the virtually unchallenged player on the world political scene, in the aftermath of Bush and 9/11; today, sharply reduced political and military influences puts these essays into a different perspective.  But some of the essays remain remarkably prescient, speaking to the issues of “loving neighbours in a globalized world,” “international justice,” “being Christian in an Age of Americanism” and emphasizing the “transnational nature of Christian discipleship.”  The essays still raise the basic issues of what the church’s message is and what discipleship urges on us.

Two essays especially focused my agenda. (Mennonite) Arthur Paul Boers draws on pastoral leadership as a component of counter-empire living, emphasizing the contribution of worship and of community; underscoring the need for mentors, saints and models, of testimonies of those who have stood against the empire and its war making preoccupation; the need for strategies in dealing with media (including the personal aspects of fasting and abstinence, p. 168).  Lillian Daniel outlines how the ordo (the typical Sunday morning order of worship), through text and liturgy, focuses on how “many of the questions about empire get hit upon with frightening regularity (p. 174).”  Through, e.g. the psalms, we in the empire are reminded that “we come from a long lineage of life’s losers” (p. 175).  The announcements, prayer requests, confession, passing of the peace, the offertory, the communion table—remind us that in the “bones of worship each Sunday we find the tools with which to recognize blasphemy when we walk the streets on Monday or watch the news on Tuesday. . . . Our salvation lies in the practices of worship that subverts the paltry promise of empire” (p. 182).

A wonderful book. —Vern Ratzlaff, pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada