PITY the poor writer who agrees to review a Walter Brueggemann book, sight unseen: such recklessness. On this occasion, fortune smiles. What lands on the Vicarage doormat is not one of the eminent Old Testament scholar’s bicep-toning volumes, but a slim hardback barely 100 pages long; nor is it any the worse for that.
In Interrupting Silence, Brueggemann examines eight biblical narratives where the puncturing of silence is the trigger for God to bring about rescue, restoration, or healing. From the cries of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt to the Syro-Phoenician woman gate-crashing that Jewish dinner party, Brueggemann highlights the ways, in scripture, in which speaking out unbalanced the status quo and power structures of the day.
Inevitably, there is much to challenge us today. “Silence and tacit consensus always, without fail, protect privilege. That is why the privileged are characteristically silencers.” It takes the “poetic interruptions” of the prophets (Amos in this instance) to “speak an unwelcome word amid his self-deceived society that features bad labour policy, unfair taxation, and shameless exhibits of surplus wealth”. Remind you of anywhere? It is beginning to look as if it may take more than a tweet to speak truth to power.
The breaking of silence is personal as well as political. In a chapter on Psalm 32, we are reminded of the human tendency to repress our own failures, and how the honest talk of confession liberates us from our self-delusion.
And what are we to make of Paul’s injunction that women keep silent in church (1 Corinthians 14)? No spoilers here, but Brueggemann has some points about that and the other “old silences still being broken” today. “The old pattern of silencing served old-time religion, and old-time religion is in the service of old-time politics of domination and old-time economics of privilege.” But new voices are being heard that put such times in jeopardy.
The Revd Fraser Dyer is Vicar of St Anne and All Saints, South Lambeth, in the diocese of Southwark, and the author of Who Are We to Judge? Empathy and discernment in a critical age (SPCK, 2015).
Interrupting Silence: God’s command to speak out
Hodder & Stoughton £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.89