Hopeful Imagination

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Hopeful Imagination
Prophetic voices in Exile
(Walter Brueggemann)

A Book Review by PJ Shrestha

METHODIST THEOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY
Lecturer: Prof. Lim Sang Kook
Submission Date: 12/10/2012

HOPEFUL IMAGINATION: PROPHETIC VOICES IN EXILE
Walter Brueggemann
Fortress Press, 1986
In this book Walter Brueggemann looks at the three most prominent prophets during the period of the Jews' exile in Babylon after and around the time of 587 B.C. What links Jeremiah, Ezekiel and 2nd Isaiah is that in different ways each one spoke to the exiles. Jeremiah focuses on how God sent them into exile but continued to love them. Ezekiel focuses on God's holiness and freedom and the fact that he is calling them to recognize that God does not exist simply for their benefit, but that they are to follow Him. 2nd Isaiah focuses on the theme of homecoming and speaks to those exiles who may have accommodated themselves to ways and values of the empire and might not want to return to the ways of Yahweh. In each case Brueggemann relates the prophets to the North American church which he says is also a church in exile though in many cases it does not know it. Brueggemann does a good job of exegeting the text in its context and helps the reader make the connection to today. The book is divided into three parts regarding each prophetic concern. I will be summarizing their context in a brief script. Part 1: Only Grief Permits Newness

Jeremiah- Designed for conflict
Jeremiah here, is presented as a study in pastoral vitality and pastoral conflict. His work is precisely linked to the issues surrounding the crisis of 587. His task is to help his community to face the loss of the old world of king and temple and to receive a new world defined by Yahweh. That new world- experienced as exile- is shaped by Babylonian domination, which is willed by Yahweh. Bruggemann believes, Jeremiah’s voice asserts an incredible freedom about God, so that each time he speaks to God or about God, he has the amazing capacity to create a new scenario that keeps all parties open and in jeopardy. The tradition of Jeremiah makes available to us a God who is dangerously on the move in the midst of a specific social crisis. He has a sense of the large public issues and perceives how they relate to pastoral action. He is a pastoral presence of one who genuinely cares for his community. The prophet cares even for the king who did not listen to him, cares enough to speak the dangerous truth. Jeremiah not only has a sense of the one who calls, but he has a sense of what it means to be called. Brueggemann uses the term “call” not in the sense of a datable experience, but as a sense that one’s life has a theonomous cast, is deeply referred to the purposes of God, which gives freedom and distance and perspective in relation to all other concerns. Jeremiah is prepared to join issue around matters of truth and falsehood. Because he is a porous, impressionistic poet, however, it does not follow that he is a relativizer. Jeremiah would have found odd and scandalous our modern notions of individualized truth in which each person is free to hold his or her own perception of truth. The purpose of porous language is to leave the poem and the reality to which it points open for the experience of the listener. Poets indeed trust other people to continue the image, to finish the thought of their own experience using their own metaphorical images. Jeremiah’s rich imagination intends to challenge the settled givens which make policy too self-confident and unquestioned. Such a social function of poetry is an aspect of the critical study of Jeremiah that is yet to be undertaken, an issue that cannot be reduced to the usual literary analysis of prose and poetry. What Jeremiah understood so powerfully is that he was engaged in a battle for the public imagination of the community. He was prepared to join issue around matters of truth and falsehood. He was profoundly a poet of hope. He...
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