It seems to me that much current academic energy goes into two broadly contradictory tasks. The first attempts to unearth violences in texts of all sorts, to deconstruct them. The second (after showing the utter violence in all other ideas, interpretations, and approaches) moves on to present itself as the movement or position free of all problems and finally offering a truly final solution. Some have seen fit to critique the former approach. However, though I can see a potential for such a task to become pedantic or overly dismissive, I tend to find such work both judicious and important. The latter approach, on the other hand, is one that I am quickly becoming tired of. It is one thing to enthusiastically promote a good idea; it is another to dismiss all others out of hand, renounce critical self-reflection, and triumphantly present an idea as both untried and sure to success.
With that I want to present my final solution to non-violent Christian mission. I get it from a sermon preached by Lydia Harder at the Mennonite Church in Montreal around a year ago. She took three paradigms of Christian mission and worked with them, with congregational singing in between. She briefly described each, talked about their benefits and virtues, and then critiqued them, showing the ways that they can turn violent. And then we sang.
That was it. I must confess that even as I was impressed by her analysis and presentation, I left feeling a little disappointed; I wanted to hear the final solution to non-violent Christian Mission. It was only later on that I started to appreciate the real profundity her words. We ought not to be looking for the only way to be faithful to Jesus’s call to us. Rather, we are looking for the many ways that we can heed Jesus’s call, being careful with each method, practice, understanding, and means that we not fall into its potential to violate that call. In Christian mission we should learn when and how and in what ways we should actively work for justice and reconciliation, stay silent, tell people about Jesus, listen patiently, and practice hospitality. For each of these is very good and very bad.
This summer I spent a lot of time attempting to work through Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. I’m not yet convinced by all of it and I’m not here to say that the church should be a rhizome. But one helpful point that I’ve gleaned is that we can be sure we have built an idol when we’ve found a final solution, one way in which to follow Jesus. Consciously or not, we are then working in the context of the worst kind of transcendental thinking, erecting a Big Daddy Signifier who has the key to everything and relentlessly interprets, refers, and restricts the life out everything.
Instead, let us experiment boldly and proceed cautiously. With practice, guidance, good thinking, and the Holy Spirit, perhaps we will find that we then stumble into a non-violent Christian mission. And listen to this song. Musically performances tend to be a little stuck in the 70s and there are problems with thinking about mission in aesthetic terms, but it’s pretty good all the same.