Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book #1, The Land, Walter Brueggemann

I had just made my first visit to a big denominational bookstore in North Dallas, where I bought a copy of The Land. I was an associate minister for a church in Arlington, Texas, and in my office there was this big comfy chair--big enough that I could curl up my entire 6'3" frame into it. I don't remember moving out of the chair the entire day after I opened the pages to my first Brueggemann book (though I'm sure I did). I do remember reading the entire book in one day. I do remember being thankful that I had a job that allowed me to read words like these. I do remember tears filling my eyes over several passages in the book. I do remember being thrilled that theology could sound so poetic, and yet be so rooted in the world and in the biblical text. I have hungrily read Walter Brueggemann from that day forward.

It's not so much the content of The Land that hooked me (though I loved the vision of the book). It was the way he read Scripture, and, in turn, wrote about that. They were of the same dynamic cloth, the text he interpreted and his interpretation. For Brueggemann, the text is a thickly textured rhetorical reality. It has a world of its own which escapes the reductions of both fundamentalists and liberals. The world of the text is not simply affirmation. The text is a combustive mix of testimony, dispute, and new orientation. And the text is about power, a social document that attends to claims and counterclaims in relation to the ultimate reference for power--God. And in the midst of this rhetorical world, God is holy, unmanageable, dangerous, liberating, and merciful.

The highlight of my professional career was being on the same program as Walter Brueggemann. It was a preaching conference on the Psalms (Brueggemann is an Old Testament professor). I had the assignment of preaching on Psalm 46 during the opening worship of the seminar. Brueggemann made the first of his two presentations immediately following the worship service. Talk about an intimidating assignment.

A few years later, I hosted a song writing workshop at Abilene Christian Univeristy and invited Michael Card to be our main presenter. Card had recommended to the songwriters that they read good theology and he highly recommended the work of Brueggemann. At a break, I was drawn into a conversation with Card and a conference attendee, a friend of mine, who had been there when I preached in Brueggemann's presence. My friend was explaining to Card the situation, leading to Brueggemann's opening remarks, which were, "I guess I'm here to tell you..." Before my friend could complete the sentence, Card finished the line, "that if you do it like Mark just did it, you're doing it right."

I was stunned. How did Card know the line? He had ordered, it seems, Brueggemann's presentations on cd from the conference and had listened to them over and over again. They were on his ipod! He looked at me and said, "you're that Mark! I've heard that line over and over again and thought, I don't know who that Mark is, but he has to be on cloud nine." And I was. And it was so cool that in this one little moment, my world had overlapped with both Walter Brueggemann's and Michael Card's.

I was Brueggemann's taxi for the conference. We stayed in the same hotel and drove back and forth together. I sat by him as we served on a Q&A panel. He would lean in my direction every now and then to whisper a comment or ask a question (I knew the audience better than he did). I sat by him at lunch, planning the book that would come out of the conference. He was very gracious. Answered my star-struck questions. Inquired about my own work and interests. He has written over 80 books. Ridiculous. He told me he writes fast. Duh. He doesn't dwell too long over a book because a text is immediately an artifact. And both the author and text have a life of their own. They develop distance from each other. There is no last word on a subject. Just write the book and move on to the next one. It was an amazing few days.

I know I don't have the temperment of a scientist. I'm not the kind of theologian who can dig out the minutia of an argument. But Brueggemann convinced me there is a prime place for the poet, those who experience theology as art and interpretation. He gave me a way to aspire within my own sense of calling. I am thankful.


Anonymous said...

beautiful story.

sometime you should tell us about the time when you bumped into the Edge at Starbucks in Malibu.

Cheryl Russell said...

It's good to hear you to talk about Brueggeman in this way. We had to read "The Prophetic Imagination" in our OT Theology class and I don't know why but I wasn't thrilled with the book. Maybe it was the time crunch and huge paper we had to write! I also had no idea that Brueggeman had written so much. So, you have caused me to think that it's time to check out another Brueggemann book and maybe revisit Imagination.

Mark Love said...


It is worth another read. It may be an aquired taste. You might look at his book on evangelism, which I think is called, Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism.

And Tyler, Brueggemann is my professional highlight. The Edge is my personal highlight.


Cheryl Russell said...

I ordered Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism. If I don't like it.....I know where to find you!