This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
It said that the world is broken into pieces and everyone has to find them and put them back together. Nick: Maybe we don't have to find it. Maybe we are the pieces. (From Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) There is this moment that erupts in one of cinema’s more postmodern interpretations of the romantic comedy; in 500 Days of Summer, when the main protagonist is met with an invitation from a girl he has had a fractured relationship with. As he makes his way up the stairs the screen splits and reveals two sides to the story. One is how the event is happening in real life, the other is how the angstconsumed character wishes it would turn out. One thing we notice outright is how distinctly different reality is from what he hopes to happen. There is also something else happening that we might too easily miss between the two conversations occurring, there is a third conversation. A third dialogue. It is the struggle between reality and wishful thinking. It’s referred to as the gap. Most of the time what isn’t being said is more truthful than what is being uttered. It’s the third truth. The truth from the first speaker to the second speaker is one truth, the response from the second speaker to the first speaker is the second truth and so on. The third truth in the future of the Church, if it has one, I think is not found in the conversation between the Church of the past and the Church of the now, but in the gap that lies between the two. The third truth is not an easy one to accept because it is one we know nothing about. It is a mystery. In the 15th century there was a small collective of Benedictine Monks who posed that God was an Abyss. God was endless black hole. A gap. This idea did not go over so well with those in power, God wasn’t a black hole, God was a list of descriptors like: Lord of Lords, Creator, Father and so on. To the religious elite God was a description rather than a mystery. To these monastic outsiders he was the unspoken, he was the moment of darkness in the light. This is the gap. This gap in its own reality is a rupture, a tear, a break, a violent divorce from the two perspectives and a culmination into one that lies beyond a simple shared perspective. But the reality is, as we see in the crucifixion, one perspective has to die for the other to live. But then resurrection happens, a third dialogue is introduced, one of violent redemption and rebirth. Violent, not in the sense of war, violent as in the sense of ideological insurrection, a radical shift in perspective. This gap is an uncomfortable place because it reminds us of a lack that is present not only in what we can see, hear, taste and feel, but
is at the very core of our foundation. If you walk down a street and there is a big gaping hole, eventually it’s going to be filled and sealed because it’s a dangerous place. You might trip and fall and lose your very life. If you can’t walk from point A to point B because there is a huge body of water (which tends to another symbol for the gap) then we create a bridge to cross. We wouldn’t want to wade into the middle because there is a possibility of drowning. The gap is a place where death occurs. Where the sides, the polarities, our ideas about how things should be dissolve into nothing and we are left with the gap. If both sides do just this, then we have this nothing in common, this nothing to start from. But as long as we reside in our prospective camps, we will do everything we can to defend our kingdoms. Jesus too had to deal with the gap. His audience anticipated that he was going to deliver them. That he was going to be some Terminator Jesus sent into time to release the oppressed, not from the bondages of sin though, but rather the bondages of Rome and all that it stood for. At this point Jesus was nothing more than a radical symbol for Jewish nationalism. But Jesus had a different agenda. He came to do something radically different. That would shift the way we interact with each other. In this situation there is something unseen that is occurring, something we might easily read past because we think we are fully aware of the story and its details. There is another conversation that is happening, but in this conversation there is an apparent gap. Between the expectations of the Jewish audience and the already seemingly pre-determined agenda of Jesus there is the subtext of anticipation present on both sides of this dialogue. The internal monologues are going wild. But its’ not the dialogue itself I want to spend time on, it’s the gap between the audience and Jesus’ agenda. This gap is the most neglected (and yet the most important moment) that seems to reoccur over and over again when Jesus is interacting with his audience and closest friends. Without this gap the future of the Church will not happen. If the future of the Church is to happen (as so many are now discussing), then rather than attempting to mediate whether the world or itself should be on either side of the gap, it must come to terms that its purpose is to be the gap itself. For the where gap resides, God resides. For some this might sound like a completely ambiguous space to inhabit that will never lead anywhere, but, I
