It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is only a week away. I never seem to know where the time actually goes, but the days have ticked away and now we stand on the precipice of the holiday season. Families will come together, meals will be shared, and the inevitable trips to the mall in an effort to find that perfect gift will commence. And without fail, advertisements will saturate the airwaves, television screens, and the internet, all in an effort to help us pick out this year’s hottest gift.
Now, it is not my intent to rail against the materialism that accompanies this time of year but to point out an aspect of human behavior. Frankly, I like having things. Chances are, you like things too. For the longest time I wanted an iPhone, and when the iPhone 4 came out, I knew I had to have it. Not because I needed it, but because it was/is the pinnacle of cell phone perfection. (Some may disagree, but I happen to be a huge Apple devotee.) For whatever reason, this season really brings out the need we have to obtain the highest ideal. Thats why we line up at 2:30am the day after Thanksgiving, we want that must have perfect item, but not just the item, we want the ideal price on that item too. Its about the pinnacle of perfection.
It would be deceptive of me to pretend that this was limited to buying gifts, this behavior plays out in various areas of life. Whether its sports, education, music, art, even drug use, all of these activities are manifestations of us attempting to obtain an ideal, whether that is a skill or a state of mind or an emotion. Life’s pursuits are often tied to an ideal.
My own pursuit for an ideal has caused me to become bitter and jaded. I am often so full of cynicism its hard to tell what I acutally believe. The ideal I pursue is the perfect “church,” or a perfect version of Christian thought and experience. I know I am not the only one wants to obtain this ideal. So many of us want to find the perfect church, want to have the perfect theology, want to be the perfect christians. This isn’t just personal though, entire denominations have formed because of people earnestly striving for this ideal.
Throughout this pursuit there are times when we encounter ideas we don’t agree with and we retreat to the safety of the past, taking comfort in the thoughts and beliefs of those who have gone before us. There are also times when we encounter ideas that we reject the past completely and offer up our own interpretation, or if we don’t reject the past, we attempt to go back further to somehow trump the argument.
Recently I discovered a well known author/philosopher/theologian named Peter Rollins. A few days ago I posted on my blog a quote from him which deals directly with the pursuit of this ideal. He says, “The task today does not lie in some naive attempt to return to the early church. The church before Constantine. The church before Platonic philosophy. The church before Paul. The church before… For these moves fail to bring us back far enough.
Rather we must call a new army of agitators into being. Dissidents courageous enough to return to the event that gave birth to the early church. A new breed of individuals brave enough to turn back so as to advance.”
Its not about a return to or the pursuit of an ideal, its about a return to an event.
Christ on a cross.
Death and Resurrection.
The more I think about my own pursuit, the more I think he is right. You cant experience an ideal. But in that event, you experience death and resurrection. You experience grace. Isn’t that the point?
What do you think?
2 thoughts on “the event”
>Hey Matt,So I just read your comments and I totally agree about giving up on an ideal. The problem with the ideals is that they are often centered on "our ideals." Stanley Hauerwas says something to the nature of "It's not about making the God and Bible relevant to us. It's about God making us relevant to Him" I would add through His Word. Literally, His Word enfleshed, died, and risen again in Jesus. But I hesitate on what you mean by finding safety in those who have gone before us. If you mean that we think we can go for some sort of repristination, then I totally agree. But part of the fact that we are a community is that we recognize how that faith has been passed down to us. Those who have gone before us are also our community. In the process of seeking faithfulness in our time, we have wonderful resources of the Church of all times and all places. Yes, many of them have made some blunders in their interpretation of the Scriptures. I would argue that in most cases, it was because they allowed their cultural situation to distort their interpretation. This is why fixing their comments in their contexts is so important. Yet there is a string of the Faith, of the rule of faith as Irenaeus put it, that has been passed down to us, otherwise we would not be here as we are in the faith and the community, the Church universal. Comments like Rollins, though I certainly agree in part, can be misleading as they seek to find resonance only with the "agitators" or "dissidents" of the past as if agitation and dissidence in themselves is the answer. No matter how much we agitate or object from one structure, we will form a new communal structure, that must be torn down again. In that sense, would Rollins advocate a perpetual agitation and dissidence? It would seem that the end result is that we have no true community but our own individual interpretations where everyone is right. Wouldn't that be a typical 21st century American? I am not saying that you believe that. I really think that we must be led back to the Scriptures to see how they interpret themselves in their entirety. We drop all of our ideals, they must die, and allow God to speak to us in His Word. I pray that all is well with you.Your Brother and former RA :)Matt
>Hey Matt,It's good to hear from you. As far as the ideals are concerned, yes they usually are made in our own image. In regard to the comment about finding safety in the past. What I meant by that is so often we see a previous age of Christendom as 'the Golden Age' when everything was perfect and we seek a return to that place because it is a place of safety. This might be most evident when you hear people say things like, "if we want to do evangelism lets look at the early church cause they had it right." Rollins, and I, asserts that those 'Golden Ages' arent far enough back, and they shouldnt be the point. The point is Christ, not an interpretation, (this is me speaking to your other point) but an encounter with Christ on the cross. I purposefully left out a discussion on how one encounters Christ. For Lutherans, it is through Word and Sacrament and I would not argue with that because I believe that Christ is present in those means. For others though, the means are not as finitely defined and so I wanted to leave that question of how one experiences Christ open to the reader's interpretation. I cannot speak for Rollins because while I am a 21st Century American, he is a 21st Century Irishman who has seen people take interpretations too seriously to the point of killing in the name of them. However, I recognize the continuity of the community of faith throughout the ages, though I would assume Rollins would not disagree with that either. As I said before, the point however, is not about interpretation but about experience. Meeting Christ and being transformed in that encounter. With that I heartily agree.