Review: Materiality as Resistance

materiality as existence

Materiality as ResistanceWalter Brueggemann (Foreword by Jim Wallis). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020.

Summary: Explores how the material aspects of life informed by Christian spiritual commitments may be lived as a form of resistance to a materialistic culture.

Through much of Christian history, there has been a divorce of the spiritual and material aspects of life. Yet the material aspects of life–money, food, the body, time, and place–pervade our lives. Neglected as a necessary part of Christian teaching and formation, we are vulnerable to the allures of a materialistic culture, one in which all that matters is matter, and spirituality is marginalized or jettisoned. Walter Brueggemann proposes the alternative is materiality. The idea is that our spiritually formed values shape our engagement with each of these five material aspects of our lives.

He explores our relationship to money, using Wesley’s “earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” He raises questions about how our commitments to earning might be skewed by a limitless accumulation of wealth, how spending all we can undermines the saving that enables one to deploy our resources within our community, and how giving all we can calls for disciplined planning for sustained giving.

Brueggemann contrasts a material world’s focus on the scarcity of food with the trust in God’s abundance that runs through the pages of scripture. He explores what this means in terms of our commercial/industrial food production, the inequities of food distribution, and how we might think of ourselves as citizens and creatures of God in how we consume food.

We often abuse or indulge our bodies. Brueggemann invites us to consider what it means of offer our bodies as spiritual sacrifices in both our self-care and covenantal expression of our sexuality. One question I had in this chapter was the de-emphasis on genital sexuality to focus on the more spiritual and covenantal aspects of human love. On one hand, our culture focuses almost exclusively on the genital expression of human sexuality. Yet this is a book about materiality. It seems necessary to address the meaning of the aspects of pleasure, the unitive character of sexuality, and the reproductive potential that is inherent in our reproductive anatomy.

We live within time, hours, days, weeks, months, and years, that reflect our physical existence on earth. Materialism only knows production and consumption. The scriptures teach us rhythms of work and sabbath, and particular seasons to tear down and build up, to weep and laugh, to silence and speech, to go slow and speed up and to be born and die.

In our virtual world, we become homeless and placeless. We are invited to think what it means to be attentive and loyal to place. He contrasts inhabiting a place as user, consumer, possessor, exploiter, and predator versus living as heirs, neighbors, partners, and citizens.

Brueggeman concludes by commending five biblical disciplines, captured in five words that defines a materiality that resists materialism. They are justice, righteousness, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness toward our neighbors in our materiality. What he does is bring together spiritual formation and material life.

This concisely written book is a distillation of Brueggemann’s thought. The study questions that conclude each chapter suggest it was written for an adult education class or other adult formation meeting. It combine’s the author’s biblical insights with practical insights for how we might live truth in our material existence–and resistance to a materialist culture.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Money and Possessions

Money-and-Possessions

Money and Possessions (Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church), Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016 (forthcoming September 2, 2016)

Summary: A survey of the teaching of canonical scripture on the subject of money and possessions focusing on these as gift of God, meant for the mutual benefit of neighbors, and marred by extractive economics creating disparities of rich and poor, privileged and oppressed.

I’ve often remarked that the Bible has more to say about money than heaven or hell or a host of other topics. What we often treat as “nobody’s business” the scriptures treat as a matter of deep concern to God. And that is clearly evident in this new book by venerable Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.

Brueggeman proposes six theses that he believes summarize the teaching of the biblical texts:

  1. Money and possessions are gifts of God.
  2. Money and possessions are received as rewards for obedience.
  3. Money and possessions belong to God and are held in trust by human persons in community.
  4. Money and possessions are sources of social injustice.
  5. Money and possessions are to be shared in a neighborly way.
  6. Money and possessions are seductions that lead to idolatry.

The rest of the book considers the different parts of the canon and how these illustrate and develop these theses. He begins with the Pentateuch and the tenth commandment’s prohibition of coveting, emblematic of the breakdown of neighborly sharing of resources. He explores the development of the kingdom of Israel, the hopes of justice and the ways kings become involved in “extractive” practices (one of Brueggemann’s favorite words for social injustices around money). The psalms focus on both Torah and Temple and source money and possessions in the gifts of God, the worship of God, and the trust reposed in kings. Turning to the prophets, we see their message against idolatrous wealth, the loss of exile, and restoration and another chance at neighborliness. The five festal scrolls include the tale of Ruth, a marvelous illustration of loss and redemption with economic implications.

Turning to the New Testament, we see how much money and possessions play a role in the teaching of Jesus who proposes an alternative economy for an alternative kingdom. In Acts we witness the extension of neighborly community against the backdrop of the ultimate extractive empire of imperial Rome. Paul’s works speak of divine generosity (“grace”) to be mirrored in human generosity epitomized in Paul’s collections for Jerusalem. The Pastorals and James warn of the dangers of riches and partiality to the rich and the requirements of true religion. Revelation speaks of the ultimate alternative to Rome (Brueggemann takes a preterist reading believing all or most of Revelation was primarily relevant to the time in which it was written).

This is not a highly technical work which makes it useful for lay adult education efforts. Brueggemann is not bashful when it comes to drawing contemporary parallels to the biblical text and a group using this book might take issue with his social justice positions. Where it is most useful is in identifying the many biblical texts that deal with the subject of money and possessions and providing helpful commentary and context for discussing these passages. If indeed this is used as a resource for the study of and use of scripture in the church as is the intent of this series, it can be quite helpful in summarizing what we find in scripture, and proposing a basic rubric of biblical theology of money and possessions around his six theses.

______________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via a pre-publication e-galley through Edelweiss. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.