Freedom Without the Flag or Violence

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 22, 2009 by christopher11

Freedom:   

     Freedom, along with “rights” and “choices,” are American (for that matter, modern/enlightenment) buzz words.  The verbiage of freedom is vital to the manifestations of liberal democracy in the US (both Republican and Democratic).  The enlightenment, seeking to “liberate” humanity from the bondage of “tradition and superstition” undertook to define freedom negatively.  Modern political freedom is not something in-and-of-itself, but freedom from something.  In this game freedom is simply the ability to arbitrarily choose one thing/person/idea over another.  Modern/negative freedom finds its source in military action.  The service of brave women and men is essential to allowing the citizens of the US to be able to practice whichever version of American life they so choose (as long as it does not impinge on the freedom of other citizens).

     However, the freedom found in Christ and the Church does not arise from military action and freedom as it is defined by modernity cannot be accepted.  Freedom has distinct theological important for the worshipping community that are incommensurable with freedom’s modern conception.  Augustine serves as a helpful guide for understanding freedom.  For Augustine the human condition is one of slavery to an indomitable desire (the libido dominandi), a desire that dominates us and seeks to dominate others.  Human beings, are, as it were, carried along by a ranging current that leaves little opportunity to do the good we desire to perform.  Humanity is, in Augustine’s mind, unavoidably captive. 

     It is only within the Church that the manifest grace of Christ frees humanity.  However, contra national freedom, this freedom which is mediated to the Church is not contentless.  Christ is the image and granter of freedom, which is manifest in the divine giving of the self for the sake of the world.  Within the bonds of Christ-existing-as-community, freedom demands conformati Christi.  Freedom is demonstrated by and given through the concrete life lived by Christ, which continues its thrust through the Church.  Freedom for the baseness of the sinful disordering of humanity evidences itself through the praising Christ by loving the world and giving the self for the sake of reconciliation.  Freedom as embodied in the Church is not about what one has the “right” or the “choice” to perform.  Instead, Christ (and the Church in Christ) interrupt cycles of violence and nationalistic ego, and open possibilities to serve each living being as neighbors and bearers of the imago dei

     While the Church can appreciate negative freedom it jeopardizes it service to Christ by celebrating this freedom as its telos.  The Church unquestionably pollutes its witness by celebrating freedom that comes via violent means.  The freedom the Church celebrates is not national freedom nor can it be earned via warfare and continuing death.  Christ died so that others need no longer die.  Christ’s death unmasks and unarms the power [1]of violence as a false intrusion into God’s work.  The freedom of love in the death of Christ unarms the power of violence.  As the image of its peaceful Lord the Church cannot serve violence. The Church cheapens its distinctive Christian language-game with its corresponding practice by confusing the freedom guaranteed only in Christ with mere negative/national freedom.  To celebrate any other freedom within the midst of gathered worship is to imperil one’s allegiance and witness to Christ as Lord.


[1] Here violence is being treated as one of the principalities and powers that Paul asserts dominates pre-Christic reality.

Reclaiming Language – Reimagining the World

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 19, 2009 by christopher11

          The Church is a cultured entity.  The Church is always composed of persons reared in particular places, with particular cultural/language games, and these places and games carry their own corresponding desires and activities.  The Church and those in it are historical, concrete cultural beings.  This fact cannot, nor should it, be avoided.  Our historical situatedness is an affirmation of our existence and a necessity for a robust affirmation of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity in Jesus of Nazareth.  The Church is not composed of free-floating souls which are only loosely associated with our bodies, with time, and with space.  Rather, it is a concrete collectivity where historical beings engage in concrete practices of confession, absolution, reconciliation, Eucharist, and service.

          Despite the Church’s necessary affirmation of the historical, contingent, and cultural, the Church finds itself caught between contexts.  As a cultural community the Church lives in the everydayness of life, but it lives as an eschatological community.  At the Church’s core is the call to live towards the triune God’s restoration of the cosmos.  The Church’s foundation in the distinct life of Jesus and its eschatological telos will often imbue everyday words with import that conflicts with their common cultural usage.  Within the liturgical context of the Church words finds themselves deeply loaded with theological significance.  Common words like “love,” “freedom,” “sacrifice,” “patriotism,” and “security” are consumed or rejected by the doxological context of prayer, worship, Scripture, and theology and thereby renarrated.  The theological language of the worshipping community gives meaning to the words the Church uses and the world within which we live.  Persons, linguistics, society, culture – none of these offer its own transparent meaning, but are rendered intelligible to Church and illuminated only by its liturgical/theological service to Christ.   

          With the US mired in its current political/economic/national sense of panic the Church is being co-opted to lend ideological support for ignorance and the expansion of post-modern neo-tribalism.  Neither of these categories is compatible with the catholic existence of the Body of Christ.  To that end the witness of the Church (in both its liberal and conservative variations) is currently being damaged by not undertaking a doxological redefinition of the following words:

Love:        Love is often mentioned, but little understood.  Our cultural usage of love makes it little more than meangingless.  The dominant use of “love” in the US language-game rotates around certain positive (or “warming”) emotions.  As an emotion that is caused by external occurrence, love is passive until being created by external influences.  Love is, therefore, amorphous and may or may not have concrete content.  Love is a receptive nothing.  Oddly, when ‘being loving’ is defined as a receptive emotion it becomes compatible with numerous tragedies – hate, deception, violence, even the violence of torture – because being loving has only to do with an inward receptivity to the overarching world and may not be negated by participating in the practices of hate, lying, or torture.