posit that this is the space where the most tension will and could occur. Jesus and Paul had a similar mission, to reform their prospective faith communities. Jesus came to reform Judaism, historically speaking. Paul came to bridge the gap between Judaism, Christianity and ultimately the rest of the world. But Paul doesn’t naively bridge the gap, in fact, Paul ruptures the gap. At one point he even radicalizes the notion of society not as separate categories we all fit in, but rather as a unifying whole. He distances himself from the dualism of the day, a notion I think we as the Church might need to revisit and rethink. He says “There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesusi.” First Paul deconstructs what I call the categorical imperative which is our desire to separate things into their neat little boxes. I am a writer. I am a father. I am a mother. I am a sister. I am male. I am a female. I’m black. I’m white. I’m Christian. I’m atheist. By doing this, we violently dissect ourselves into separate identities. But Paul doesn’t end the social critique without a response of something better. He then redefines social identity all together, he claims that all are in Christ. That the whole of those who exist within these coded binaries – which is the whole of society (then and now) are hidden in Christ. Ultimately, Paul is dismantling the established notion that Christians exist. In fact, he is positing a new restructuring of how we interact with our identities, a new way to see humanity as a whole. In this context, Paul is stating that Christians don’t exist, but rather Christ exists within all. That hidden within the fabric of humanity is the kernel of Christ inhabiting our very beings. Christ inhabits us rather then the other way around. The Churches role is to provide a safe space for this dialogue to occur, rather then simply assume that we are meant to bring people to some sort of chemically-induced conversion experience. What if we are meant to search out opportunities for conversation that lead to transformation. But what transformation do I speak of? Television fills our minds with image after image of things we are meant to desire. Marketing agents spend countless hours working alongside psychologists to determine the best way to approach an advertisement so that it creates a gap within the viewer that can seemingly be filled by this unique product if purchased. Desire then becomes contingent on our need to believe that the product will be what we need it to be. Ultimately, the product then is designed to assist us in defining ourselves. It seems over the thousands of years that the Church has been around it has been in an identity crisis. It ultimately attempts to follow the media techniques of manipulating our desire and
projecting on to us what itself lacks. Let me explain. Church history is filled with polarized conversations about God, Jesus, ethics and a library of other philosophies. From Paul to Peter, Augustine to Marcion, Piper to Bell and all those who tend to be forgotten in-between. Those that spend their time dissecting their own understanding of theology end up struggling through years of guilt, shame and catholic practices meant to absolve us of such pervasive emotions. The Church’s role is not to define us, but rather like Paul, help undefine us. I think this is such an important distinction, because for so long we have held onto lies hiding themselves within dogma. That somehow God doesn’t trust humanity, or that God is angry with usii, death of the subject. Philosopher Michel Focault posited the death of the subject. The subject is another term for certain perceptions on what it means to be human. In the death of the subject, there misperceptions are laid down for something better to take their place. I think this thought can be relevantly applied to where the church is meant to reside in the course of human history and why I think it has struggled for so long. There is presently a controversial conversation occurring throughout Christendom about the future of the institutional Church and what will happen to the structures and more importantly can the Church exists as a post-institutional expression. Post-Institution means there is a place where no institutions lie. Where no structures exist. A place of free interpretation and expression. A place with no walls. A place where the community known as humanity can participate in the scandalous reinvention of the Church. Now one of the main questions arising out of such an idea is that can the Church which has evolved into a stayed institution still make its marks as a post-structural entity? I think this is a fair question that deserves a comprehensive response and I hope to do justice to in this book. I think a good place to start is the assumption that we are meant to be a structure at all. That somehow the first-century gathering of the ekklesiaiii was meant to be what we now call the church. So, what is the ekklesia? An initial reading might lead us to agree that it is simply defined as a called out group of people. But I think this definition is a bit naïve and does not take into account the subversive history that comes with such a term. It was a term loaded with political
context and involved an assembly of ragtag locals and outsiders who came together. Author R.K. Sinclair says this about the emergence of the Athenian ekklesia “The ecclesia or ekklesia was the principal assembly of the democracy of ancient Athens during its "Golden Age" (480– 404 BCE). It was the popular assembly, opened to all male citizens over the age of 18 by Solon in 594 BC meaning that all classes of citizens in Athens were able to participate, even the thetes. The ekklesia opened the doors for all citizens, regardless of class, to nominate and vote for magistrates—indirectly voting for the Areopagus—have the final decision on legislation, war and peace, and have the right to call magistrates to account after their year of office.” The ekklesia was a forum where everyone had a voice. Everyone could share. No matter whatever walk of life they came from, in this moment, everyone was an equal. Now in reality, equality is never equal. Even the equilibrium switch on your radio relies upon other aspects of sound control to project what we might deem as equilibrium. So for equality to truly work the natural order has to be disrupted. The status quo has to be upset. The equilibrium button on your radio has to be broken. And maybe, just maybe, how we define equality has to be redefined. I think this starts with how we approach the idea of Church. Philosopher and cultural theorist Julia Kristeva defines the term ekklesia as a ‘community of foreigners’. This ekklesia is a ‘community of foreigners’. It is an ‘ideal community’, ‘an original entity’, a ‘messianism that includes all of humankind’ivin short, nothing less than a transformed society’’v. Notice that Kristeva makes the distinction that its not simply a community of the same people gathering once a week, but rather is a community of outsiders. A collective of exiles. For those who don’t belong, this is the place to come and belong. I think its also important that she also distinguishes this idea of the ekklesia as something formed by the whole of humanity rather than simply an exclusive group of spiritually caffeinated cult followers. I think we need to distinguish ourselves not as religious junkies, but as people are selfsubversive to our own ideas and who welcome and create space for this self-subversion. a room full of foreigners. The experience recorded in the book of Acts by the author speaks descriptively of a moment when those present begin speaking not in some transcendental heavenly language but in idioms that others present could understand. A room full of foreigners, outsiders, and quite possibly even from different religious expressions. All in the
