Reviews - What do customers think about Ichabod Toward Home: The Journey of God's Glory?
no word less deconstructible than hope Feb 1, 2006
This is not Walter Brueggemann's best book. Still, it is the measure of this man's perceptive insight that a lecture series at Princeton Theological Seminary with off-the-cuff roughnessess still evident can make for the kind of compelling reading that merely fine writers are fortunate to achieve once or twice in a career.
Ichabod is Bruggemann in his most oral mode and therefore at his least disciplined. What he achieves here is not precise exegesis. Rather, it is an example of florid proclamation that enters the shadows of biblical narrative and finds there passion and insight that might survive only in part after the sunrise.
The name `Ichabod' means `Where is the glory?!'. Though the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is full of oddly named children, Ichabod's moniker is surely among the strangest. Except that he never knew the mother who died giving birth to him while she bewailed Israel's loss of the ark of the covenant, we know nothing of the boy himself. Yet his mother's deathbed naming provides a narrative frame for a preoccupation with God's glory-and its loss-that is prominent in the Bible's conceptual world. Brueggemann is well poised to explore this little known text, for his rhetorical mastery is seldom more powerful than when he engages biblical narrative. The journeys of the ark of the covenant in 1 Samuel 4-6 throw up plenty of material for this prolific biblical scholar to throw down the lines that link a tale of devastation and recovery with the modern pastor's plight in a world where despair looms too temptingly, too often.
Brueggemann is sure that the loss described in his text is a `paradigmatic loss' `([I]chabod Departed', pp. 1-23), a loss beyond all other losses. An event narrated speaks of more than itself, though Brueggemann would want to insist that one must not lose sight of its texted particularity. Adumbrations of the loss that we abbreviate as `exile' are to be discerned in the Philistine rout of Israel and capture of the ark that is here described. Yet Bruggemann's fidelity to the burden of these chapters is best glimpsed in his awareness that some loss-this one for example, and others of which readers like me bear the scars-go beyond matters of guilt and broken covenant. They are, like the last century's Shoah, incomprehensible, even when not remotely comparable in scope and scale. Brueggemann wants his reader to understand that Yahwistic faith does not evade that fact.
In `Joy Comes in the Morning' (pp. 25-52), Brueggemann reframes the familiar biblical story of the Philistine god Dagon's nocturnal collapse in the presence of captured YHWH upon the ark with the knowing sentence: `The Philistine god had, in the night, lost his head, perhaps decapitated, or lost his head, gone mad, because trying to maintain preeminence in the presence of YHWH will drive one crazy.' Brueggemann's exposition of `YHWH's night-time work' is full of footnoted tribute to Patrick Miller and J.J.M. Roberts, eminent professors at the institution where the author originally delivered this text as a lecture series. The `turning' of YHWH from inert captive to muscle-flexed warrior cannot be explained, Brueggemann, even by Israel. The people's poets will later expand upon YHWH's paradigmatic turn to saving work, but here the narrative remains terse, unornamented, and viscerally short on detail. Yet the reality it describes is everything for YHWH and for Israel, even if these can be two different matters. Speaking to pastors, Brueggemann is less reserved about offering insights for the contemporary struggle than he might be in other venues, including gems like this one: `The characteristic liberal antidote to despair has been, against the narrative, the conviction that "God has not hands but ours." The characteristic conservative antidote to despair has been to return to a pre-Ebenezer condition, restore the old priesthood yet again.'
Brueggemann utilizes `(I)kabod Homeward' (pp. 53-84) to narrate the partial transfer-contagion perhaps-of Yahweh's glory to the Davidic monarchy. For the author, `the ark's primary business ... is the maintenance, sustenance, and prosperity of the Davidic governance.' For those who know Brueggemann's writing, the four nouns after the ellipsis do not promise condemnation, but acid reflection upon the compromises inherent in monarchy and its supportive ideology. Yet Brueggemann is uncharacteristically diplomatic at this point, masterfully attentive to what this narrative of the return of glory to a Davidic city would have meant for sixth-century exiles daring to hope for just such an outcome. Perhaps he is kind about glory rolling in Davidic directions because he stays close to the pathos of gloryless-ness, indeed he speaks as a man who has known it himself: `Friday is more than a blip in the flow from Sunday to Sunday. It is a staggering, deconstructive description on which our faith pivots. It becomes a warrant for noticing the deconstructive interruption in each of these journeys of cabod, for Israelite narrators and singers knew that the momentary capture of glory leaves an abiding tattoo on the God of glory ... The narrative reread permits us to see that the glory is wounded, exile-sobered, Friday-scarred, and Auschwitz-candid.'