          However, for the Church the definition of love is mediated to it through the earthly, exalted, and continuing presence of Christ in the Church.  Christic love mandates a laying aside of life for the salvific flourishing of the other.  Love is in this sense kenotic (self-emptying) and non-coercive.

          Christic love as it is mediated to the Church through the life of Christ and in enscripturated text is content-full.  Herein, love is not an emotion[1] that rises within us, but an offering of the self for the beatific goal (the seeing the face of God) of each person we encounter.  Proclamation, truth telling, non-cooperation with powers and principalities, reconciliation, and championing the needs of the poor are mandated by Christic love.  To that end, the Church of the crucified Christ, the one who underwent torture to sever the link of religion and violence, cannot endorse the word “love” while endorsing economic policy that favor the wealth or the torture of any person who raises the visage of the imago dei.  In each human being that a member of the Church encounters there is a chance to respond to a concrete manifestation of the image of God in true other-serving love or to continue to abuse Christ.  The choice for the Church is to love Christ and the image of God or torture the bearer of the divine image.  This by the way is the direct implication of the “parable” of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25.

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” 

         We must renarrate love and not countenance the application of Christ’s name or Christ’s Church with torture or the privileging of the wealthy over the poor.  Pragmatics cannot be applied to a religion founded upon a “politicall failed” and crucified God.  If matters continue this may become one of confessional status.

 

[1] I ask for forgiveness for linguistic Kantian overtones in this discussion of love in the Church.  While Kant does insist that love is not an emotion, he does so for different reasons than those here presented.  For Kant love must be non-emotive so as to be rational and universal.  For my purposes, love is not an emotion in the modern sense of an empty receptor, but primarily a dedication of the will that secondarily manifests attendant emotion.

Heros, Gloved First, and Darfur – Or, Why Nike is Killing the Church

Posted in Counterculture with tags , , , , , , on August 8, 2008 by christopher11

 

   

    With the 2008 Beijing Olympics approaching I choose to remember the heroic actions of Tommie Smith (center above) and John Carlos (right) during the 1968 Olympics.  They raised their gloved fists as a proclamation of the worthiness African America and in protest against the American narration driven, as-it-was, by racism.  They raised their fist, knowing that jeers, slander, removal from the Olympics, and death threats would ensue.

 

     They did not raise their symbols, and thus become symbols, for the sake of personal gain, to curry favor, because it would be popular, nor because it would help them financially.  They acted because they could imagine a different world, a world where African Americans were no longer politically, economically, and socially enslaved.  They raised their fist as participants, as those deeply formed by their community’s reading of its then current situation. (It is tragic that this narration of the world was not the dominate reading by the Church).  Smith and Carlos became living symbols as they boldly embodied their people’s story and aspiration before the watching world.  Walking shoelessly towards the podium, they proclaimed the continuing poverty of African America.  Raising their fists they concretely proclaimed a new world. 

 

     Each Olympian, each hero, knew they were part of something larger.  Smith and Carlos were shaped by a communal narrative that in legitimate ways drew upon the Biblical narratives of freedom – Exodus, Jubilee, Esther, and Jesus’ defense for the social “outcast” and the powerless.  Much of the “Black power” movement gained its strength from a hermeneutic of the Christian story (of Islamic story), which challenged the sinful status quo.  These narratives were embodied in song, in word, and in deed (sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and raised fists), and were regularly repeated.  These hermeneutical practices served as imaginative interpretive schemes for the surrounding world.  These enacted narratives engender a sense of hope, because they refused to be co-opted by the status quo.  Because Christ refused to let his people remain eternally oppressed Smith and Carlos could read the world as one open to change and deep equality.

 

     With the 2008 Beijing Olympics approaching I choose to remember Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’ heroic act because today’s US athletes will do no such thing in China.  There are no Smiths, no Carlos-es, and no Normans to be found.  There will be no one to raise a vicarious plaintive wail to God for the oppressed minorities of China, Tibet, or Darfur.  China is renowned for removing due process of law, violently suppressing religious freedom, continual abuse of Tibetans, and supplying the arms to the Sudan government which are slaughtering the people of Darfur. Still, the Olympians remain silent. While the silence echoes, the idolatrous status quo continue to crushes the skulls of the helpless.

 

     The US basketball team, from administrators to the athletes themselves, serves as a useful example.  Each participant parrots the same line, “The Olympics are about sport.”  LeBron James promised in May to use his platform as a place from which to speak against the social injustices of China. Kobe Bryant appears in a commercial promoting action on the behalf of Darfur.  But, now they robotically repeat with deadly machine line rhythm, “The Olympics are about sport.”  Hands meant to be raised in protest refuse to rise.  Mouths meant to be opened in proclaiming a new world are cemented shut.  Why?   

 

     The drastic difference in embodied narratives between Carlos/Smith and Bryant/James is baffling.  While the former found it impossible not to act on behalf of the oppressed minorities, the later watch the gears of history crush the weak.  Why the difference?  How can they stand silently while countless minorities are debased, denigrated, and dehumanized? 

 

     The answer is: the old captivating narratives that declare freedom for all which, those narratives embodied in sit-ins, boycotts, and marches have been abandoned.  Wealth, success, and the maintenance of those two forces (status quo) are now the dominate narratives into which the US athletes, and entire population, live.  The American Dream, with its call to success and wealth and their protection, subtly re-narrates the good as the status quo.  Community, the source of hermeneutics, disintegrates as the “autonomous individual” is enticed via countless medium to “succeed” and “realizes” that they must throw off all institutions (community) that prevent success. 

 

     The American status quo has its own telos – the production of acquiescing consumers.  This desire is embedded in subversive advertisement which remolds human beings as consumers.  The human being, who previously had intrinsic worth, is now worthwhile only as one who earns and purchases, amasses and flaunts.  Their choices, as individuals, are what make them successful, and so they retreat further into themselves and their desires to possess.  Advertising (NIKE, anyone?) is ubiquitous – televisions, billboards, magazines, bus side-panels, NASCAR vehicles, and every inch of every sports stadium flash scintillating images and demand we “decide” to consume the products we are told to buy.  By luring individuals into their own interior choices and out of the shared communal interpretations of the idolatrous status quo, the potential of divine discontent is radically curtailed. As the old narratives are abandoned so are hopeful re-narrations.

 

  The status quo proclaims the world to be static, unchanging, and unchangeable.  The stories of William Wilberforce, the Underground Railroad, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King, Jr. demand the status quo be rejected as corrupt, sinful, and idolatrous.  The world is not static, nor is it satisfactory.  Nevertheless the status quo continues to relentlessly demand an eternal repetition of the earning-consuming pattern ad naseum. 

 

    The overwhelming power of the American status quo often causes imaginative and active lethargy.  If one accepts the status quo, one cannot sing, “We shall overcome.”  One can not hope that, “The Lord’s Gonna Trouble the Waters.”  One can no longer proclaim “Let my people go.”  Can anything be done in a world so dominated by so totalizing a death machine (especially when the companies who endorse athletes make the products in China)? 

 

     The static and stable world cannot be shaken, cannot be shattered without the imaginative power to re-narrate the sinful impassability.  Without a hopeful re-narration of the sinful world the oppressed will remain oppressed, the slave will remain a slave, the persecuted will remain persecuted, and the poor will remain without a champion.  Not only are the Olympians guilty here, but so is every US citizen, especially the living Body of Christ, which sins against Christ by not offering its hopeful re-narration of the idolatrous American and Chinese narratives. 

 

     Tragically, I, and all Christ’s brothers and sisters, have too often failed to be more deeply rooted in the narratives of sacrificial services of Christ and the Eucharistic re-presenting of Christ.  We have failed to let the biblical narratives break us and Christ’s presence in bread and wine renew us.  We have often been shaped by the American Way rather than the Way of Christ.  Therefore, we have often been unable to (or did not want to) imagine a world where Native, African, Hispanic, Asian, and Caucasian Americans were equal, where male and female are equal, and where the poor are uplifted.  Will we now fail to imagine a China worth sacrificing for?  Will we pretend to stand in the genealogical line of Smith and Carlos while those in Darfur are slaughtered?  Will we be co-opted?

 

     The “Olympic is about sport,” we are told.  The Olympics are not a stage for personal political activism, we are told.  The raised fists speak differently.  Jesus Christ speaks differently.  They declare that any stage so grand, is a stage ripe for the proclaiming of freedom for the oppressed, for the triune God drawing the world back to its purpose.  To say nothing, to do nothing, is to declare Smith and Carlos as saints to be praised, but not emulated.  I pray the US Olympic team will act, will be willing to stake their lives, or perhaps even their shoe contracts.  But, we cannot wait on them.  The fact is, if the Church let Christ interpret US narratives of racism (and now consumerism) rather than US narratives dictate to Christ, the first of 1968 would not have been necessary. 

 

     As the 2008 Beijing Olympics approach, I choose to remember two heroes.  I choose to read the world through the lenses of a Christ narrative that claims that women and men of Hispanic, African, Asian, Caucasian, Indian, and Native Americans descent are created and loved equally by their Maker.  That narrative catches us up and demands a raised fist (as a symbol of protest, not violence) in the face of a nation that actively oppresses countless minorities and supports genocide.  May descendents of Smith and Carlos rise up!!  May Christ complete the cosmic recapitulation, may he be all in all!!

 

To that end, do not sit idly by.  You can contact

Local representatives at: 

www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW_by_State.shtml

(Each official is listed under their respective state)

 

 

State senators at: 

www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm     

(Each senator is listed under their respective state)

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