Thursday, May 30, 2013

Activating Language

a review of Fingerprints of Fire....Footprints of Peace: a Spiritual Manifesto from a Jesus Perspective by Noel Moules (Circle Books, 2012), by Mike Mallory

Noel Moules, a founding member of the Anabaptist Network UK, writes from a liberal Christian perspective.  He is inclusive in his theology, conveys a reassuring sense of knowledge about the subject and is a gentle yet persistent story-teller.  The text is well footnoted and the author concludes with a glossary that includes Hebrew, Greek and Sanskrit terms.  The glossary is helpful because Moules pressures his language to submit to his views that scripture is social gospel.

The book focuses on the teachings of Jesus rather than Christology or the worship of His divinity.  The readership likely to gain the most out of this work is activists looking for a deeper religious or spiritual grounding for their work.  This book conveys both a passion for taking up the call of social justice and a reading of the New Testament that becomes a manifesto for peace.

"Hope" and "Shalom" are two of the central notions of this book.  Like other terms examined by Moules, he rejects a sentimental reading in favour of a description of behaviors constituting an active quest for peace.  "Shalom," he claims is a verb masquerading as a noun.  While usually translated as "peace," this book asks us to understand the term as though it is a call from Jesus, the Justice-Maker, to join Him in the struggle for a world built on the harmonious wholeness implied by values such as compassion, respect and even love.  Similarly he gives depth to the word "hope."  "Hope" becomes more than wishful thinking, it is the unshakable vision in the ultimate triumph of the salvation of Shalom and our role in creating the City upon the Hill.  With his persistent language shifting, Moules' New Testament becomes not just a manifesto for peace, but for peace-making.

This book is more than one Christian writing for another.  The book is replete with quotations from most religious traditions.  I am not a Christian, not even a theist in any conventional sense.  But I am concerned about social and economic justice and I found the book both inspiring and informative about the message of Jesus as it relates to these important issues.  While I do not share a religious theology I am a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation and felt a included by his addition of the Unitarian Universalist symbol, the Flaming Chalice in his diagram on page 186.

And while the features of the book discussed above are worthy and justify publication, there is more.  What I liked most about this book was the patient retelling of the parables and sayings of Jesus.  To be honest, I have never felt the Bible was all that interesting, but the New Testament in Moules' telling is fresh, exciting and relevant.  I have never heard his interpretation of turning the other cheek before.  Moules turns the parable from stoic pacifism into a lesson on the psychological subversion of power. 

At the end of the book I was left wishing for more.  What I wanted was a complete Noel Moules compendium of the Bible.  A book that would rest the Bible from those who would use it as an excuse for an oppressive status quo and allow it be become a testament of speaking truth to power.

Mike Mallory

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