Brueggemann pauses a moment from his visit to Ashdod and takes a theoretical turn in `The Bible Strange and New' (pp. 85-117). He wants to know what happens when the church stands before a biblical text like this one, a wonderment that he answers with a concept (profound nonfoundationalism) and a survey of three scholars who differ from him (A = Anderson, B = Barr, C = Childs). He makes a spirited defense in response to some of the critiques (Anderson, Childs) and criticism (Barr) that have emerged in the wake of his major 1997 statement (Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy). Buber and Barth are his models of nonfoundationalism, for both of them wrote at the end of an age and urged an encounter with the Bible in its raw alternative-bearing essence. One glimpses, respectively, Anderson, Barr, and Childs in Brueggemann's emulation of Barth and Buber's `passionate nonfoundationalism that does not yield too soon to conventional history, conventional reason, or conventional church consensus'.
Frequent readers will find in Bruggemann's conception of Bible-reading as guerrilla theatre a method for the occasional appearance of anti-ontological madness in his writing: `What the church does when it stands before the text, I propose, is that it engages in theatre; it entertains an alternative. It trust, moreover, that its theater is rooted in trusted reality that remains unproven and unprovable, grounded in no available universal and in no measured historicity.' This is stirring deconstruction of the universals that Brueggemann finds so confining and domesticating of the kind of churchly enactment he desires to support. Yet surely when the church does as he says, it encounters something and someone that can be described in some measure and trusted in. Anderson, Barr, and Childs-the first and third in radical discontinuity with the second-seem to be asking Childs to recognize and affirm such. He does not. In consequence Childs' most recent statements about Brueggemann seem close to a father's grief over a son's loss of faith, as Childs with his fidelity to canonical disclosure would insist the Church has always and everywhere defined it.
Brueggemann indulges a taste for sarcasm in `Have a Nice Weekend' (pp. 119-146) as he dissects the numbing flatness of reverencing the weekend that he sees in the American culture of his time. One wonders whether his blade might have been wielded rather more subtly had he looked on the pattern from the angle of common grace rather than merely as a mindless function of the market economy whose undeniable down side he seems loath to weigh against its benefits. Rest for the worker, for example.
Yet there is no denying that he has a point in his description of a Friday-Saturday-Sunday pattern leaves its prints on the story from Ashdod and leads, for the Christian, to a greater story that asks us not to rush Saturday, when all hope seems vain and all Saviors inert. For this reader, Brueggemann's final pages of this book now rank alongside the Andante Sostenuto of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto in C Minor as the two finest statements of consummation that I know.
Still, one wonders. Brueggemann's radical nonfoundationalism seems without, well, any foundation. In his attempt to engage the postmodern mind, he has perhaps climbed out on a limb to the point where only rhetorical prowess of the kind he alone practices can arrest its downward tilt. Brueggemann might question whether we need the limb. Or the tree. Yet the biblical texts-whether read willy-nilly or as a canonical deposit, as his teacher Childs would have us do-seem to point beyond the infinite regression of redefinition to a something and a someone that can be delimited insofar as things and persons allow. Brueggemann hints-and, over against his critics, he insists-that he has not denied the givenness of history, merely deprivileged the whole topic.
Perhaps. One hopes and waits for a statement from this most prolific of biblical theologians about the much-derided happened-ness of biblical disclosure and whether this matters and can be known. Human experience, human perception-dare we still say human nature-seems deeply to need to know that there is a `yes' in there somewhere, else we wander far from Zion while the deconstructionists exhaust their/our material and explain that it was just a game.
Glory lost and regained-where is God when you need him most Nov 23, 2004
Once again, Dr. Brueggeman fearlessly, takes one of the most puzzling incidents of old testament history and reflects profoundly upon this story, what it must have meant to the children of Isreal, and how should the church today wrestle with this text. Set in the story found in I Kings, he reviews and expounds upon the loss of the Ark of the Covenant in battle. How could the earthly seat of God be stolen? and could the glory of God be recovered??! and how? For those wanting to deepen their knowledge of old testament themes and what relevance those themes have for us today, a test most worthy of reading!
Prof Brueggemann Lectures like he teaches-- New Revision Sep 10, 2002
Sitting in the classroom of Prof Brueggemann, you would not expect him to seem as commanding or imposing in presence as he appears in the pulpit preaching or in his Princeton Lectures! He opens his first lecture with, "The question of what the church is doing and is to do when it stands before the biblical text is a complicated...endlessly important question." While describing at length his response to the opening question, he brings great inclusion of a daily--yet never routine struggle with us in his company, "who struggle together mit endlessly contested issues."
Much like his manner of teaching: "There is no doubt that this text intends connections to the Exodus narrative." Then off our favorite Professor goes into favorite themes of Power & Economic relations. While moving through those crucial themes he reverts to his use of humor: Using the Philistines as enemies of God's chosen people, "who know the Credo news from Israel, perhaps having read Gerhard von Rad!" Of course our present day reading of von Rad would not have been possible in their timeline!
In the Columbia classroom he is never as imposing or threatening with his boundless resources of knowledge, wisdom, mit humor! In every visit to Columbia Seminary, I am overwhelmingly impressed. Chaplain Fred W. Hood