same room. Together. As onevi. Could this be a metaphor for something bigger? For something much more beautiful than what we now offer? Maybe this is what it means to be the ekklesia, the Church. A globalized expression of communal giving and receiving, and most of all understanding. When Jesus meets with Nicodemus who is a devout follower of the Torah and tells him that the God so loved the world, Jesus doesn’t then specify that there must be a rubric for what we now call salvation. But rather the assumption is that the world is already saved regardless of acceptance. But Jesus is even more subversive earlier on when he tells Nicodemus that he must be ‘born again’. Notice though who Jesus is talking to, not someone who does not know him, which many define the terms to relate to, but rather someone who thinks he knows about God very well. The Hebrew word for born is Yalad it has to do with family lineage, the closes English equivalent would be a family tree. Jesus tells a religious leader to get a new family tree. To leave the old one behind. What? Really? In a familial culture Jesus is telling Nicodemus to give up his current family and find a new one? Well, this is what Nicodemus thought Jesus meant too, but then Jesus speaks about how the Spirit (another metaphor for God) is like the wind, something we can’t grasp. Something transcendental. Jesus is inviting this reputable community religious leader to give it all up: power, prestige, knowledge – even at the risk of losing those he holds so dear. It would be like someone walking up to you and saying ‘the only way you can learn about this is by giving up everything you think you know about it. Or as philosopher Baudrillard once said: ‘It is precisely in history that we are alienated, and if we leave history we also leave alienation’. If there is a future for the post-institutional Church I think it lies in these words. So, what is history? History are the memories of humankind. Augustana is a rock-band from Georgia who have written a song entitled ‘Boston’ that tells the story of a broken girl who wants only to rid herself of her past. She wants to forget her own history. Her solution is to move from California to Boston. To leave it all behind. Some might hear this and assume I am saying we need to completely remove ourselves from our historical origins, in reality we can’t. We are our history. But ultimately this is what Christ is inviting Nicodemus (and the rest of us) to do – to get rid of our history. To alienate ourselves from everything we think we know. To return to where we started…the gap.
scapegoat logic. Julia Kristeva defines sacrifice as the following: ‘Sacrifice is an offering that, out of a substance, creates Meaning for the Other and, consequently, for the social group that is dependent on it’. In other words, you obliterate something concrete – a red heifer, a goat, a human being – in order to produce the abstract sense of the group. The most common way in which that happens is to transfer the group’s ‘sins’ symbolically onto the scapegoat and then cast all this evil out of the community – by banishing the scapegoat – for the wellbeing of the community. The catch here is that you create the symbolic notion of the group in the very process of identifying what is good and bad about itvii. The Scapegoat logic I believe is one of many things that has kept the Church from moving into the gap.I think in some way the Church has become its very own scapegoat. Let me explain. On one side we have conservative Christ-followers and on the other side the liberal Christ-followers. For all intense-purposes, let’s imagine no middle exists here. Simply stated there are only two sides to choose from, which most of the time seems the case. We need something to blame in order to enhance a false sense of unity within the group(s) we attach ourselves to. Let’s think about this some more. The victim mentality is where someone finds a way to turn any situation against themselves, and it seems that it always turns out that they are victim. For them, the buck doesn’t stop with them, its always one step ahead of them and everyone else should be to blame for any and all misfortune. But this act is a peculiarly salvific one, because it gives the false victim a sense of purpose and meaning that exists beyond their current circumstances. The debates on the edges, the ones’ where we attack each other are really altars where we’re injuring and killing one another in the name of the symptom. The greatest lie we could believe is that the person standing next to us is our enemy, it blinds and distracts us from the reality that the system is the problem. The system does not want us to know its there or that it even exists. As long as we continue fighting against ‘flesh and blood’ the systems will live on. For all intense purposes in our conversation here, the system is the Church. Subvert the system. But what does this all have to do with “scapegoating”? Our television screens are pregnant with commercials centred around the subject of ageing, in fact product lines and celebrities
