Friday, January 12, 2007

An ongoing conversation....

I was talking with a colleague at work the other day. I was excited about a book I had just finished reading and was trying to articulate some of its main points. In the book, The Powers that Be, Walter Wink explains his theology of nonviolence; more specifically what he calls “the myth of redemptive violence.” In an effort to keep the conversation short and get back to work I hurried through some of the details of the book. I’m not sure I was very clear, so I will take this time to be more specific.

Walter Wink’s book reflects an “open view” of God’s ongoing role with humankind and creation. Believing that the “classical view” of God’s providence over the affairs of humankind does not explain the problem of evil in individuals, nations, institutions and other areas of social reality. Wink believes that the Powers are inherently fixed into God’s system, whose human face is Jesus, but that God has self-limited himself (herself) by giving us freewill. The author affirms the importance of the Apostle Paul’s words about Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15-17).

Wink believes power relationships between people, systems, institutions and structures are necessary and created for good; however he acknowledges that their authority or purposes can be perverted through the wrong choices of people. Ultimately, he says that we should resist the inducement to demonize those who do evil, believing that all Powers are salvageable or redeemable. He is particularly concerned about the invisible aspects of our institutions. “The Powers That Be are not then simply people and their institutions, as I had first thought; they also include the spirituality at the core of those institutions and structures” (4). Wink maintains that the Gospel must extend beyond individual liberation to the transformation of the Powers in our societies, enabling them to do good rather than evil, helping them recover and live out their unique calling from God.

The conversation shifted from thoughts about self-replicating systemic evil, national, and corporate violence to a discussion about individual evil. How do we learn to practice nonviolence in a culture that believes the myth of redemptive violence? My colleague said that his Buddhist teacher stressed the importance of guarding our words and thoughts, because our words always precede our actions. This reminded me of the now “bumper sticker” wisdom of postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida, “There is nothing outside the text.” This also relates to my understanding of the Buddhist teaching, “Life is illusion.” Without the text we would not know how to experience our world.

Philosopher James K.A. Smith says, “When Derrida claims that there is nothing outside the text, he means there is no reality that is not always already interpreted through the lens of language…Texts that require interpretation are not things that are inserted between me and the world; rather, the world is a kind of text requiring interpretation” (39).

All this makes the description of Christ as the “Logos” in the prologue to the Gospel of John more exciting, remembering that the Word is always previous. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1-5).

No comments: