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Interview Meme: Part I

Stephen ( recently asked to “interview” me as a part of an interview meme that has been floating around blogdom. Given that Stephen has been one of my favourite dialogue partners over the last few years, I quickly agreed and invited him to not “hold back” but to, instead, question and challenge me in any way that he wanted. Consequently, he has sent me five very good questions but, like many good questions, they require rather lengthy answers. Here, then, is the beginning of our Q&A.
(1) Your blog is called, “On journeying with those in exile”. Who are “those in exile”? What does it mean to “journey” with them?
This is a great question and a good place to start. However, in order to answer this question, I’m going to have to (very rapidly) recap the biblical narrative paying especial attention to the motif of exile — a motif that I believe is one of the central motifs in the bible. The key thing to realise is that the biblical narrative describes multiple movements of exile, movements that becomes increasingly specific. So, in Gen 3, humanity and all creation go into exile together. Adam and Eve are banished (i.e. exiled) from Eden and the earth itself is cursed because of Adam. Then, this “cosmic” exile becomes more specific, and a “political” exile takes place in Gen 11 when the nations of the earth are scattered from the plains of Shinar. After Babel, all the nations are in exile. Consequently, God raises up Abraham and Sarah in order to address this problem by making Abraham, Sarah, and their family (i.e. Israel), into a blessing to the (exiled) nations. Yet, instead of becoming the solution, Israel becomes a part of the problem. Exile is, once again, made even more specific as first the Northern and then the Southern kingdoms go into exile. Finally, all of this climaxes in the person and work of Jesus. Exile “bottoms-out” at Golgotha. On the cross Jesus takes on the exile of Israel and the exile of humanity and the cosmos, and by doing this exile is overcome. Therefore, the mission of the Church, God's out-of-exile people, is to go forth into the nations, and into all creation, proclaiming that exile (at every level) is now over/ending (indeed, this is what the proclamation of “the forgiveness of sins” means).
Therefore, I would define “those in exile” as all those who do not yet live under the lordship of Jesus (I'm not entirely satisfied with this definition but it will have to do for now). Perhaps this is not the answer you expected. After all, I seem to connect journeying with those “in exile” with journeying with those “on the margins,” so what is it that has led me to this particular focus?
I connect journeying with those “in exile” with journeying with those “on the margins” because the embodied proclamation of the end/ing of exile necessarily takes the form of solidarity with those who suffer most under exilic conditions. Hence, although God desires that all be liberated from exile, we also see God constantly demonstrating a “preferential option” for some — “the poor” (I put the term “the poor” in quotes because I am using it as an umbrella term for all sorts of marginal peoples: the poor, the sick, the possessed, the abandoned, the powerless, etc.). This is especially clear in the prophetic tradition (which I will comment on more in response to your second question) that culminates in Jesus. Hence, we see Jesus proclaiming the forgiveness of sins (i.e. the end of exile) by living in a liberating solidarity with the poor, the sick, the possessed, the outcasts, and the powerless.
However, it needs to be explicitly stated that this solidarity with some is not to be an act that excludes others from the offer of liberation from exile. Rather, our solidarity with the poor is simultaneously an invitation to “the rich” (another umbrella term for the wealthy, the healthy, the powerful, etc.). We just need to realise that the offer of liberation from exile looks very different to those who suffer the most under exilic conditions, than it does to those who maintain and benefit from exilic conditions. Therefore, drawing from Freire and Moltmann, who have noted the ways in which “oppression” (i.e. exilic conditions) dehumanise both the oppressed (who are not given the opportunity to be fully human) and the oppressors (who have their humanity warped because of their oppressive actions), and we recognise that if exile is to be overcome the powerless must be empowered and the powerful must disempowered. Thus, we move into places of solidarity with the poor and invite the rich to join us there so that, together, we can embody the proclamation of the end of exile (or, as Freire and Moltmann would say, we resist oppression so that both the oppressed and the oppressor can become fully human).
This, then, begins to explain why I like to use the language of “journeying.” To “journey” with those in exile is to recognise that we are engaging in an ever deepening process. We are walking the road of the cross, which is, of course, the road of love. And love is not some static thing, it is something we can move ever more deeply into (which is way Augustine argues that love lasts into eternity [as per 1 Cor 13]; love lasts because “the eternal requires the inexhaustible”). Hence, the language of journeying means that there are always further steps we can take towards loving our neighbour. We don't ever come to the place where we say, “this is enough; we've done enough, gone far enough.” For as long as exile continues, only the one who is expiring on a cross can proclaim “It is finished. I have gone as far as I can go.” Until then, and until the day when God returns to us and ends exile once and for all, we are always being beckoned further down the road of cruciform love (more on “cruciform love” in answer to your third question).

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