Unsettling the Word

Those in the watershed discipleship community will be interested in a recent book called Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization (Mennonite Church Canada, 2018), edited by Steve Heinrichs and illustrated by Jonathan Dyck. With 69 short entries by an excellent list of contributors, this book helps us grapple with ways the Christian tradition has been co-opted by empire, and uncover the stories and themes that help us connect with land, creation, and other people groups. The book is beautifully laid out, with artwork appearing throughout the book (see some examples here). A number of people connected to the watershed discipleship community contributed to the book, including Ched Myers, Katerina Friesen, Randy Woodley, Joshua Grace, Bob Haverluck, Rose Marie Berger, Wes Howard-Brook, and Robert Two Bulls. You may also recognize the names of several of the other contributors from biblical studies and various areas of theology, including Kwok Pui-lan, Joerg Rieger, Norman Habel, Walter Brueggemann, Miguel A. De La Torre, and Ellen F. Davis.

The reflections contained in this book are short — 3-5 pages each — and seek to reinterpret, wrestle with, or reimagine biblical texts, particularly pointing the reader toward Indigenous themes in the text, immigrants, and biblical interpretations from a variety of currently marginalized communities. The pieces include short essays, creative nonfiction, poetry, and retellings of scriptural stories. In the introduction, Heinrichs calls them “a powerful set of riffs on classic Scripture texts” (xvi).

To describe itself, Unsettling the Word says:

For generations, the Bible has been employed by settler colonial societies as a weapon to dispossess Indigenous and racialized peoples of their lands, cultures, and spiritualities. Given this devastating legacy, many want nothing to do with it. But is it possible for the exploited and their allies to reclaim the Bible from the dominant powers? Can we make it an instrument for justice in the cause of the oppressed? Even a nonviolent weapon toward decolonization? … Unsettling the Word is intended to nurture courageous conversations with the Bible, our current settler colonial contexts, and the Church’s call to costly peacemaking.

Unsettling the Word will be inspirational and challenging to those who are wondering how to go about this work of decolonizing the Christian tradition. With prophetic calls and poetic lyricism, each author roots the text in  truth that never loses sight of justice, love, and connection to our common home and Creator. You can use this text if you’re hoping to gain a new lens through which to view the Bible, or if you’re trying to write a sermon with awareness of Christianity’s imperialist context but you need a little help figuring out how. It will inspire you if you are already thinking this way and want some friends to walk along with you on the journey, and it will encourage you to dig deeper if you’re new to these ideas. Many of the pieces focus on the intersection of justice issues such as race, class, gender, sexual identity, and land, so it is very relevant for everyone seeking to grow in watershed discipleship.


Book launch video:

Contributors: Marcus Briggs-Cloud, Kathy Moorhead Thiessen, Kwok Pui-lan, Christina Conroy, Leah Gazan, Joerg Rieger, Norman Habel, Stan McKay, Rachel and Chris Brnjas, Jennifer Henry, Lori Ransom, Rebecca Voelkel, Peter Haresnape, Robert O. Smith, Susanne Guenther Loewen, Carmen Landsdowne, Cheryl Bear, Joshua Grace, Rarihokwats, Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, Joy De Vito, Tamara Shantz, Marc H. Ellis, Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, Sara Brubacher, Benjamin Hertwig, David Driedger, Pekka Pitkanen, Celine Chuang, Alain Epp Weaver, Musa W. Dube, Katerina Friesen, Anita L. Keith, Derrick Jensen, Roland Boer, Neil Elliott, Daniel Hawk, Randy Woodley, Lisa Martens, Tobin Miller Shearer, Walter Brueggemann, Miguel A. De La Torre, Vivian Ketchum, James W. Perkinson, Sara Anderson, Deanna Zantingh, Peter C. Phan, Sheila Klassen-Wiebe, Bob Haverluck, Mark Bigland-Pritchard, Chris Budden, Ellen F. Davis, Rose Marie Berger, Wes Howard-Brook, Gerald West, Julia M. O’Brien, Dan Epp-Tiessen, Ryan Dueck, Mitzi J. Smith, Sylvia McAdam, Robert Two Bulls, Ched Myers, Jonathan Dyck, Sarah Travis, Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, Kyla Neufeld