The Kingdom Call and Practice of Resistance

Silent Waiting From Jarrod McKenna

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.