Theology From Exile Volume II: The Year of Matthew—Review

This month I’ve been reading Theology from Exile Volume II: The Year of Matthew, by Sea Raven. I was really excited to get this book for review. My main purpose was selfish — this book comes with different liturgies.

Now, I’m becoming somewhat of a liturgy junky. I love them! I like the cadence (rhythm). I like the phrasing. I like the movement (flow) from one piece to the next. I’m always on the lookout for more. When I got the email for this book, it stated, “Appendix One contains reimagined rituals of Holy Communion that reflect an invitation to commit to the ongoing salvation work of nonviolent, distributive justice-compassion.”

Well, that’s what the email said for volume I, the year of Luke. What was offered was volume II. Either way, “reimagined rituals” are right up my alley, so I downloaded the ebook and got started.

Oof…

What a hard read. Not from the standpoint of it being too deep or over my head, but it’s just plain abrasive. In the introduction, Raven states, “A clergy friend (now retired) describes the cherry-picking among the various portions of scripture as having been put together by ‘drunken elves’” (pg. 11). Therefore, throughout the book, she continues to call the contributors to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) as “Elves.” She goes on to state, “While ‘the Elves” may seem to be subject to quite a bit of abuse here, no individual disrespect is intended” (ibid.). With a little tongue-in-cheek, Raven adds, “In addition, it is by no means an insult to the nobility of the Elven Race (as described by J.R.R. Tolkien) who long ago abandoned Middle Earth to its fate — a caution to those who use proof-texting to justify compliance with Empire” (ibid.).

Now, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m all for pointing out the errors of the Empirical Religious Business called “church.” But, I hope, that I don’t do it with such a snarky attitude. Calling the contributors to the RCL as “Elves” leaves a bad taste in the mouth. She may claim that there’s not disrespect meant, but it sure comes across that way.

Furthermore, she sets up a false dichotomy, in my opinion. She states that the “underlying framework” for this series is four questions:

  1. What is the nature of God? Violent or nonviolent?
  2. What is the nature of Jesus’ message? Inclusive or exclusive?
  3. What is faith? Literal belief, or trust in God’s realm of distributive justice-compassion?
  4. What is deliverance? Salvation from hell or liberation from injustice?

My problem with these questions is not so much the questions themselves but the “either / or” answers. If one wants to make a case for the “correct” answers as outlined here, one should be at least open to other possibilities. Furthermore, as I stated above, Raven’s “either / or” answers create a false dichotomy. That is, one could argue that those answers are two sides of the same coin. One could have “literal belief” and “trust in God’s realm of distributive justice-compassion.”

And that, to me, is the issue throughout the whole book. Over and over again, Raven paints the readings in a very dual way — with only her interpretation as the “correct” or legitimate interpretation. This, coupled with her derogatory view of the collaborators of the RCL really rubs me the wrong way. Granted there are some beautiful things in this book, here’s an example:

Approaching John’s metaphor [of testifying to the light; John 1.7 — j+] to postmodern mythological experience, if we embrace Jesus as the bringer of spiritual light to the world and we take into ourselves Jesus’s radical, if we embrace Jesus as the bringer of spiritual light to the world and we take into ourselves Jesus’s radical, nonviolent abandonment of self-interest (love), then we also become bringers of the light. We also participate as word and wisdom in the realm of distributive justice-compassion. (pg. 27).

Brilliant stuff. Here’s another one:
Jesus was born during the Roman occupation of Palestine, under the rule of Caesar Augustus, somewhere between the years of 4 B.C.E. and 4 C.E. It was a time of repression, oppression, extreme poverty, and constant rebellion against Roman rule. The Jewish people had a long history of wars and occupations. Nevertheless, they believed that God is just, and the world belongs to God. So whenever they experienced injustice and political turmoil, they knew that God would act to restore God’s justice to the world. Otherwise, God would not be God. Matthew’s story shows that Jesus is the one sent by God to set things right. God has acted, through the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus (pg. 29).

Again, brilliant.

Unfortunately, one has to slog through all sorts of deprecatory gunk just to get to some good points. Those few nuggets don’t outweigh the rest of the book, sadly enough.

As I stated above, I was really looking forward to this book, and the reworked liturgies based on a post-modern worldview are great, but they’re few and very far between the rest of the book. I’d rate this two stars on Amazon’s rating system. And it only gets those because of the “reimagined rituals.”



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In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

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#SpeakeasyTheologyfromExile
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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