Reclaiming Christ the Reject, Part 2
At the end of the last post, I talked about the way that Jesus’ image had been massively tarred by the state’s use of that image to enforce its own positions and to create a hegemonic message. The question remains, however, as to how we recapture, reclaim, rediscover this amazing character of history from the grimy Imperial image we have been left with.
Some of this is about a cultural unlearning; a process of removing some 1700 years or more of remodelling of Christ’s image. Some of this will require the church to move to the margins of society, to find what it is that Jesus was dealing with, and work it out for itself. Perhaps the Zapatista phrase “Walking together, we learn” comes in here; we must be prepared to take action and then reflect on that action, and then take more action based on the reflections.
In the first part of this writing I mentioned the Centre-Margin analysis, the idea of society being a spectrum laid out from the middle to the edge of a circle, and hopefully began to detail a need for identification with the very edges of that circle: the margins. I should also like the introduce a very definitely leftist approach: that of empire and multitude.
Where this varies is that is allows us to see structures and those allied to them, with the very many contrasting and different excluded groups around the edge. This is not the image of workers versus capitalists we are used to, because many of those adversely affected by empire could not be described as such. They include refugees, peasant farmers, the indigenous, “New Workers” – people who’s working life is a far cry from the existence of the traditional worker in a large scale workplace.
So here we have an image of many different people with differing issues facing a singular central source of injustice: a large number of minorities facing the holders of the majority of the power and wealth. Put bluntly, an inversion of the idea we need a powerful mobilisation of the “majority” against the minority in power, which manages in turn to destroy all notion of complexity amongst the disempowered and poor.
Where Churches have become obsessed with serving the business community, we must begin to challenge this ministry paradigm in new ways, and for this, the economic crunch is very helpful: how do we serve those who were on top of the economic pile? How do we make sure these people have a sense of worth in this new situation they find themselves in?
But this alone won’t help us. We must re-evaluate the church’s position in society: the poor are part of us, not some abstract other. Jesus said “the poor will always be with you”, not “the poor will always be around you”, and there’s a subtle distinction (if I pushed the translation boundaries too far, I apologise!). We must see ourselves as being one and the same as the poor, and so make feeding those who are poorest a natural part of our community life, not something we go outside of our community in order to do.
And we must ask why the poor aren’t in our church?! By working with those at the margins, we become aware of their needs, but are we joining them, or are we rushing in and then retreating to the safety of our homes? Why aren’t they part of the collective “We” in the phrase “We are the body of Christ”?
There must also be a question raised in our churches of the role of the state in everything we do. Even if its presence is seen as inevitable, does this mean we should work in a way that is subservient to it? Should we allow our successes to be tied to it? And when should we act in defiance of the state? Conflict, which isn’t inherently a violent concept, is very useful, but is something the Western church has managed to mess up spectacularly, usually having more internal conflict than external conflict.
Obviously there will be a lot of negative reaction to any such debate in the church. Its position alongside those in power is seen as an eternally bountiful gift, surely? And yet what I’ve seen of that gift has made me wonder about its usefulness, and about the ways it has become a veil against the realities of the world.