Brueggemann, dayenu and the blood on the books
I was selling books once at a Bread for the World gala—BFW is a faith-based lobbying group trying to protect (at least) and expand (please, God) social programs and federal budget commitments to the poor—and there were some big-wigs from Washington there, folks from the World Bank, the head of the Department of Agriculture, a few Bishops, denominational execs. I didn’t know Brueggemann at the time, and was unprepared for his passion and power as he preached after the banquet. There were long lines of people at the book display and I was nearly overwhelmed (doing that event by myself is still one of our more memorable gaffs.) I had cut my finger quite badly on a sharp metal bookend and was bleeding a bit, blood literally dripping down my sleeve as I held my tissued finger high as I rang the cash register. Except for one dear nurse who ran out to a local pharmacy and brought back bandages, nobody in this good crowd of socially-aware activists said a word. I was in distress, wiping little droplets of blood off the book jackets. Not a word of concern from anybody.
After a busy half-hour or so of my one-handed changing-making fiasco, the event was over. The crowds were gone, the hangers-on were getting autographs as somebody was ushering Dr. Brueggemann out, to some private reception on Capitol Hill or in the White House (as I said, this was a few years back.)
Walt made a big point to his handlers that he wanted to go back and thank the bookseller. He gave me the big thumbs up, offered his thanks for doing the heavy lifting, and then—you guessed it—said, “Man, you’re bleeding! What did you do to your finger? Are you gonna be all right?”
Brueggemann had preached about trusting God in this age of scarcity where we fret and fight over resources guided by an ideology and a globalized commitment to economic progress, using Isaiah, Moses and Wendell Berry, naming the anxiety that such scrambling produces. He powerfully taught us a Hebrew word—dayenu-- about God’s abundance, the gift of brimming shalom that comes from the memory of the manna texts, and we cried it out over and over…
And then he illustrated his keen care for the hurting in this simple little act of kindness. One need not agree with all his hermeneutical moves, his unique interpretations of Scripture, let alone his theology or politics. But, I want to say again: he is the real deal. I hope you read last night’s blog; if you started it and your eyes got droopy, please try again. I didn’t begin to do him justice and at least knowing about the books I described is important.
A version of the sermon Dr. Brueggemann preached at that Bread for the World meeting, by the way, is found in an anthology of his pieces. The chapter is called “The Truth of Abundance: Relearning Deyenu” in The Covenanted Self: Explorations in Law and Covenant (Fortress; $18.00.) Another version of that message as I remember it is “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity” included in a similarly great collection, Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope: Contested Truth in a Post-Christian World (Fortress; $17.00.)