A Balkan born theologian and philosopher, Miroslav Volf, knows how to write a cogent argument! I’ve copied a rather lengthy quote because it just had to be shared and I think it speaks to our work of inclusion as a community on mission.
“Through faith and baptism the self has been re-made in the image of “the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me,” Paul writes. At the center of the self lies self-giving love. No “hegemonic centrality” closes the self off, guarding its self-same identity and driving out and away whatever threatens its purity. To the contrary, the new center opens the self up, makes it capable and willing to give itself for others and to receive others in itself. In the previous chapter I argued that Paul locates the unity of the church not in the disincarnate transcendence of a pure and universal spirit, but in the scandalous particularity of the suffering body of God’s Messiah. Correspondingly, Paul locates the center of the self not in some single and unchangeable–because self enclosed–“essence,” but in self-giving love made possible by and patterned on the suffering Messiah. For Christians, this “de-centered center” of self giving love–most firmly centered and most radically open–is the doorkeeper deciding about the fate of otherness at the doorstep of the self. From this center judgments about exclusion must be made and battles against exclusion fought. And with this kind of self, the opposition to exclusion is nothing but the flip side of the practice of embrace.” -Miroslav Volf p.71 Exclusion and Embrace
We are prone to exclusion as a way to preserve our identities. Some post modern people might claim that the self doesn’t have a center. Volf argues that it most certainly does but that the center of the self is not as important as what sort of self we ought to have. His argument is that our selves need to be de-centered by the presence of Christ inside us. The point from this hefty paragraph that most struck me was that pursuit of self enclosed identities “drive[s] out and away whatever threatens its purity.” Especially in the church, we are with purity. We want to maintain the good that we have and–mostly unconsciously– exclude those trying to get in. Much of our identity formation as individuals, and as groups, is in some way violent. This is as true in Volf’s Balkans as it is in any high school, and even within our church. We can’t help but keep people out. Including people then is an expression of Christ inside us and a way to keep the binary star system of our interior universes properly balanced.
Only a de-centered-by-Jesus self can open and include as naturally as we need to in order to grow into the next generation of Circle of Hope. I am thankful for how God has achieved this in us to a degree and hopeful for how God will proceed.
How do you guard your identity? How does your self’s center respond to threats against its primacy? How might we act to be more de-centered? How will this effect us as a people? These aren’t rhetorical–let me know what you think!
2 responses to “What sort of self do you have?”
Excellent and accessible book by Miroslav. I especially like how when he talks about how quickly identity can change.
Volf only alludes to it, but in class he talked about a seminal moment in his understanding of the issue of identity. He got on a plane in Germany being one of that country’s undesirable lower-class oppressed (Croatian being only slightly more tolerated than Romani). When he got off in L.A., he found himself identified as a white oppressor (this being right around the Rodney King ordeal).
You had him in class? Lucky!