Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tragedy in Boston: Why the Church Needs a Response that Needs God's Help

Ours sometimes seems like an unending season of tragedy. Undoubtedly it has seemed so to every generation, but that this may have been the case for those before us does not diminish our present sense of hopelessness - our present pain. The provocations of war, gun violence, and terror cause us to search ourselves, our souls, for resources capable of producing an intelligible response. 

But resources and intelligible responses to societal ills prove evasive. In twin-tweets today, David Fitch quoted Zizek, who names examples of the challenges to right responses:
The delicate liberal caring for others fighting violence + the blind fundamentalist exploding in rage are two sides of the same coin. Zizek
The story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is a lie -the truth lies outside, in what we do Zizek
In The Politics of Jesus, John Howard writes this about our predicament:
...what our contemporaries find themselves practically incapable of challenging is that the social problem can be solved by determining which aristocrats are morally justified, by virtue of their better ideology, to use the power of society from the top so as to lead the whole system in their direction.
In his Easter sermon this year, Rowan Williams helpfully challenges the Church's compulsive desire to be useful in the face of these tragedies:
Even if every commentator in the country expressed generous appreciation of the Church (and we probably needn't hold our breath...), we'd still be bound to say, 'Thank you – but what matters isn't our usefulness or niceness or whatever: it's God, purposive and active, even – especially – when we are at the end of our resources. It's the moment when the wall becomes a window.' 
We are still grieving. 

It is good and right to keep silence, lack answers; to grieve; even to name, as Williams says, that we are at the end of our resources. Quick answers deny our grief and act in a kind of denial of the impotence necessary to need God's help.

We need a response that needs God's help.

Toward that end, I revisited the last chapter of Yoder's Politics tonight. The chapter is entitled, The War of the Lamb. The chapter asks us to consider responses that sacrifice efficacy and relevance for a sharing in the triumphant suffering of the Lamb. Excerpts follow at the end of this post. I offer them as a prayer for a people in need of a response that needs God.

Peace to you.
JRM+
___________

"This is significantly different from that kind of 'pacifism' which would say that it is wrong to kill but that with proper nonviolent techniques you can obtain without killing everything you really want or have a right to ask for. In this context it seems that sometimes the rejection of violence is offered only because it is a cheaper or less dangerous or more shrewd way to impose one's will upon someone else, a kind of coercion which is harder to resist. Certainly any renunciation of violence is preferable to its acceptance; but what Jesus renounced is not first of all violence, but rather the compulsiveness of purpose that leads the strong to violate the dignity of others. The point is not that one can attain all of one's legitimate ends without using violent means. It is rather that our readiness to renounce our legitimate ends whenever they cannot be attained by legitimate means itself constitutes our participation in the triumphant suffering of the Lamb."

"Almost every other kind of ethical approach espoused by Christians, pacifist or otherwise, will continue to make sense to the non-Christian as well. Whether Jesus be the Christ or not, whether Jesus the Christ be Lord or not, whether this kind of religious language be meaningful or not, most types of ethical approach will keep on functioning just the same. For their true foundation in in some reading of the human situation or some ethical insight which is claimed to be generally accessible to all people of goodwill. The same is not true for this vision of "completing in our bodies that which was lacking int he suffering of Christ" (Col. 1:24). If Jesus Christ was not who historic Christianity confesses he was, the revelation in the life of a real man of the very character of God, then this one argument for pacifism collapses."

"The Christian pacifism which has a theological basis in the character of God and the work of Jesus Christ is one in which the calculating link between our obedience and the ultimate efficacy has been broken, since the triumph of God comes through resurrection and not through effective sovereignty or assured survival."

"A church once freed from compulsiveness and from the urge to manage the world might then find ways and words to suggest as well to those outside its bounds the invitation to a servant stance in society."

"...our interest is not in asking whether eighteenth-century religion could be the opiate of the people, but rather understanding the function of the apocalyptic vision in the first-century, whose seers were not on any drug."

"The future that the seer of Patmos sees ahead is a universe - that is, a single system - in which God acts and we act, with our respective actions relating to each other. The spiritual and providential laws which we expect to see at work in this system are as solid for the believer as are the laws of dialectical materialism for the Marxist."

"The cross of Christ is the model of Christian social efficacy, the poser of God for those who believe. Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur. Our Lamb has conquered; him let us follow."

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