As always Pete hits the subject dead-on. The only answer is to accept defeat. Learn from failure. Reject bitterness. Accept reality. And trust God to bless the works of our hands, the prayers of our lips, the pureness of our heart's devotion to serving Jesus each and every day whether at home, work, ministry or the world-at-large. All things are of God. We are but clay in the Potter's hands. Vessels to be used in the ministration of God's grace. Whether ornate or banged up the vessel does not matter. It is God's Spirit that we pour out. And it is this self-same Spirit that will minister to us at the end of the day when dreams and hopes are shattered and we cease to dream or hope any longer.
December 28, 2011
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Revolutionary Potential of the Actually Existing Church
by Pete Rollins
posted December 9, 2011
I was recently reading Slavoj Zizek’s excellent essay “The Ambiguity of the Masochist Social Link” and was struck by his reflection on how symptoms can represent forgotten failures to act. I would like to reflect upon this in relation to what we see in so much of the actually existing church today.
In order to approach this subject let us begin by taking the example of a man who drinks to excess, neglects his children and mistreats his partner. What do these symptoms betray? All too often they are the direct manifestation of a previous (forgotten) failure to act. Let us flesh the example out by imagining that this individual once, as a young man, had dreams of being an artist, that he married a woman he deeply loved hoping that together they would travel the world and that he longed to create a culturally rich environment within which a child could grow. In this fictional example let us imagine that the first year of their marriage was difficult. That they had a child before they were ready, lacked resources to travel and had to get jobs they detested in order to make ends meet. At different times decisions could have been made, risks taken etc. that might have taken their lives in a better, more emancipatory, direction. But these were missed and now an unhealthy relationship exists, one full of pain, suffering, self-abuse and the abuse of others. The symptoms then testify to something missed, to past failures that now make themselves know in oppressive material actions.
The revolutionary move here involves the courage to bring to mind the failures to act that lie behind the present symptoms and repeat history: attempting to relive those moments, but this time without the failures to act. Of course, it may well be impossible (just as it may have been impossible in the first place; the point is that we often have to fail many times before we stand any chance of actually succeeding).
In the same way the violence and destructive behaviour that one sees in so much of the actually existing contemporary church should not be so quickly dismissed as evidence of a poison at the heart of Christianity itself, but rather can be approached as the sign of a revolutionary potential at the heart of Christianity which has been missed.
Often the people who engage in the most destructive and reprehensible behaviour are the ones who began with the biggest dreams of transformation. Behind the drunk at the local bar, or the cynical money-maker who would step over anyone to get ahead, there is often a story of some idealistic youth who believed that the broken world could be rendered wonderful with a little work. In such situations it is the failure to enact such a world, to be a part of its birth, that leads people to the darkest of places (while those without such Utopian ideas just potter along without the highs of success or the lows of failure).
When we see the church institution engaged in the most horrible of abuses we should rightly be sickened and want to see it implode. However some of us also see, in the very abuse itself, the hint of a failure to act, a failure to embrace some elusive liberating potential.
It is this that lies at the heart of the ‘pyro-theology’ I explore in Insurrection. There is no doubt that the book is critical of the actually existing church in its dominant form, but the wager is that the symptoms we see played out are not evidence of a rotten core at the heart of the Christ event, but rather hint at the failure to live into the radical, emancipatory space it opens up.
The underlying argument then is that we must repeat the church so that we might repeat the moment of where the failure to act happened and then act. The danger, and it is a danger of the most extreme form, is that we will simply repeat the failure to act and become as destructive and reactive as the Institution we attempt to overthrow (at best we achieve a little more than before and fail to act elsewhere – which can be seen to be taking place in the various moments of historical reformation). But I for one am still willing to take the risk. And if we fail? Well let us hope that those who come after us, our children, our students, our disciples, will not.