Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Embracing a Nomadic Existence: Location, Dislocation and Particular Christian Identities

I posted on this here yesterday, and am now continuing some of my thoughts. It turns out that part of the panel discussion included a period of what might have been academic "rebuttal" and/or answer and critique, but was more a conversation around "resonance" and "dissonance"among the panelists. Interestingly enough that is what I had begun to do in my previous post without using that language. As it turns out my sense of things and my relation to Evangelicalism and the situation that the panel was addressing remains the same now that I have finished hearing the whole panel discussion.

I am now even more aware of how I am and have long found identifying as Covenant or as a Lutheran Pietist as problem and difficulty, is the main place from which I have engaged the planting of the ecumenical congregation, Reconciler. This experience both is a point of relation ("resonance") with this panel of ecumenical Evangelicals and a point of divergence("disonance"). I relate well to a sense of finding it difficult to simply relate and represent a particular tradition or denomination. I also relate to wondering about what it is that I do as I draw from beyond my own tradition. I also relate to feeling that ecumenical work is important and yet finding it difficult to locate myself in relation to other ecumenists. Where I diverge from the panelists is in continuing to maintain a strong particular Christian identity. As I have said I don't identify as Evangelical so the issue of being Evangelical is not something to which I relate. However, I have claimed a Covenant identity and continue to so associate, and at times will identify as a Lutheran Pietist. I am less and less compelled to insist on these identities, especially as I delve further into the ecumenical work of Reconciler. But this leads me to relate to their own difficulties with the underlying assumptions of most ecumenisms and ecumenical dialog as something that is engaged in by representatives of a denomination or tradition. I too am finding it difficult to say that I represent the Covenant, in fact I am not sure I do, there are moments where I will speak for it institutionally but in terms of theology, ethos or practice I have to admit that I am at a border of the denomination that most don't even know exists. There is also disonance and resonance in my denominations relation to the ecumenical movement. Ecumenical work is a border that the tradition can at least understand even if it has avoided ecumenical involvement until recently, both of the Evangelical variety as represented by the National Association of Evangelicals, and of the in name variety of the National and World Council of Churches. This lack of involvement though was not out of principle but out of a desire to keep various parties within the Covenant together, so it perhaps differs slightly from why most Evangelical denominations have not been part of the Ecumenical movement.

So, where does this all lead? My thought is that I wonder if there might be something to my allowing myself a sort of dislocation that admits having come from somewhere and having not yet arrived elsewhere. My question to Evangelicals (young or old) who are both engaged in the ecumenical movement and finding that they are drawing from traditions that are not Evangelical is this: Why not embrace dislocation and dissolution of the Evangelical identity? Might not there be a nomadic space in which one is neither taking, borrowing or mixing because one has pushed off from the seeking to identify as a particular type of Christian, but is seeking something broader and deeper? Would not such a nomadic existence allow one to engage the matrix (do borrow Downton's metaphor) as widely as possible unfettered by identities that are held tenuously and possibly aren't what we should be seeking to ultimately identify as anyway?

I may need to back up because in making this suggestion I am picking up on the discussion of the implicit critique I heard of the idea that ecumenical dialog partners and the various denominations and traditions involved in ecumenical work and dialog bring each other gifts. it seems to me that the panel discussion made problematic this notion of ecumenism as a gift exchange. In fact, the critique of Evangelicals and Emergent folk who borrow from RC and Orthodoxy in fact shows that this metaphor breaks down very rapidly. As I see it if it is difficult perhaps impossible for Evangelicals, and certainly myself, to represent and thus also to offer up gifts of denomination or the tradition of Evangelicalism, might not this mean that what Evangelical ecumenists, or others like myself, who are dislocated from any particular tradition or denomination able to bring to the Ecumenical Movement the proclamation that particular Christian identities are ultimately illusory and the very thing that should be give up for the identification with Christ and the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Is not the failure of Ecumenism its willingness to perpetuate a situation that Paul clearly condemns at the beginning of the First letter to the Corinthians? In clinging to our particular Christian identities and pretending we have gifts to offer to each other are we not in esence each saying "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Appolos", or "I belong to Christ", ie. 'I belong to Wesley", "I belong to Luther", or 'I belong to Rome", "I belong to the Orthodox", or "I belong to (insert important name, or ethos)"? If there is a prophetic word that those of us who fail to remain within the boundaries of these particular "I belong to.." traditions, I would suggest it is a reminder that Scripture and Tradition are clearly set against these sorts of particular identity markers (gifts if you will) for those who are members of Christ.

Lastly, I would suggest that Christians, Evangelical or otherwise, who experience this dislocation and find themselves according to the definitions of denominationalism and the Ecumenical Movement in a nomadic existence should simply refuse the logic of "I belong to...". Which would mean that as long as all groups including RC and Orthodoxy would insist in living according to that logic we would also experience an inability to settle into those claimants of Catholicity and Orthodoxy. As such a nomadic existence would witness to the ways in which even Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy in spite of their impressive continuity also tend to act like denominations or according to the logic of "I belong to..." Well this is at leas why I find it difficult to settle there. Thus such Christians wouldn't be DJ's or tinkerers or what have you augmenting our tradition with their traditions artifacts or tracks, but simply Christians seeking to live into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I can appreciate the claims to the Una Sancta, to one or somehow both RC and Orthodoxy being the One True Church, but when I step back from theological argument and theory the actions of the Roman Catholics and Orthodox is not unlike Denominations. And to some extent they act like denominations in taking offense at the borrowing. In so doing they act as if their tradition is so particular as to be powerless outside its narrow protected environs. Though what I have experienced myself is the power of these traditions to witness to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, specifically in my seeking to genuinely and fully engage and be shaped by the discipline of iconography. In part it is this practice that eroded away the last "I belong to..." I clung to after seminary, Lutheran Pietism.

This practice has increased in me the desire to have as my only identity Christ and thus to simply be a member of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that has existed in continuity from Jesus and the Apostles and the Day of Pentecost. Yet, in the midst of all the cacophony of "I belong to..." it is hard to know where that might be. So, I would encourage those who are finding particular identity difficult to embrace for now a nomadic existence of dislocation and dissolution of identity praying that we may find the identity which is Christ and lead to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Which can only be truly affirmed by leaving behind the logic of "I belong to...". However, for this proposal to work and not create simply another particular identity one would have to give priority of place to Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy and see the nomadic existence as a call perhaps even a demand that those who can have good claim to continuity and to be the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church step up and act like it rather than like a denomination or tradition that comes to offer its gifts along with all the rest of those claiming some particular Christian identity.