Reclaiming Language – Reimagining the World

          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.


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