Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"These things that with myself I too much discuss, too much explain..."

Once again I'm caught talking to myself. I posted this comment at Street Prophets, in response to something Pastor Dan put up. It's becoming a theme with me. Maybe it's because I miss the pulpit; more likely it's because I miss the parish.

"Tistero is a mensch."

Well, maybe.

I must admit, although as a theologian and a lawyer definitions are my bread and butter, I'm growing weary of them.

All of these attempts to draw boundaries and declare who is inside, and who is outside, are becoming tiresome. "Inclusive" is just another word for "who I include," another way of defining who is acceptable ("Are you 'inclusive', or not?") and who isn't ("I can only include 'inclusive' people in my circle. Exclusive people must be excluded. But that's not my fault. They're the ones who are exclusive, not me!")

I'm not pointing a finger at Tristero. I'm just tired of everybody jockeying for their power position. The power to define is the power to set the terms of the debate. And the power to control the terms of the debate is the power to control what people think. At least, that's how we pursue it; and why. And it's all about vague and glittering generalities, which is a much nicer, cleaner, less messy arena to work in, than in real individual lives.

When I had a church, I had people who hated me. Hated me, mind you. Literally. Seriously. They needed an object for their hatred, for any number of complex reasons, and the Pastor was the most convenient focal point. That was not an excuse for some kind of fool's martyrdom (I'm glad I'm not there anymore), but I had to struggle with my "inclusiveness" not to exclude them. They were hateful, vile, bigoted, racist, small-minded, moss-back conservative, people. And they were part of my flock. And I was supposed to tend them.

I started out, fresh from seminary, talking about grand sweeping ideas like "Christianism." It took me a long time to realize no one cares about such word games, such language games. I think such discussions still have their value; but not when they become the thing itself. And how do you avoid that? When do you pull back from your abstracting the world, and see it for what it is?

I know, I know, I've said this all before. But prick me, and I bleed words. So I'll bleed a few more, by quoting myself (either an act of supreme laziness or supreme arrogance; I can't decide):

"How should we then live" is the question everyone is chasing. The problem is, no one is considering how people live, when pursuing the question. How people ought to live is of great concern to a great number of people who never consider the conclusions should apply to them. How we ought to live is the province of the Big Idea, the one that always applies to thee, but never quite to me. How we should live is the province of parable and quotidian mystery, and turns me to thinking about my life and what I am doing. How conservatives ought to behave is of great concern to Mr. Bramwell; even how they ought to be punished. On this, he understands quite rightly that anyone's reach in that matter, will necessarily exceed their grasp; and that's not what a heaven's for:

Worse, no reckoning will be made: they hope in vain who expect conservatives to take responsibility for the actual consequences of their actions. Conservatives have no use for the ethic of responsibility; they seek only to “see to it that the flame of pure intention is not quelched.” The movement remains a fine place to make a career, but for wisdom one must look elsewhere.

Religion, after all, is responsibility; or it is nothing at all. And religion is about the quotidian, and our daily responsibilities there. At least, that's part of my understanding of Christianity, and the gospel message.
And I can only take responsibility, ultimately, for what I do to, or for, individuals. Grand ideas, more and more, feel like they are for me, by which I mean for my ego. Ideas guide my actions; but that's what they are for. The only legitimate control is over myself.

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