Out of Babylon by Walter Brueggemann on Amazon
From Egypt to Assyria, to literal geographical Babylon, on to Persia and then Rome, the bible witnesses to a series of empires that dominated the daily lives of the people of God; scripture also provides accounts of creative, resourceful, and effective ways people learned to live with and even thrive in spite of foreign hegemony. Although Babylon in the book title serves as a cipher for imperial regimes everywhere, WB also writes extensively about the southern kingdom Judah's actual Babylonian Captivity during the sixth century, at the same time reminding us "Babylon" bears the weight of geographically relocatable interpretations (page 111).
Out of Babylon references Emmylou Harris' song "Doin' time in Babylon." When they sentence you to do time, you can't choose get out of jail free. As Christians can we live faithfully surrounded by empire and its deathly apparatus? Is it living faithfully with empire, living faithfully in spite of empire, or another possibility? Our contemporary situation in the USA closely parallels the exiles' in Babylon (faithful in Rome, Spain, Great Britain...) as accretions, outrages, attractions, and demands of empire surround and often seem to overwhelm us. Truly we cannot escape to some ideal oblivion, an unknown nowhere – remember erewhon? – and in the power of the Spirit we need to create local, covenantal life where we are―in spite of empire. And then there's another reality: God's overwhelming response of grace when humans don't quite measure up to the standards of the commands.
Late during the last century people rejoiced as the Union Jack of British imperialism stopped flying over one colony after another, yet every one of us in the USA deals daily with inescapable excesses of global USA political and economic empire. Most helpful for those of us trying to live faithfully in the Spirit of Life and within the spirit of the witness of scripture are WB's reminders of the creative ways some people operated (for example) within the imperial Persian government, apparently violated no laws, yet managed to finagle and finesse their work (ministry? we often call government officials "ministers," servants) for the good of the people of God, for the benefit of all people. When he insists the Church and the Churches in the USA have sold out to empire, have been unfaithful, Professor Brueggemann has it so right. What can we do as individual persons, as individual congregations to regain faithfulness? WB cites Babylon as "matrix for Jewish well-being ... a venue for Shalom." (pages 8 & 9) Can we celebrate and live Jubilee freedom amidst empire? Or rather, how can we live in the trusting freedom of jubilee in the midst of empire? You need to read Out of Babylon and get inspired!
Christians are a People of the Book, the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. In at least one other of his books I've read, Walter Brueggemann talks about our being (or becoming) fully texted people, gospeled communities. Out of Babylon provides some history and some ideas for ways those of us in the USA churches might learn the texts and live the texts of scripture more completely. In spite of empire is far from one size fits all! The contemporary church in the USA needs to learn diversity of style, response, actual cooperation and accommodation with the forces of empire in order to become more fully gospeled, more completely texted. Scripture also provides accounts of creative, resourceful, and effective ways people learned to live with and even flourish in spite of imperial domination. Not only is there room for many diverse approaches; a diversity of approaches to the presence of empire is essential.
Readers and reviewers of this and WB's other books need to realize Brueggemann assumes more than basic scriptural knowledge and theological literacy, which likely makes most of his books tough, rough going for anyone without a (very) solid background in theology and scripture. I've got that background, and I find a lot of WB's writing dense, frequently slow going.
my Amazon review: Walter Brueggemann on Empire