Walter Brueggemann: A Conversation

Thursday evening, March 3, at 7 p.m., Old Testament theologian the Reverend Dr. Walter Brueggemann will speak and sign books at Holy Communion. Our small groups have read two of Dr. Brueggemann's books over the past year: Sabbath as Resistance and Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks. Minister of Communication Cara Ellen Modisett talked with him by phone in January.

CM: What were the most important lessons your father [a German evangelical pastor] taught you? 
WB: He was raised in the social gospel tradition, so I learned from the ground up that the justice questions were important, and I think I got my basic theology about the grace of God and missional obedience from him. He was a rural pastor, and so he practiced that in rather modest ways, but it was very clear what he was up to.

CM: What ways did he practice it?
WB: In a very racist, rural society, he bore witness as he was able to about moving beyond racist categories. He believed that agriculture and that the care of the earth was a very important act of Christian obedience. He really worked at inducting young people into the church, into Christian vocations.

CM: It seems that there is a conflict between focus on reading scripture as scripture and focus on social justice, that they are in opposition to each other. How do you respond?
WB: I think we have such a long habit of reading the Bible in poor ways... If we learn to read the Bible well… the connection to social justice is inescapable.

CM: What about the work of the Episcopal Church?
WB: I think the Episcopal church works at these questions. I think it is hard to overcome some of the liturgic legacy of the Episcopal church – [it can be] sort of otherworldly and remote from reality, but not more so than most of our other church traditions. I think it’s a matter of reinterpretation. I think that the wonderful, poetic cadence of the liturgy of the Episcopal Church has charmed people away from some of the hard realities of faith – I think it’s all there in the liturgy, but it’s expressed in such artistic form that one can easily misread it or mishear it. It’s so easily read in private ways, as if it’s all about one individual person at a time, rather than the community, or that it’s all tilted toward going to eternity and not having to live too deeply into this world. I don’t think that’s the intention of the liturgy, but it’s easily open to that misreading.

CM: Why the Old Testament?
WB: I just had such good Old Testament teachers in seminary – it seems to me early on that it was the most interesting part of the theological curriculum. The richness and the potential of the physical text... What you hope is that people will see that it is our Christian discipleship to be actively engaged in things like community organization – to be mobilizing political power and political pressure to effect change. Otherwise it’s just a head trip.

CM: How have you translated it?
WB: Well, I’ve connected to two community organizing pieces of work here. [The first, working] to pass a tax for pre-kindergarten for everyone in our county; [the second focusing on] debt cancellation in seven disadvantaged communities in the city [Cincinnati]. Those are my practical involvements. That’s very slow, hard work, but I’m committed to it as I am able to be.

CM: Many would say that’s very localized. How does that make a difference, working just in one city?
WB: Each of us have to be at work where God has put us… The main thing is to be a participant in the transformative work into which we have been baptized.

CM: What is your newest project?
WB: I’ve just started working on a long-term project to write a devotional piece for each day of the Daily Office of the Episcopal Order… I’m not doing for anybody except my own finger exercise.

Posted by Cara Modisett at 3:22 PM
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