Book Review: “Peace” by Walter Brueggemann

“Peace” by Walter Brueggemann was a wonderful book that fed my soul. Again, instead of going over every section that I highlighted (which seems to be just about on every page,) I’m going to touch on a few key points of the book and encourage you to buy the book and read it for yourself.

The book is set into five parts all relating to different aspects of peace. But understand this is not the typical book about peace. This is a book about peace coming from an Old Testament scholar, so we are looking at it from a different perspective – frankly a much healthier perspective. We’re looking at peace from the essence of shalom. I’ll take a quick look at each section briefly.

But before we do, here’s a core concept that you need to understand. Brueggemann talks about shalom, but never alone. He makes a point of linking peace with justice, or mishpat. Shalom is a new order. It is not at hand, but promised. It is the assured well-being that is coming. It is both political and economic. Because how can there be well-being if it doesn’t encompass both of these things? That’s a scary concept for many people. It’s a reordering of how things are done. Are we really prepared for that? Do we really want God’s shalom? Or do we want just some cheap imitation?

Part one is A Vision of Shalom. This is some of the most beautiful passages of writing that I read. But that shouldn’t be a shock – we are talking about shalom after all and the vision of shalom. You have to understand that shalom is more than just a greeting of someone or just saying “peace” to someone. It is the culmination of God’s vision. Or to put it in the words of Brueggemann, “It is well-being that exists in the very midst of threats…The vision of wholeness, which is the supreme will of the biblical God, is the outgrowth of a covenant of shalom (see Ezekiel 34:24), in which persons are bound not only to God but to one another in a caring, sharing, rejoicing community with none to make them afraid.” (pg. 15). How absolutely beautiful! Why would we not want that? But some don’t. It makes no sense at all.

Part two is A Vision of Freedom. Freedom is misunderstood. We Americans think we understand freedom, but we don’t. We don’t even begin to understand it. We too often define to mean something that means that we can do whatever we want – something that is more in line with selfishness. This is opposed to shalom, which is oriented to the good of the whole. “Freedom, when it comes, comes from God.” (Pg. 41). Oppression is the key problem in the human experience. Brueggemann has written extensively on this subject. Oppression is really about this – it separates us from the whole. When we are free, we are united back to the whole. Scripture is full of this story. Think of every healing story by Jesus – it is always Jesus restoring not only someone’s health, but also their standing in the community. When the lost sheep is found, they are returned to the sheepfold, bringing the restoration to the entire fold. Freedom isn’t about us doing what we want on our own. The Prodigal son had that and it led to ruin. He didn’t had freedom. He had oppression. When he returned, he was restored and experienced Shalom, unity, and thus true freedom.

The power of this section is brought to life in Brueggemann’s discussion of what it means to be Exodus people in the Brickyard of life. We live in a Brickyard – “make more bricks!” is the constant refrain. But that is not our purpose.

“Consider how we would act if we were to live according to our exodus:

  • Exodus people honor the Sabbath, because it is a reminder of the contrast between oppressive work and healing, humane rest.
  • Exodus people don’t covet, because the tyranny of Pharaoh was in coveting after he had had enough.
  • Exodus people don’t steal, kill, or commit adultery, because they know that life is too precious to be abused and perverted” (Pg. 69)

And here’s the part that many people in our society can’t stomach and will turn away from because it’s just too much for them to bear. It’s the part that many will make excuses about. It’s the part that we’ll hear wails and cries of “but that’s political!!!” It’s where Brueggemann is dead on correct:

“The tricky demand in all this is that the Bible never settles for a morality that deals simply with individuals. It always asks about social structures, about government and law and social policy, about institutions that can cause exoduses or prevent them.” (Pg. 71).

Part three is A Vision of Order. This section starts to shift from the theoretical of shalom to the practical. Shalom is about an order of things. In this section we get the very basic of ordering and eating to how shalom is practiced in peace and covenant. Likewise, we see peace as a gift and a task. It opens our eyes to seeing the variety of ways in which peace and order exists. This all makes sense because Shalom is about order – it is the continuation of the creation story. It is the bringing order out of chaos. Justice and righteousness are about order in relationship – in very good ways. Pharaoh’s sin that that he misuses his power and brings about chaos by advancing injustice. “Pharaoh in the exodus story, who, if he is anything, is the embodiment of order. But what an order – characterized by slavery, oppression, and coercion. Even if there are no riots and disruptions; that’s not order; rather, it is closely and carefully supervised chaos. No wonder that in the retelling of the story of slavery and liberation, Pharaoh becomes the sea monster Rahab, chaos (Isaiah (30:7). Yet, a people is born out of this chaos. ‘The Most High himself will establish it (Psalm 87:5). The order of shalom is not the contained chaos of Pharaoh, but the justice and righteousness of the Lord. Because of this shalom, ‘Singers and dancers alike say, ‘All my springs are in you’ (Psalm 87:7)” (pg. 97).

Part four is the Shalom Church. You want a recipe for how to be a church? Brueggemann lays it out. It’s about being vulnerable. It’s about what we value. It’s about being clear. It’s about being “untangled from the values of this world.” (Pg. 125). “Shalom happens only for communities engaged in empowering vulnerability.” (Pg. 125). It’s about being a church of shalom. Here’s the formula:

  • The ones lowered by everybody should be raised.
  • The ones excluded by everybody should be included.
  • We are under a mandate to love and that isn’t popular in our culture.
  • It isn’t about what we want individually.
  • Value persons over property

Part five is Shalom Persons. This is bringing is all together. After we’ve Brueggemann has shown how communities are to live into shalom, and churches are to live into shalom, then it is on us individually to live into shalom too. “Exodus is, first of all, the story of persona appearing as active participants in history.” (Pg. 171). That applies to us too. “The brickyard of Pharaoh would just as soon keep everybody nameless slaves without identity.” (Pg. 171). Oh, that’s so true, still today. Enough. God’s Shalom isn’t about any of that. You are named. You are loved. Why do we put up with any of that nameless junk? For what? It just isn’t worth it. It’s time to throw it all off.

Here’s what it comes down to: “We are invited, expected, and urged to become persons we are not. We are invited, expected, and urged to become persons that we may assume joyous responsibility over the affairs of the Lord. That contrasts most sharply with the worldview of Pharaoh and slavemasters. Slavemasters do not expect, want, or permit their slaves to change or grow. Their energies are devoted to keeping things (and persons) the way they are. In the brickyard, a static accepting mentality is the best kind because it does not disrupt production. So the enslaving one sees only what is, and grimly keeps it so. The promising One sees what is yet to be and waits with eager longing for the revealing of who his children will be.” (Pg. 173). Amen! Amen! Amen!

Let us be Exodus people who throw off the Pharaohs of life wherever there may be.

Brueggemann, Walter. Peace. 2001. Chalice Press, Danvers, MA.

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