Friday, 5/8/15

  1. Returning, sullenly, to normative
  2. Making the world the world
  3. The ease of stereotypes
  4. “Defiance” as lipstick on a pig

1

“When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Most literate people, I suspect, recognize that Bonhoeffer quote.

Here is the context of his most famous quote:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our  lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.

(John Piper – not an endorsement of this Protestant pastor/author).

My esteemed cyber-mentor Fr. Stephen Freeman brought that quote to my mind Friday, in The Long Defeat and the Cross, without once quoting it:

The tendency of many (particularly among contemporary Christians) to relegate the Cross to a historical moment, renders that “defeat” to the past and writes the remainder of subsequent history and the coming future under the heading of the resurrection. Christ died – but now He’s risen – having taken away any need for the Cross.

But this is utterly contrary to the preaching of Christ and the witness of the Scriptures. The Cross is more than historical moment – it is a revelatory moment as well – one that makes known the way of God and the manner of our salvation – always and everywhere.

Whosoever would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.

The cross to which Christ refers is improperly relegated to an individual’s experience in contemporary thought. The whole history of the Church, its path through time, has been a manifestation of the Cross. The occasional “triumphs” (as measured by the world) are very often the times of greatest unfaithfulness to the gospel. The “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” according to the fathers. We have no teaching about building on “success.”

Just as all of human history prior to Christ is seen as culminating in His death and resurrection – so all subsequent human history should be seen as a cosmic version of the same.

The vision of St. John is the triumph of the slain Lamb.

The witness of the faith points towards a coming victory. But that victory is ironic, sudden, and an intervention rather than an unfolding of an evolving kingdom. There is no Scriptural nor patristic witness contrary to this.

I think that some Christians are uncomfortable with a phrase like “long defeat” because the Cross has somehow lost its original meaning for them. So swallowed in the victory of Christ’s resurrection has it become, that we fail to remember its character of defeat.

This is not, as one might think because it’s cheerful pessimist Tipsy quoting it, a morose rumination on current events:

For the long defeat through time is nothing other than the playing out of the Cross through time. It is not the failure of the Church and of Christians – though our failures certainly participate in the long defeat. Nor is it a pessimism born of the modern experience as we reflect on the tragedies of our times.

(Emphasis added) But whatever Fr. Stephen intended, it reminds me that our distressing experience as orthodox Christians of the North Americna world, seemingly all-of-a-sudden, turning on us, is a return to normalcy normative Christianity, and from that, good things must come (“all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”) even if we found our unfaithful “triumphs” more palatable.

2

As I continue “meandering around for a while,” I try to avoid vain repetition – spending time reading things that seem mostly to reinforce what I already believe. Such seemed to be a recent Rod Dreher item, despite the somewhat startling opening. But then I saw that others were treating it as “must-read” item and mentioning Stanley Hauerwas, so I went back, and found some good stuff near the end:

I think I’m becoming a right-wing Hauerwasian.Here’s Hauerwas:

 I also try to develop epigrams that have been forced on me by positions I have taken whose implications I slowly come to understand.

For example, I say, “The first task of the church is not to make the world just. The first task of the church is to make the world the world.” I know that sounds offensive to most people, Christian and non-Christian. Of course, I want it to be offensive. I am trying to challenge the assumption that Christianity is acceptable in modernity as long as it supports moral and political causes most people assume anyone should support–e.g., democracy. Such a view assumes that God can be entertained as a possibility as long as we keep it to ourselves. So I try to remind Christians by such an epigram that–as Augustine maintained–the church’s first political task is to worship the true God truly.

More Hauerwas, from right after 9/11:

American Christians simply lack the disciplines necessary to discover how being Christian might make them different. For example, after the Gulf War, people rightly wanted to welcome the troops home, so they put yellow ribbons everywhere including the churches. Yet if the Gulf War was a “just war,” that kind of celebration was inappropriate. In the past when Christians killed in a just war, it was understood they should be in mourning. They had sacrificed their unwillingness to kill. Black, not yellow, was the appropriate color. Indeed, in the past when Christian soldiers returned from a just war, they were expected to do penance for three years before being restored to the Eucharist. That we now find that to be unimaginable is but an indication how hard it is for us to imagine what it might mean for us to be Christian.

The current outpouring of patriotism, I think, is an indication of how lonely we are today. We are desperate to be part of some common endeavor. I am often called a communitarian, but I think that is a mistaken description. I am not for a rediscovery of community as an end in itself. Such a rediscovery can be as dangerous as it can be good. Rather, I try to help myself and others rediscover what it might mean if the church constituted our primary loyalty.

I was aware of the Eucharistic practice mentioned in the last paragraph, but hadn’t thought to contrast it to the “yellow ribbons.”

I need to consider adding some Hauerwas to my long reading list. This, too.

3

Radley Balko calls out two of his Washington Post colleagues for politically-motivated criticism of Hillary Clinton’s stance on crime and then tells the infuriating story of Antonio Morgan, a 29-year-old black business owner in Hazelwood, MO, who just can’t get the cops off his back. It’s part of the racket that criminal justice has become in (parts of?) this country.

Then Balko calls out himself:

Here’s how easy it is to stereotype: I did it, too. Just after Morgan finished telling me the story about how he was arrested in front of his kids, I asked him if that affected his visitation rights.

He asked, “What do you mean by visitation rights?”

“I mean, do you worry that their mother is going to use that against you, or do you have a good relationship with her?”

“By the mother, do you mean my wife? She lives here too, with me and the kids.”

He then laughed. “I have all the visitation I want.”

Morgan was far more gracious about my blunder than he could have been. I was embarrassed. Mortified, really. I sympathized with Morgan. I felt awful for the crap he endured. And then I profiled him, too.

(H/T Rod Dreher)

That Morgan could be gracious illustrates, I think, that there’s something much less pernicious about reflexive stereotypes than about any degree of racism in the sense of white supremacy. Stereotypes, as Balko illustrates, have roots in experience.

That’s true of non-racial stereotypes, too. I fled Evangelicalism 37 or so years ago partly because I couldn’t get away from the stereotypical prophesy porn, of which my then-fellow Evangelicals just couldn’t get enough.

And, I admit, there’s some basis for stereotyping former Evangelicals who wind their way through history all the way back to Orthodox Christianity.

4

Yes, Rod, there no doubt is a double standard at work when “Piss Christ” gets a pass while insulting Muhammed cartoons get blasted as provocations. But I still think it’s adolescent to make a publicized event of doing something stupid and pointless – something that you would never otherwise dream of doing – just to defy someone you hate.

Can someone clue me in on what I’m missing in the valorizing of provocation as “defiance”?

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.