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‘Bringing pain to voice’

Wow, what a day yesterday was! I heard two talks on Saturday, both of them stimulating and challenging. Professor Brueggemann spoke first, offering some penetrating remarks on “The God of the Covenantal Imagination.” I don’t want to give away too much yet (if you want to know more, see my forthcoming review of the conference in The Living Church), but as a teaser, I will mention a few key themes which followers of Brueggemann’s work will undoubtedly recognize.

Moving backward in the text from Exodus 20 (Friday night’s focus), Professor Brueggemann spoke Saturday morning on the first part of Exodus and the Abraham cycle in Genesis. He highlighted the power and importance of “bringing pain to voice,” as evinced by power of the Israelites cry in Exodus 2:23–24. Then he challenged us to consider the entirety of Exodus 1–15 as a liturgy of liberation, a paradigm which was reenacted throughout Israelite history and an ongoing paradigm for the Church today. As expected, the responses of Professors Sharp and Enns were appreciative and insightful, especially at the points where they sharpened, qualified, or pushed back against aspects of Brueggeman’s position. If you want to know what was said, again, look for the review.

After a lively question and answer period, we took time off for lunch. Some folks, including Professor Sharp, walked the outdoor parish labyrinth. Others went on a church tour, including a visit to the carillon. I spend my time milling around the books and meeting some interesting folks who had come from near and far. More on them in my final post, which will focus on reactions to the conference. One minor correction, however, to yesterday’s post: the award for furthest distance traveled to the conference actually goes to an attendee from Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Professor Sharp gave the afternoon talk, presenting on the theme: “Leaving the Garden: Biblical Irony as an Invitation to Discernment.” Moving beyond the more familiar stories from Genesis and Exodus, Professor Sharp led the conversation into the prophetic and wisdom divisions of Tanakh. Again, I won’t spill too many details, but Professor Sharp certainly gave some food for thought in her sensitive literary readings of Numbers and Ecclesiastes. Again, the remarks of Professors Enns and Brueggemann built constructively on Professor Sharp’s remarks.

Today looks busy as well: 9:30 am Holy Eucharist, followed by four more lectures in the Sunday Forum: (1) Professor Brueggemann on the difficult subject of violence in the Bible; (2) Professor Sharp on “Singing the Truth: The Psalms and Spiritual Transformation”; and then a two-part treatment of the Psalms by Professor Brueggemann on (3) “Wisdom from the Prophets on Truth-Telling and (4) Hope-Telling.”

One more note before I sign off. I promised on Friday that I would reproduce some interviews with our speakers. Yesterday afternoon, both Professors Brueggemann and Sharp were kind enough to sit down with me for a few minutes and talk on a number of issues. I can’t print everything here, but I wanted to pass along at least the following anecdote, with more to come.

One of the major themes of this conference has been not only the importance of reading the Scripture, but the final end of letting Scripture read us. Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez speaks in precisely this language in the introduction to his penetrating little commentary On Job, which was my airplane devotional on the way out here. As a nod to Fr. Guttiérez, I asked both conference speakers which books of Scripture “read them” the most. Independently from one another, both responded with the same two books: the Psalms and Jeremiah.

What was especially fascinating was that while the books Professors Brueggemann and Sharp pinpointed were the same, they had different rationales for choosing Jeremiah. For Professor Brueggemann, Jeremiah “reads him” because the centrality of anguish speaks to him. “Anyone who is not in anguish about what’s happening to us [in America] should read the book of Jeremiah.” For Professor Sharp, by contrast, Jeremiah’s appeal is not in its anguish or its vitriol, but in the multiple strata of the text, a witness to the “struggle to claim the prophetic voice” by those who followed Jeremiah. For Professor Sharp, Jeremiah’s polyvalence points to the fact that people of sincere faith continue to disagree with one another about what Scripture means. Taking that to heart remains a central task for the Church as it reads scripture together.

Both views of “being read by the book of Jeremiah” are inspiring on their own; together, they form a compelling argument that Christians stand to gain much by continuing to seek opportunities to be read by Scripture together in this kind of setting. The dialogue between Brueggemann, Sharp, and Enns in an intimate parish setting continues to be one of the highlights of the conference for me.

Image Credit: The Totally Unofficial Walter Brueggemann Page


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