Mimetic Incarnation

Life is this continual search for, oh . . . I don’t know. Meaningful quality? Something along those lines. You can’t really put your finger on it, but you just inherently know what it is. For me that concept is greatly tied to religion, faith, etc. Some people will say that such a leaning is a copout, a crutch. Now, when adjectiving some people, sure . . . that’s an appropriate label. When you look at Western Christianity, it’s obvious religion is used as a crutch, a psychological salve. But that’s not following Christ because I don’t see that type of devotion being a very good crutch. A crutch supports, gives stability, and restores order. Without the crutch, chaos would ensue. Little stability would be there. I usually assume that if Christianity is a crutch, it’s bad Christianity because very little of what Christ required of people would make you comfortable. And yet, that’s where it gets confusing because Jesus also says things like, “I will be with you always,” and “I’ve come to give people full life.”

So it sounds comfortable. But then we’re asked to share in his sufferings. These back-and-forth inverse ironies abound. Take, for example, Christ saying, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Eventually you reach the realization that devotion to Christ has crutchy aspects to it while still being daunting. It’s like security through suffering. Sounds oxymoronic, but you can’t deny the difficult aspects and the facets of safety, either. They simultaneously exist. It’s like a crutch that is twelve inches too short, which forces its carrier to bend over awkwardly. Because of such a perpetual hunched bodily stance, he will be in some discomfort and perhaps even pain at times, but when you get down to the base of it, you can’t deny that he’s still being supported and held up—sustained, as it were. But still, Christianity often becomes this crutch that removes the uncomfortable aspects and only revels in security.

There’s a three-tier system for me, I suppose, with each level being increasingly more difficult than the prior one. The first is that of this crutch Christian, and I try to avoid it and have trouble believing in it because it’s too easy and requires nothing of me. Anybody can occupy a pew twice a week, but I just can’t see how that can be life’s answer. It’s not that life has to be hard, but the crutch Christian flirts with selfishness on an adulterous front that is all too unsettling.

The next tier is atheism, and this is much more difficult a plateau to occupy than the crutch Christian because being an atheist takes so much faith—more faith, in my opinion, than Sunday-Wednesday Christianity. So with that consideration I have tremendous respect for atheists’ resolve, and I think more Christians should be quick to listen to what they have to say, rather than just write them off as some sort of pagan or dissident louse (which is what I often hear the Church doing).

Those Christians who do view atheists with disgust are, I think, guilty of confusing atheism with laziness, and that’s a huge mistake. The majority of atheists I’ve met are anything but lackadaisical. They typically are well read and overall more intellectual than the crutch Christians. And not that intellectualism is the answer, but the crutch Christian has no way to reach the heart of the intellectual atheist. Sure, they occupy common ground in some aspects of life in general, but when it comes to religious discourse, there’s a significant divide. The crutches read Ted Dekker novels and know a thing or two about C. S. Lewis while the atheist dabbles in Sam Harris and has probably actually read more Lewis than the crutch Christian. Are those broad generalizations on both sides? Sure. But when it does occur, it creates more than a slight discrepancy.

But I could never be an atheist. I don’t think I could ever reach a point where I would confidently be able to rule out the possibility of Divinity’s existence. I doubt its validity often, and so for that matter I heavily empathize with the agnostic (because I frequently live like one). So if I ever “reject” faith, it’s not because I’ve finally been enlightened or something like that. I can guarantee you it will simply be because I’ve become weary. Just plain tired. Devotion to radical concepts requires quite a bit of a person. It demands an endurance that I would argue none of us possess (hence, the knack for regularly falling short).

That’s why the only label I have for what I’m trying to pursue at this time is “mimetic incarnation,” which is the third tier. I believe it’s harder than atheism and altogether more frightening. Now, the words “mimetic” and “incarnation” are both loaded, which is probably why I like them. Many tangential paths pop up.

The word mimetic simultaneously has two connotations—negative and positive, the former being along the lines of “make-believe” or “mimicry” and the latter coming across more as “honest imitation.” For many of us, we’d like to think that we’re imitating Christ and his incarnation, but in actuality we’re just putting on a little show. We claim to know Christ in the fullness of his glory and [insert other highbrow terms of religiosity], but our actual life itself is unchanged, which means that, in reality, our hearts themselves are static. How I conduct my life speaks to what the true rhythms and tempo of my heart are. I can claim Christ’s selfishness, but if my life mirrors the concept of, say for example, furthering the accumulation of personal wealth, then my religious side is nothing more than a disgustingly cute WWJD bracelet—an empty question weaved in colored thread that would melt if a flame were touched to it.

But let’s assume my mimetic desire spends more time in the positive realm instead of the negative. Whatever word follows mimetic is crucial. It’s central because if my mimesis is dignified that means I’m wholeheartedly trying to imitate that concept, that thing which is good. So if my mimetic object is noble, then this is a good thing because, as an extension of that, something also noble will come about through my actions. But if what I’m working so hard to imitate has malevolent connotations and rhythms, then having a diehard mimesis striving behind it is detrimental. It doesn’t matter how well intentioned my mimetic desire is if what I’m gung-ho for is the Third Reich.

But even if my mimesis philanders in the negative realm, the noun following “mimetic” is still vitally important. This time, if the object of my mimetic desire is noble, I am bastardizing it by just playing make-believe. And if it’s something serious—some sort of rallying cry for justice to which, let’s say, I’m trying to draw others—I cheapen it and do near irreparable damage by turning it into a horse-and-pony show that people will just walk away from and never turn a listening ear to (sound like American Christianity yet?). And then the inverse you can probably figure out: negative mimesis of an already negative concept results in complete decay. Nothing will be furthered by it because others will see it for what it is and walk away from it. As sad as it is, this is also frequently what Christianity becomes.

That may make people angry to imply that Christianity can also act as a negative concept. True Christianity, I would argue, is not that way, though, but how often do you see such a thing being lived out? Too often what replaces this faith aimed at extending freedom to others is instead oppressive and dominates that which we do not like. Christianity’s response to homosexuals and feminism, contribution to oppressive globalization and promulgation of Western ideals, and function as a tool for war suddenly make it an extremely detrimental cause. And people wonder why the population is leaving the Church in droves? Please. The answer isn’t just right in front of us; often, it’s within us, being issued out from our very beings. We participate in it. We contribute to it.

There’s a fine balance in all of this that the Church can’t seem to find. A lot of people might say that they, like Paul, aim to know Christ crucified and preach just that and nothing else and yesamenpraiseJesus. But in reality, too many Christian’s mimetic desire has capitalism or politics or wealth gospel at its focus. They can cover it up in religious lace, but everybody else around them can see right through it to the point that, in the end, the Christians are just fooling themselves.

There is obviously something lacking in Christianity, and people are well aware of it. When lives cease to be changed, it’s not because God has lost his influence. God doesn’t change, but we do. It’s probably because we’ve gotten in the way. There is something missing. And if we don’t go back to the source to try and find what it is that we’re missing (that would be deconstruction), we will continue to slough over it until we get a harsh wake-up call. Centuries ago, George Whitefield and others helped bring about a revival they now call the Great Awakening. Today, our own idiocy has brought about the Rude Awakening. But will it result in good? The dynamic change on this earthly surface Christ brought about occurred directly because of the incarnation. That demands our attention. It requires our mimetic desire and not in just some humdrum quality, either. Christians say they want to be like Jesus and imitate him (catch the mimesis); well, he gave the barebones example of how to do that, and it’s wrapped up in the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

If I say I want the object of my mimetic desire to be the incarnation, there’s a lot of pressure all of the sudden. Because while mimesis has a connotation of rhetoric to it, it also possesses this idea that you are actually imitating. Talk cheapens in situations like these because it is the very thing that won’t bring about results and, thus, becomes shallow. This is why I don’t even like writing this post because this is simply talk. I don’t plan on revisiting this concept again here. It’s fine to talk about it in a preliminary sense to try and define what exactly it means, but beyond that, actual movement is required.

Because the incarnation dictates what must happen if any one of us is to have any sort of effect for change. Its literal qualities become metaphorical for our culture and its context—a transmutable ethos reverberating across the strands of time and space.

This is what the incarnation is: Christ is in heaven, possessing every advantage. He has everything. And he leaves all of it behind to come down to us. Why? Because he sees that he has the advantage to help us, to make life better for us, to . . . save us. He sees how we are incapable of helping ourselves, and he knows that he has what it takes to do it for us. And so he comes down to our level. No . . . more than that. He becomes one of us. He strips himself of his luxuries and enters our world. He comes to us. He does not wait for us to come to him (an antithetical concept for churches). And he gives his advantages away to us. It may look like we are taking advantage of him, but nobody took Christ’s advantages away from him; he freely gave them away. He does not keep them for himself. And he does all of this knowing full well that we will reject him. That we will hate him. That we will scorn him. That we will slaughter him. And he does it anyway. Even though we have no idea what we’re doing—for which he asks God to forgive us—he does it anyway. He gives us everything he’s got until it’s all gone—life and everything.

That is what it means to imitate incarnation.

You and I have every advantage to give away. If you’re reading this right now, you are sitting at a computer, which means that you are in a technologically advanced society. And by that extension, you’ve probably received a first-rate education of some sort—possibly even from an American university. Do not sit there and think you don’t have something to offer.

A good number of us have been raised in solid homes with at least one loving parent. That automatically gives us something to offer to children who have never known such a thing. Yes, something even that simple gives us an advantage to give away to others. You can’t give what you haven’t received, and by having been raised in such an environment, I have had the love and nurture to where I can take care of myself. And if I can take care of myself, I can take care of others. I have been given much, and so, much is expected. God forbid that I see where I am in life and then believe that the pursuit of the white picket fence is what my next step should be. If I am to assume mimetic incarnation—if I am to believe that the incarnation is truly “it”—then I am going to go where there are people who do not have advantages. I am to enter their world and become one of them, taking on their burdens so as to understand them and reach them in a way that only incarnation can.

(Note: this is not a post saying Africa is the only place a Christian should go. Living out the incarnation does not pigeon-hole an individual by any means. The entire world is fair game, including one’s own city park.)

That is what it means to pursue mimetic incarnation. And it is terrifying. To align oneself with incarnation requires so much. It mandates that a person die to himself. It means the rejection of self and the putting on of selflessness, but a person does not know if he can do this. He knows he is selfish. It scares him to hand everything over to a God he cannot see; such a thing is so fluid. He has so many things that tie him down, and he is frightened to let them go because they offer and afford the security he’s known for the majority of his life.

Because what if Christ is literal and not figurative when he asks us to sell everything we have and follow him? We paint his words in metaphor because he told a healthy amount of parables, but what if we’ve watered down the majority of what he said? Because when you dilute his words, you weaken his ethos, and you ultimately belittle his actions to where nothing is required of you. It’s a domino effect that results in nothing but the waste of a human being’s potential for good. And for so long we have been wasting away. We have been content to let others demean the radical nature of Christ’s message and, in the process, have made their skepticism our own. And in the process we arrive at a time when spending millions of dollars on the church building renovations seems like a justifiable use of funds. But as I realize that such a life manifesto as that is neither satisfactory nor beneficial—for others and for me—the knowledge that change must take place within myself begins to register deeper and deeper until it pricks my own heart, a heart desperately in need of a rude awakening.

I only control myself. I will change nobody with my words. I might lodge a nugget of an idea in their cerebral cortex, but only actions matter. Talk is insanely cheap, utterly bereft of wealth (preachers, take note of that). This is why I put no stock in this blog. It’s solely a place where I flesh out ideas in my head all while hesitant to say label what I’m writing as “truth.” But if the incarnation isn’t it, then I don’t know what would take its place. It possesses within it everything needed for a life lived in sacrificial love to others.

Now, if somehow people come away from all of that still with the impression that there is room allotted for the maltreatment and distancing of homosexuals, economic rape of other cultures, and the Statue of Liberty supporting the Bible, I politely ask them to pick up the Gospels and read them through to see if they can find Christ’s support for those causes. I believe and sincerely hope they will find such evidence to be lacking. But if, for some reason, they do find such crutch verses, I hope they might clue me in to their existence because I have yet to locate them.

But to do this—to imitate incarnation—is so subjective, so malleable, so full of the unknown. And as I type those words, I put negative meaning behind them in my head when, in actuality, they carry promises of open-endedness, free spirits, unlimited potential, and a wealth of opportunities from which to learn and continually be educated by life. And I fear that. Why? Because cultural structure is all I’ve known. I believe the first thing in order is to go somewhere that does not follow such a life pace so as to break me of that rhythm. I need to go where calendars do not exist and where scheduling appointments is a foreign concept.

As far as I can tell, that’s what the incarnation can offer—for me and for others. True freedom. It is not a model that limits, unlike much of what the Church seems to do nowadays. Doors were opened two thousand years ago that simply require pursuit and willing entry. What lies in wait behind such openings can not even be put into words until experienced. Perhaps that is why people, like myself, hesitate to enter. We want to know beforehand. Maybe it’s better that we don’t. Life, otherwise, would not be interesting and would be completely bereft of joy.

Much love.

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