Alain Epp Weaver. States of Exile: Visions of Diaspora, Witness, and Return. (Scottdale and Waterloo: 2008). <http://store.mpn.net/productdetails.cfm?PC=354>
Alain Epp Weaver's book, States of Exile, is a collection of essays which bring together theological reflections on the identity of the church, arising out of the author's more than ten years of Mennonite Central Committee service in the Middle East.
The book is divided into three sections, with three or four chapters in each section. Part I is called "Diaspora." It explores the concept of exile (or diaspora) for the church. Exile is not only a political condition but a critical perspective that a people gain when they are not fully "at home." In Epp Weaver's view, the church is called to an exilic identity, never identifying with one nation-state.
Part II, called "Witness," examines how the church witnesses to the wider world, including the state. The church's primary witness, Epp Weaver contends, is its worship of God and its faithful practices of peace, justice, mercy and reconciliation. The church must also be prepared to receive the witness of "secular parables" from outside the church.
Part III, entitled "Return," covers a variety of themes more specific to the Palestine-Israel context. One chapter contrasts Israel's construction of the massive security wall with Ephesians' vision of Christ breaking down walls. Another chapter discusses the charged concept of terrorism and suggests ways that pacifists may respond to terrorism, whether committed by the state or "non-state actors." Two other chapters examine the issue of Palestinians' hoped-for return to the land.
The main idea that Epp Weaver conveys through this collection of essays is that exile and return are not mutually exclusive. For Christians, exile (disapora) is not only a place of loss and suffering, but also a site of redemption, as God's people discover what it means to live faithfully and missionally among those who claim other loyalties. Likewise, genuine return is not about an end of exile and a return to a pristine past, as much as it is about "homecoming where exile shapes the meaning of home." The inseparable concepts of exile and return should, in Epp Weaver's view, lead God's people to live lightly in the land wherever they find themselves, and in ways that include justice, peace and compassion for all.
Epp Weaver's audience includes people interested in the church's identity in the world today and those with a special interest in the Middle East. Readers who have a background in the thinking of John Howard Yoder, a major influence in Epp Weaver's thinking, and a basic understanding of the history, politics and people of Palestine-Israel, will benefit most.
Some readers will be challenged by Epp Weaver's hard-hitting critique of Zionism and the church's reluctance to challenge what he considers the Jewish form of Constantinianism. Still others will be discomfited by his concept of the church "not being in charge" in its encounters with people of other faiths. He raises important questions that the North American church should grapple with.
Epp Weaver's essays are rooted in his MCC experience of living and working among Israelis and Palestinians. Through encounters with Jews, Muslims and Palestinian Christians, he has gained deep insights into the identity and witness of the North American church today. His book is yet another example of the profound gifts that arise out of cross-cultural and inter-faith encounters.
Reviewed by Esther Epp-Thiessen. Esther is Peace Ministries Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee Canada. She has experience as a researcher, writer and pastor. She has visited the Middle East a number of times and is a contributor to Under Vine and Fig Tree: Biblical Theologies of Land and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. <http://www.cascadiapublishinghouse.com/uft/uft.htm>