I had never heard of Walter Brueggemann until a few years ago. And if you should scoff at my ignorance, let me just say that he was never big in Korean immigrant circles in rural corners of the Southeast or in the charismatic community I met in Nashville. And I was a student of economics and history in college, and let’s just say that Brueggemann, as prolific as he is, didn’t make the reading lists as far as I remember.
Of course, as my thoughts turned to attending Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, a few people overwhelmed me with mentions of the great Walter Brueggemann. And as fate would have it, he had already retired by the time I matriculated. But he was still a presence on campus and all the students consider their day to have taken a definite upswing if and when the patron saint of CTS should cross their path. My first face-to-face meeting with him came as he was exiting Campbell Hall and the great Brueggemann held the door for me. I was floored – I recognized his picture from the refectory (cafeteria) and I couldn’t believe that in both literal and figurative terms, he was holding the door for me. I was humbled at his humility before I ever read one word he had written.
As luck would have it, he did guest lecture a couple of times in my Old Testament Survey class. Just before his lecture (the first one I’d heard him give) I ran to the bookstore and because I am pragmatic and cheap, not having read any of his work, I decided I would get the least expensive work I found, which turned out to be Prophetic Imagination. I ran to class and he gave an outstanding lecture on the Psalms. In the break of lecture, I sheepishly pulled out the book and asked him for his autograph, I always consider it an opportunity to have an author sign their work. He looked at the book and at me and said, “Of all the books I written, I consider this my best.” I oooohed and ahhhhhhhed and said “Thank you very much” (I’ll have to blog on that some other time). Needless to say, I definitely read the book not long after and was amazed – I finally get it – Brueggemann is a bona fide genius.
And today, I bought my third Brueggemann, a book entitled, “Prayers for a Privileged People”. I had the chance to ask him what to make of Asian American theology and how we have succumbed to the American consumerism which has co-opted the manner in which we do church and flit and fly about the message of the gospel. He replied that is work that this generation has to do. That is the middle ground that is only capable of being carved out now. So I’d like to share one of his prayers with you so that this work may begin in the shadow of the privilege that we now own to some extent. It also resonates with the sense that we were once immigrants and their children. So here is “Leaving That Is So Hard,” a prayer for my fellow privileged Asian Americans by the great Brueggemann.
It is difficult to leave home
and, very differently,
it is difficult to leave slavery.
It is difficult to leave home,
but people do it.
Graduates do it.
Soldiers do it.
Job seekers do it.
We depart the comfort and familiarity and affection of home,
but sometimes to depart to freedom, and
new well-being, and
fresh fulfillments of all sorts.
It is difficult to leave slavery,
but people do it.
Our ancient people in Egypt left Pharaoh,
our black citizens have become free at last,
and on a lesser scale,
addicts of all sorts depart to freedom and new life.
But we do not want to go,
because it is safe and familiar and protected
to remain “under the spell” of another power.
And having left, we yeart to return…
to families only to find them different and strange,
to slaveries because freedom demands too much.
So we leave and return,
we grow and depart home and come home again;
we choose freedom and depart, but stay enthralled
to too many enslavements.
We confess, as we depart and return,
that you are the God of all our comings and goings,
you are the one who watches our
going out and our coming in.
For such trouble we pray your mercy,
that we may have courage and freedom,
and peaceable rest.
You, God of all of our futures.
Give us wisdom to follow where you lead us.