Book Excerpts

Finally Comes the Poet

Walter Brueggemann

●    it is precisely the problem for the  proclamation of the gospel that the great claims of the  gospel do not seem to be problematic or in question.
●    The gospel is too readily heard and taken for  granted, as though it contained no unsettling news and no  unwelcome threat.
●    To address the issue of a truth greatly reduced requires us  to be poets that speak against a prose world.
●    Now, however, there is disclosed   a new word, a new hope, a new verb, a new conversation,   a new risk, a new possibility. It is not a new  truth, but rather one long known that had been greatly  reduced.
●    The truth  known by the poet is that the tears of the judge permit a  new move. If the judge had spoken only in harshness, the  people of God would be fated.
●    The connection between Yahweh and economics is  a bold and persistent one in the Bible, because the Bible  knows that economics is one of the two spheres where we  live our life. The violation is rendered artistically in this  text, not focused on an economic issue, but on pain and  hurt and exploitation. The pain, hurt, and violation in this  text concern taking what belongs to another, e.g., power  relations in the family, robbing the value of another life by  sexism, racism, or ageism. Or turn the metaphor to Central   America and notice how well we live from food taken  from the table of a peasant. It is dawning on us slowly that  in both El Salvador and Nicaragua we are concerned with  long-term U.S. robbery that we have come to think of as  business as usual, as we enjoy the fruit of the United Fruit  Company.11 How strange to have a "ritual text," so conventionally   ignored by us, become so immediately available   for the scary places in our life that have to do with  problems of guilt and alienation.
●    Restitution costs: "He shall restore it in full, and  shall add a fifth to it." Restitution costs twenty percent  according to Leviticus. Guilt requires not simply equity  and an even balance, but gift beyond affront. It requires  surplus compensation. Such a rule is both economically  shrewd and psychologically sound.
●    The anguish of our preaching is that these truths  are frequently reduced in ways that rob the gospel of its  power and urgency. We have the perspective of romantic  psychology that concludes that I am not guilty but only  "feel" guilty. And because the problem is not taken  seriously, no serious response can be entertained. Such a  conclusion, of course, only buries the alienation at deeper  levels.
●    We  have no language to say fully what we know about God's  love, which in self-giving transforms. Unless we speak  poetically, we invite terrible reductions. Unless we speak  poetically, God's self-giving transformation will be heard  as a form of cheap grace that costs God nothing because  God simply overrides.
●    Let  preaching be as conservative as it can possibly be about the  self-giving of God who stops the poison. Let the preacher  be as dangerous as she possibly can be about reparations  in the family, in Central America, in all the enslavements  and exploitations we practice. The preacher must be conserving   of the grace of God and open to the pain and injustice   of the world. Neither may be neglected. Both must be  enacted. Only a poet can speak both dimensions of our  dangerous way with God at the throne.
●    who believe it is better to be nice  at the throne than it is to be honest, who must practice  denial and guilt in order to enhance God.8
●    Such alienation and muted rage have a central characteristic   in common: an absence of conversation, a loss of  speech. In both cases, life is reduced to silence. Where  there is theological silence, human life withers and dies.  Where
●    Muteness is practical atheism.
●    Praise is difficult for those caught in  reductionism.
●    Our obedience will not venture   far beyond or run risks beyond our imagined world.
●    The text we have cited  from Amos shows that the Sabbath was a great line of  defense against exploitation, to permit the humanization  of public life. In the context of Mark's Gospel, however,  Sabbath practice had become so restrictive and oppressive  that it worked against acts and gestures of human caring.  The command that was a guard against economic destructiveness   now had been distorted to sanction other kinds  of communal destructiveness.
●    The theological issue in the Sabbath command is  rest. The preacher's theme for those who gather is restlessness.
●    The Tenth Commandment concerns land, which  equals social power.
●    The theological issue related to the land is sharing-respecting   the entitlement of others. The preacher's theme  for those who gather is greed. Greed touches every aspect  of our lives: economic, political, sexual, psychological, and  theological. Greed bespeaks a fundamental disorder in our  lives, a disorder that reflects distortion in our relation with  God.
●    To violate Sabbath  and to covet is, in each case, to seize control of one's own  life. Such seizing leads to death.
●    Daniel reckons that the imperial diet  will make him unacceptable and distort his person. How  peculiar! It is peculiar that marginal people should find  royal food objectional, when they have a chance to abate  their hunger with it. Normally it is the well-off who will  disdain the diet of the marginal.
●    We  may notice how "the others" have conformed; we are not  so skillful in noticing how we ourselves have joined the  version of ideology most compatible with our social location   and interest.
●    Remember who you are by  remembering whose you are. Be your own person even in  the face of the empire, of the dominant ideology, of the  great power of death. Be your own person by being in the  company of the great God who works in, with, and  through the training program of the empire for the sake of  God's own people. Be your own person, because God has  not succumbed to the weight of the empire.
●    It matters what we eat. It matters who feeds us and
●    on whose food we rely. Food, elemental sustenance,  always comes with a price. Eat royal bread and think royal  thoughts. Eat royal bread and embrace royal hopes and  fears. Exiles who did not assimilate are those who know  there is another bread close at hand, not provided by the  Babylonians. Another poet, in some ways close to Daniel,  said it this way:'°
●    Ho, every one who thirsts,  come to the waters;  and he who has no money,  come, buy and eat!  Why do you spend your money  for that which is not bread,  and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good,  and delight yourselves in fatness."  Incline your ear, and come to me;  hear, that your soul may live.
                               (Isa. 55:1-3)12

●    The poet speaks of imperial bread that costs and does not  satisfy. Submission to the empire causes us to labor for  that which does not satisfy, that exhausts and leaves us  with greater hunger.
●    Whoever feeds, owns. And we are children   of another bread.
●    The theme of the preacher is not  nonconformity, but the freedom, energy, and courage of  an alternative identity.
●    God's new humanity requires the courage of great  resistance: resistance to every enslavement, refusal of every  cooptation in heaven or on earth, a resolve to be one's  own person. God's new humanity requires at the same  time the bold practice of doxology: engagement with the  dream in all its threat, submission, and relinquishment in  order to be safe.
●    On the economic dimension of this petition, see  Michael Crosby, Thy Will Be Done: Praying the Our Father as Subversive   Activity (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1977), chap. 8, and  Sharon Ringe, Jesus, Liberation, and the Jubilee Year (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1985).