Texts that Linger, Words that Explode

by Walter Brueggemann, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Brueggemann emphasizes the force of words in molding the nation: Words generate a cultural/historical movement, words are advocates for specific tasks, words identify the central features of the community’s story and self awareness, words are warnings against ignoring consequences. Sometimes words explode in remarkable imagination (e.g., the impact of Rachel, whose story is told in Genesis but which comes again in Jeremiah and in Matthew), and to the community of faith today. Brueggemann cites the Holocaust as a point along Rachel’s story, but her weeping goes well beyond even that, to the homeless of our cities, and to the tragedies of children caught in Syria and Iraq (or in the treatment of aboriginal cultures faced by forced abduction of their children as a result of assimilationist ideologies). The text keeps surfacing as a weapon of the weak (p. 9).  It is a powerful reminder that the “prophetic tradition preserves for us those staggering enactments of redemptive madness” (p. 19). And that’s only the first chapter of the book.

Brueggemann deals equally devastatingly with other texts. He draws attention to Amos 9:7, where Amos confronted his listeners with the pointed reference that Yahweh was not really just a tribal god; Ethiopians, Philistines, Arameans and Israelites are all part of Yahweh’s redeeming act, a radical pluralism (p. 97). And he emphasizes the task of words in Israel (in their liturgy, in their festivals) in remaining an intentional, distinctive country in the world dominated by Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia, and of how Israel maintained its identity in and under the empire with the gifts of texts and words.  The church needs to keep its identity vibrant through the “daily discipline and practises” of our Christian faith story (p. 87).  Wow!  What a book! —Vern Ratzlaff, pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada