The treason of being Christlike

The treason of being Christlike February 27, 2010

Two blog posts by different authors on the same blog on the same day. Both are about boundaries between human beings.

The first is a predictable glorification of imperial boundary-making. The author enthusiastically passes along yet another artifact from u.s. american civil religion, this time a hymn to that personification of the nation-state, Uncle Sam. And you’d have to suffer from complete religious illiteracy to miss the deeply theological content here, with its nation-based (i.e. pagan) eschatology and soteriology:

For to fight for Uncle Sam;
He’ll lade us on to glory, O!
He’ll lade us on to glory, O!
To save the Stripes and Stars.

Somehow, this blogger thinks his Catholic readers are supposed to be as enthusiastic as he is when hearing this hymn to another god. The linkage of deeply theological ultranationalism, as portrayed in this hymn, and Catholicism — a linkage made regularly on this blog — produces nothing short of Christo-fascism.

And although this is par for the course on this particular blog, two posts later we see another approach to boundaries: the insistence that being Christlike requires an intentional “crossing over” those boundaries into solidarity with those who suffer. The post is short — it features a moving video set to U2’s song “One” followed by this brief text:

There is only One World, but there is a big dividing line between those who are comfortable, happy, healthy, and safe, and those who are in pain, miserable, sick, and in danger. We cross the lines involuntarily at times- but we can also choose to cross over for periods of time from the happy place to the places of sorrow. This is being poor in spirit, this is compassion, this is prayer, this is where we love our neighbor as ourselves, where we love our enemies, where we develop our Christ-likeness. We cross over not because we have to, but because we choose to love.

In the context of the Roman Catholic blogosphere, these are powerful words. And I agree with the sentiment expressed. Although I would also say that the luxury of choosing when to cross over “at times” is itself a signal of which side of the “big dividing line” we are on: the side of comfort. Following Christ demands not crossing over “at times,” but a more severe, more permanent kind of crossing over: a crossing over that the church (through the prompting of various liberation movements from below) has called opting for the poor and oppressed.

Contrary to popular understanding, opting for the poor and oppressed is not something done “at times,” here and there, as one chooses in the moment. Volunteering at the soup kitchen and a yearly mission trip doesn’t guarantee any kind of authentic crossing over. In fact, when done “at one’s leisure” in a spirit of voluntarism (“I’ll spend my retirement doing such-and-such” is but one example) this approach can be a sort of affirmation and reinforcement of the kind of line drawing that this world system has erected. An “option for the system and my place in it” if you like.

Opting for the poor refers, in Rahnerian terms, to a radical change in one’s fundamental option or life orientation. It’s a changing of the way one sees the entire world and the way it is intentionally arranged and divided, seeing it from the perspective of the underside. It is a taking sides that is profoundly theo-logical: we take sides because God takes sides and because Christ took/takes sides.

So in our boundary-drawing world, this “crossing over” could be called a kind of “treason.” And depending on one’s own social location this “treason” will take different forms: upper and middle-class persons committing “class treason,” white persons committing treason against their white privilege, men committing “gender treason,” heterosexual persons committing treason against heteronormativity, and so on.

And as anyone who has “crossed over” in this way knows, there is a certain kind of permanence to these treasonous moves. It’s not a crossing over that one can do “from time to time.” It is not easy to recover once one has been labeled a “ni**er lover,” a “faggot,” a “queer,” a “p*ssy,” a “communist,” an “america-hater,” a “terrorist,” or in Jesus’ case, a “blasphemer” and a “subversive.” No, there is no recovery. There is only the cross.

Catch that? Really and truly “crossing over” leads directly to the cross.

Although this treason or crossing over cannot be temporary or at one’s leisure and is, in some sense, permanent, there are, of course, no easy or quick ways to do this. It is not done “once and for all” along the lines of being “born again.” Catholics know that conversion is ongoing. Likewise, white, middle-class, heterosexual males, for example, cannot simply step out of themselves and “cross over” into “the other world” intellectually or by an act of the will. But what we can do is commit to make one’s life orientation a kind of permanent tendency of “crossing over,” a permanent questioning of the lines themselves and the systems that produce them, and a permanent identification with those on the “other” side of the line(s). We can commit to dying to the false spiritualities that vie for our loyalty — spiritualities that thrive on division, on boundaries, and ultimately on other gods. This is baptism.

But regardless of my quibbles and my insistence upon a deeper, more treasonous, spirituality of “crossing over,” it is good to see that on a blog that predictably and continuously boasts of the lines that we draw in the united states of america — lines of national heritage, lines of masculinity, lines of race and class divisions, lines of religious affiliation, and the like — at least one blogger there is interested in challenging the line-drawing that our society assumes to be normative through his call to “cross over.” This out-of-place viewpoint is a kind of “blogger treason” that I find refreshing. And Christlike.

So let’s no longer boast of the boundaries. Let us only boast of the cross. “Come, let us cross over to the other side.”

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