I have been thinking a lot about “practices of resistance” lately, not just the theology and philosophy behind this but also how to incorporate them into my routines more. So over the next few posts I want to try and develop some thoughts around this as well as explain a couple practices I’m attempting (and may be some ones we could attempt).
Our life in late-capitalism is filled with reflexivity, to the point that we are inundated with a kind of ordered life-planning as Zygmunt Bauman calls it. That is to say that everything we do should fit into some grand scheme, some master plan. The senior in High School and College knows exactly what I mean because they are constantly bombarded with “So, What’s next?” We need to constantly give into a culture of careerism, specialization, and glitz and glamor so that we can become good consumers and find our place in life. This kind of refexively ordered life-planning that Bauman rejects runs against the call of those in the church to “seek first the kingdom of God.”
Alexie Torres-Flemming, a Catholic activist who grew up in, moved out of, and later returned to, the Bronx. She tells her story of once having a wonderful high-paying job in NYC but then realized that she had given into this kind of ordered life-planning and culture of consumerism and it was leading to a life unfulfilled. She speaks about how God led her through “downward mobility” as she moved her family back to the Bronx to live and work alongside poor youth there.
Torres-Fleming is a good example of “Choosing not to choose,” where she choose to resist a particular (often obvious in the eyes of the world) choice and instead did something else based upon the identity and call of the the Kingdom. In other words, she took up a practice of resistance. It’s not that she was free from these temptations or consumer entanglements, it’s that through obedience to the Holy Spirit she was able to resist, choose not to choose, and start a new movement in the other direction.
In Ched Myer’s commentary on Mark, Binding The Strong Man, he discusses how the Gospel of Mark offers a “contemporary radical discipleship” important for us today. According to Myers two key themes from Mark that guide this process of becoming Christ-like and living out the kingdom are repentance and resistance.
The first is repentance, which for us implies not only a conversion of the heart, but a concrete process of turning away from Empire, its distractions and seductions, its hubris and iniquity. The second is resistance, which involves shaking off the powerful sedation of a society that rewards ignorance and trivializes everything political, in order to discern and take concrete stands in our historical moment, and to find meaningful ways to “impede imperisal progress.” Both themes demand a commitment to nonviolence, as a personal and interpersonal way of life and as a militant and revolutionary practice (Myers 2008: 8).
Thus the Christian practice of resistance involves a conversion of the heart toward the Authority of Christ and a turning away from empire; not in the sense that you are now freed from it, we still live within it, but in the sense that we now seek to no longer be shaped by its values, its language, its symbols, its ideology. Instead the church impedes this kind of oppressive anti-Kingdom of God hubris.
It is my conviction that we cannnot “choose not to choose” unless we are firmly rooted within this particular Gospel narrative of Jesus followers answering the call to “seek first the kingdom.” This identity shaped by repentance and resistance is the only way forward. Thus I agree with many cultural thinkers that there is no way out of culture, there is no neutral ground “outside the system” from which we can hide, retreat or even “resist” from. Rather, my belief is that the only truly alternative space in the world is the church which is cruiciform and precedes before all else and is rooted in the peaceful creation birthed at the beginning of time and embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and those who follow in the wake of that event.
7 responses to “The Kingdom Call and Practice of Resistance”
Great article mate.
Hey if you are interested the photo above is from one of our experiments with a dangerous doxology where we have meeting for worship on a military base as part of our Vine and Fig Tree Planters actions. We seek in sign to show the connection between militarism, our ecological crisis and the good news of the kingdom of God breaking in. For more info:
Thanks Jarrod – Yeah I found this photo on your flickr and thought I’d use it, hope that was okay! 😉 It seemed to embody what I was trying to write about. I like what you did there, keep up the good work.
Nice article, but I’m not sure I correctly understand what you mean by “It is my conviction that we cannnot choose not to choose unless we are firmly rooted within this particular Gospel narrative of Jesus followers answering the call to seek first the kingdom.”
By this, are you suggesting that those who are not “firmly rooted within this particular Gospel narrative of Jesus” are not able to choose to resist empire or culture?
yeah, agreeing with the comment above…what exactly does “choosing not to choose” mean?
also, curious as to what you mean by “reflexivity” and its relation to ordered-life planning. reflexivity can mean a lot of different things, but i’m not sure how it’s related to what bauman’s talking about. is that in liquid life?
it’ll be cool to see how you work out some of these practices of resistance in your new church community!
This comment was deleted.
good questions – i am using the “choose not to choose” in parallel with the “downward mobility” I wrote about. I see it as a resistance of the choice latent within consumerism. I am of course stretching the topic I am sure beyond what it was meant, but that’s what I thought of when I heard it.
Jamie, in terms of the reference, I heard it in a lecture so I don’t know where it comes from. I think my useage of reflexivity is simply the constant returning to self as an individual, who is uprooted from a particular narrative, tradition, community and role within society and because of this must continually adjust and choose how one’s life will go. I may be misunderstanding it, but I think I’ve used this in at least one of the possible meanings for reflexivity.
Beloved – yes, I do think there are all kinds of people who resist empire, at different levels, who are not “firmly rooted within this particular Gospel narrative of Jesus,” but ultimately, I think that the way of resistance and the extension of this into how communities live is something my understanding of Christianity has over the rest. In this way I am no Unitarian, I think Christianity is the only way to fully resist the violence, the capitalism, the individualism, the hierarchy of power and control and the racism of empire. Unfortunately, as you surely know, Christians have very often failed to live up to this witness and call of Christ’s kingdom.
You write "I think my useage of reflexivity is simply the constant returning to self as an individual, who is uprooted from a particular narrative, tradition, community and role within society and because of this must continually adjust and choose how one's life will go. I may be misunderstanding it, but I think I've used this in at least one of the possible meanings for reflexivity."
Funny that's almost the opposite of the use of reflexity that I know. The one I know means using our brains to reflect about how we have become who we are, to tell out stories so that we can situate ourselves. I think unless we are willing to reflect on the way we have been shaped by the time and place we have been raised in it's hard to get our feet on the solid ground that Christ provides.
Especially as I understand it reflexivity allows us to read scripture *together* – not you telling me what the meaning of it is, but sitting down together and listening to how we all hear it. I guess I think unless the white blokes with education get that reflexive ability you all are going to carry on telling everyone else "how it is" and not listening to how it is for her and him and me and the Kingdom is going to stay right out there in the future world to come.
I'm hearing that you think reflexivity is self-centred but I think it's more like an examination of the curd that stuck on the windscreen whilst we were getting up here. It's the first stage to clearing that crud off so we can live in the unfolding grace of Christ's peace, the one which is pulling us all together into the realm where healing justice and righteousness come through for the poorest and the most miserable.
Unless we know about that formation of ourselves as we grew up in the powers of the dominant ideology, that sin we were born to is still going to carry on living through us – we are just going to trot around picking at all those beams that we can't stand in ourselves out of the other person and that isn't worthy of the liberating truth we all need.