Saturday, January 14, 2012

Book Review: Blessed to Follow by Martha E. Stortz

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I have run across Stortz's writing before in The Promise of Lutheran Ethics and Faithful Conversations. Her contributions to both were among my favorite essays in each collection. So I added Blessed to Follow: The Beatitudes as a Compass for Discipleship to my Christmas list. Not only did I like Stortz from what I had read previously, but the Sermon on the Mount is central to my faith.

This book is from the Lutheran Voices series which offers shorter, easy to read, and easy to use in group study resources for congregations and individuals. It's also priced right. Of the 10 chapters in this book, three stood out for me. The Introduction is an excellent introduction to Lutheran theology and cites Luther quite a bit given it few pages it takes up. The chapter on "blessed are those who mourn" and "blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake" stand out as well not only for their theological insights, but for the personal narratives Stortz weaves into her writing. In many ways, she reminds me of Dorothee Soelle who is able to draw upon medieval poetry and 60s folk music in the same paragraph.

There was one glaring omission. In the "blessed are the peacemakers" chapter, Stortz avoids war and peacemaking almost entirely, deciding instead to focus on interpersonal peace. This is certainly important and central to discipleship, but peace on the national and international level is equally important. I suppose the literature already available on pacifism and peacemaking is already substantial, but a nod to these works could have been sufficient to note how important the cessation of war is to this beatitude.

This subject also raises a few interesting questions for me. Is Jesus's salvific power found in his life or in his death and resurrection? Should we focus on his 3 years of earthly ministry or on his 3 days in death's bondage? I admit this is probably a false dilemma. After all, as Bonhoeffer points out, following the Sermon on the Mount inevitably leads to the cross. But where should our focus be: on attempting as best we can to place our faith in Jesus's message -- the one that preaches the beatitudes, or attempting to place our faith in the cross? I imagine a well-developed personal spirituality would resolve the apparent dichotomy. But I wouldn't know -- I'm developing as opposed to developed.

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