endorse an obscene amount of anti-ageing products. This perverse advocacy demonstrates that deeply embedded within the psyche of society is a fear of ageing and ultimately death. This tactic is one of selfpreservation, the media does not want to become obsolete, so it has to create a need for it to still remain within our field of vision. The commercial itself does not care if you live or die or age or don’t age. It simply is. The commercial is a medium for something more sinister, which is that the media as an entity doesn’t want to die and will do whatever it takes to stay alive. It has to choose an issue or topic to sustain a false-validity; in this example, ageing is the scapegoat. Unfortunately, because the Church has feared its own irrelativity it too has had to create scapegoat issues such as : homosexuality, women’s participation, A conversation centred around the idea of Church without its previous structures demonstrates to us a need. An underlying need that most want to discuss but have not due to the controversy of such a subject. There is an old joke about subjects not to talk about at family gatherings if we want to keep the familial peace: politics and religion. Which in and of themselves are not divisive topics, but when you get people who are passionate about either side you then have war. This seems to be the same with the current heated debate over whether the Church in its current form will last over the next ten years or so. This is why I think the polarities are the issue. This is why I think we need something that doesn’t lie on either side nor do we need to assume that there is a meeting in the middle that needs to happen. Everyone being the same is the last thing we need for the Church, plus homogeneity seemed to be the name of the game over the last few centuries. In some era’s if your theology didn’t fit in the right box, you were burned alive or maybe even worse you were forced to swallow liquid gold. Maybe were in a new era. One where the left, right or even middle does not exist. But rather a gap. Let’s think about this laterally. If you grab a shovel from a nearby shed and started digging, eventually, you would have a mound of dirt to your right or left then you would have a gap where two sides reside. Notice where you stand. You are the very gap between the two polarities. In this moment, you embody the gap. You are the gap. It is in this gap where the Church is meant to reside. You are the Church. This is not some naively mediocre space, historically the gap has not had anyone to stand there, most of us have chosen a side. There is a point in the life of Joshua, the Israelite army commander when in the middle of a pivotal battle he is visited by an angel, one of the representatives of God, and asks an important question. He asks: So who’s side are you on? – The angel answers : neither. This response is carried with the gravity of the divine. Here is this transcendental being who has the ability or represents the ability to see all and a man who is stereotypically a finite being interacting on the topic of the ethics of war and in the
end, the best ethic is one that doesn’t exist because ultimately war should not exist. There should not be sides because the gap between the two is the very place where both sides must implode to save the middle. Be rest assured the gap is a dangerous place to be. It is a place where we lay down our arms and surrender them for the embrace. It is a place where there is no Jew, no Greek, no Black, white, Methodist, Baptist, Buddhist, terrorist, and etc. A place where all of these signifiers dissolve and collapse. This is a place where a non-contingent grace resided. So, then what is the answer? If the Church as is doesn’t work anymore, what can we put in its place? I think this is the wrong question. The assumption is that our critique must lead us to another answer and that somehow this new answer is meant to fix everything else, but in reality we all know this is not the case, because once we offer something that new something will eventually be taken over by another new something and so on. I think Jesus illicits a similar response when he responds to Thomas’ enquiry of his future absence. Jesus says this: I am the way, the truth and the life. I think a positive way to interpret this in light of this new way of –rethinking the future of Church is to hear his words this way: The paths that embody us engender truth and this truth engenders life. Notice in the Hebrew, truth doesnt include all truth, but rather truth singular. It is in vulnerable dialogue shared in any type of community that draws us a step closer toward truth which itself inhabits life. I think a good direction for the Church to re-start their journey is toward the ethos not of community, which has been tried but and failed, but rather of communitas. There is a communitas in Oaxaca, Mexico. This is how they explain their project towards a new kind of humanity: “What is Communitas? It is an acute point of community wherein the members share a feeling of great social equality, solidarity and togetherness that enables a reconsideration of the ways in which we act together. It is a process where no one is marginalized and there is a common sense of purpose. It is a transitional phase that enables societies to find dramatically different solutions for living. Communitas is creative and transformative space. Communitas is also a personal experience. It is a rite of passage that produces something sacred within individuals. Part of this sacredness is achieved through the humility learned in this transition that allows the personal experience of togetherness with others to be felt. The group of individuals crosses a threshold collectivelyviii. I think this lack of perspective over the course of the Church’s history has left an indelible wound upon those who might not follow after Jesus, one only need to open a history book to discover the truth of this statement. I think we have to take responsibility for the acts behind us so we can move ahead of ourselves even now. One way we can do this is by changing how we see ourselves, by how we interact, and how we label ourselves… (to be continued)
ii iii iv v
Galatians 3:28 RHE (Douay-Rheims)
http://store.flannel.org/tgaa.html Google: Ekklesia (Athens)
(Kristeva 1991: 80); (Kristeva 1991: 80). vi Remember, Jesus prayed for this very thing: John 17.
(Kristeva 1987: 142-3).
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.