Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed

Vern RAnother short and sweet book review-summary from legendary pastor Vern Ratzlaff, posting up on the Canadian prairies, pouring his heart and mind into anti-imperial theology and soul-tending.  Vern turns 80 this week.  As Ched Myers noted a few days ago: “in his long ministry he has opened so many new ways of being Anabaptist in a pluralistic world, ways that many of us try to walk with him.” We honor this elder for his service and way-of-Being in the world–a model of radical discipleship.

Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed. William Herzog, Westminster, 1994.

Herzog focuses on the parables from the social/cultural analysis of Freire, Brazilian educator, whose work with the poor brought new attention to what could help people accept a perspective that would move beyond the immediate poverty and loss of hope. Herzog traces carefully the shifting interpretation systems of Jesus ‘the Parabaler’ and presents an interpretational approach that compares it with Freire’s methodology. Continue reading

Worship & Power

VernThe legendary Vern Ratzlaff (right), Canadian Mennonite pastor and professor, was sporting his 5-inch beard long before practically every American white guy under 35 started growing theirs. Vern is spending free time at his outpost in Saskatoon reading dense anti-imperial theology and preparing sermons for Sundays at the rural church he’s been the interim pastor for the past decade. This is an excerpt from a paper entitled “Worship and Power” that he wrote for the Baptist Peace Fellowship a few years ago: Continue reading

Ratzlaff Review: Paul & The Roman Imperial Order

VernThe legendary Vern Ratzlaff (right), Canadian Mennonite pastor and professor, was sporting his 5-inch beard long before practically every American white guy under 35 started growing theirs. Vern is spending free time at his outpost in Saskatoon reading dense anti-imperial theology and writing concise summaries for the rest of us.

A Ratzlaff Review of Paul and the Roman Imperial Order. (ed) Richard Horsley, Trinity Press, 2004.

Here is another wonderful treatment of Pauline struggles with the cultural and political and social and religious strands of the first century. Horsley states the task clearly in the introduction to the eight essays that make up this volume. We have ‘traditionally understood Paul in opposition to Judaism. Luther’s discovery of ‘justification by faith’ in Paul’s letter to the Romans became the formative religious experience through which Paul’s letters have been read’ (p 1). Continue reading

Ratzlaff Reviews: The Message & The Kingdom

VernThe legendary Vern Ratzlaff (right), Canadian Mennonite pastor and professor, was sporting his 5-inch beard long before practically every American white guy under 35 started growing theirs. Vern is spending free time at his outpost in Saskatoon reading dense anti-imperial theology and writing concise summaries for the rest of us. He reported this week of “an orgy of fresh tomatoes” in his garden.

The Message and the Kingdom, J. Richard Horsley & Neil Silberman, GrossetPutnam, 1999.

The Message and the Kingdom is a careful analysis of the religious, political and social aspects of the Roman empire; the world of Jesus and of Paul was not only a spiritual battleground but a landscape of far-reaching dislocation, cultural conflict and political change.

The book points out how the message of Jesus resounded among a people suffering under Roman tyranny. The revolutionary message of Jesus ignited these listeners, infuriating the Roman imperial establishment. Saul of Tarsus had a vision that persuaded him to deliver Jesus’ message throughout the empire.

Horsley’s and Silberman’s book shows how the message of Jesus and Paul was shaped by the history of their time and by the social conditions of the congregations to whom they preached. The book details how the quest for the kingdom of G-d by Jesus and Paul is both a spiritual journey and a political response to the acts of violence, inequality and injustice that characterized the kingdom of humans.

Paul’s writings ‘are extracts from the handwritten journal of a revolutionary work-in-progress—a collection of passionate notes from the underground.’ (p 147) ‘Membership in the kingdom of G-d offered disenfranchised people a means to empowerment.’ (p 153) As implementation of this vision, the Philippian church was in partnership in the form of financial sacrifice (Phil 4:l)(p 154), a situation where ‘community was everything and personal status a thing to be despised.’ (p 155). Sharing their wealth with those with whom they had no blood kinship or political connection, the assemblies committed themselves to self sacrifice and on effecting a particular social change (p 185).

Ratzlaff Reviews: How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian

VernThe heart of God’s justice is to make sure that the “weak and the orphan” have received their share of God’s resources for them to live and thrive. Retributive justice comes in only when that ideal is violated.
John Dominic Crossan, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis Through Revelation (2015)
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The legendary Vern Ratzlaff (above), Canadian Mennonite pastor and professor, was sporting his 5-inch beard long before practically every American white guy under 35 started growing theirs. Vern is spending free time at his outpost in Saskatoon reading dense anti-imperial theology and writing concise summaries for the rest of us. Here is a recent submission on John Dominic Crossan’s latest publication: How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis Through Revelation (2015, Harper Collins)
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Do we have to deal with a bipolar G-d, a G-d of vengeance and retribution in the Old Testament and a G-d of mercy and love and rehabilitation in the New Testament? A violent G-d and a non-violent Jesus? Crossan develops a way to deal with this conundrum. He takes seriously the full sweep of biblical data. For example, the Year of Jubilee, Leviticus 25, spells out that the land belongs to G-d and every fiftieth year was to be a Jubilee, a year of liberation, redemption and restoration. But if this was the understanding of land tenure, why is there so little mention of it in later texts? Eg Isaiah 5:8 is a diatribe against expansion of real estate ownership. Why the move from divine decree to mere suggestion? Continue reading

From Vern’s Empire Subverting Library

vern ratzlaff
Since September 11, 2001, however, we can no longer rest comfortably with such domesticated pictures of Jesus. We can no longer ignore the impact of Western imperialism on subordinated peoples and the ways in which peoples whose lives have been invaded sometimes react. The “coincidental” historical analogy is too disquieting, that is, that the Roman Empire had come to control the ancient Middle East, including Galilee and Judea, where Jesus operated.
Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder
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The legendary Vern Ratzlaff (above), Canadian Mennonite pastor and professor, was sporting his 5-inch beard long before practically every American white guy under 35 started growing theirs. Vern is spending free time at his outpost in Saskatoon reading dense anti-imperial theology and writing concise summaries for the rest of us. Here is a recent submission on an earlier work of Richard Horsley’s entitled Jesus and the Spiral of Violence (1993)–more important than ever:

Horsley summarizes the political and social times of Jesus and Jesus’ reactions to these, especially the role of violence in Palestine during Jesus’ time. The reality of violence extends well beyond the direct, personal and physical; there is also psychological or spiritual violence, acts that impair other persons’ dignity or integrity…. To make (people) live on a subhuman level against their will, to constrain them in such a way that they have no hope of escaping their condition, is an unjust exercise of force (p 21,22).
Continue reading