Archive for Imago Dei

Freedom Without the Flag or Violence

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


     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.