Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book Review: Proverbs of Ashes

Proverbs of Ashes, by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker

This book preceded by several years the Brock and Parker book Saving Paradise, which I read at about the time I started this blog.

Its central thesis is that the traditional atonement theology that emphasizes the suffering of Jesus on the Cross as a necessary redemption for humankind in fact sanctions abuse and violence, particularly against the oppressed.

As I've written here before, I have never put much stock in atonement theology. The church in which I grew up didn't stress it, and when I encountered it among some fundamentalist schoolmates, it seemed bizarre, wrongheaded, and even monstrous. Yet while I wasn't personally wounded by it, I developed a grim fascination with the belief system, a fascination that I've never really shaken.

Before I bought Proverbs of Ashes I had expected the book to be primarily theology, but it turns out it's mostly memoir laced with a theological exploration. The authors' accounts of their respective lives and the crises that led them to confront their own rejection of atonement theology are by turns harrowing and soothing, poignant and stark, but always boldly honest.

My takeaway message from it is that redemption isn't found in sacrifice but in connection and in self-respect. I get that, but, then what?

As moving and meaningful as I did find the book, I found myself wishing at the end for a more explicitly stated resolution, an alternative bumpersticker slogan that would state a progressive theology of Christ with the pithiness of the evangelist's sign I saw the other day ["1 Cross + 3 Nails = 4 Given"]. Of course, my wish for that misses some of the point, doesn't it? This is, after all, about a Christian witness that is too profound and too ambiguous to be boiled down to a bumpersticker.

Finally, there's a loose end for me.

Where does all of this leave the values of honorable and courageous willingness to risk all for a larger goal and principle?

I'm thinking most immediately of the Freedom Riders, whose story was told this week on Public TV. They willingly endured brutal and potentially fatal violence in the name of human rights. I don't think they saw the violence itself as redemptive or necessary. But they did see the willingness to endure it as necessary to the larger goal of making it possible for all people to travel freely across the land as they chose(although, as the PBS documentary shows, they were perhaps naive about the dangers they would face).

Less dramatically and more contemporaneously, I think of the resurgent interest in missional church, which emphasizes selflessness and willingness to lose oneself in service to the larger community.

Proverbs of Ashes doesn't dismiss such values as much as simply ignore them, at least as far as I can tell. It's that final connection that's missing for me, and that I'd like to see someone ultimately address.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review and the social justice implications of suffering, DSD!

    On the MFC's required reading list for persons wishing to be fellowshipped as UU ministers, in the section called "Core 20th-Century Unitarian and Universalist Theologies," this book is in a choose-two-of-three section together with Sharon Welch's A Feminist Ethic of Risk and Charles Hartshorne's The Divine Relativity. I'll be reading this book, then, before too long. So it is good to see a review that is not mere encomium, as most that I've seen are.


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