Contra Brother Z: Graham Ward and the politics of discipleship
In my previous posting, I talked about Zizek’s challenge to Christians by offering an alternative reading of what the faith is all about. Perhaps, those from the orthodox persuasion will ask whether there any theologians who dabbles in the same area except that they seek to serve the community of faith.
There are but the one that came to my mind was the Radical Orthodoxy theologian, Graham Ward, whom I had the privilege of meeting when he was in town a few months back. Ward develops a theocentric perspective of a Christian relationship to the world through what he called as the politics of discipleship.
Ward views the world as one where the humanity is being debased in the name of material pursuit. That we become less than what we are called to be by God and it is in need of redemption. A view which Brother Z would nod in agreement so far …
Redemption begins, according to Ward, with the community of believers who puts into practice the “common good” as outlined in the gospel of Matthew “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt. 25: 35-40).
By performing such “transformative practices of hope” that resist dehumanization, the body embodies Christ which silently signifies the arrival of the kingdom of God. He also reminds us of the need for prayer – which he considers as “the most political act any Christian can engage in” because “only in prayer is the discipline of listening developed’. It is not a self-interested activity.” For when a Christian prays …a dialectical relationship is taking place where both “‘I and the Spirit within me who pray’; ‘Christ in me disrupts the atomised individual, unseats him or her from being in command, opens the self to the infinity of what is God.” In short, a Christian is called to show what is happening around her through reflection, action and prayer.
It is this prescription which Zizek would have trouble with. In Ward’s view, a materialist Christian is bound to fail as she seeks to redeem the world through her own strength rather than through the grace of the Spirit. Food for thought indeed for those who are reluctant to become materialist Christians.
In trying to summarize Ward’s position, I suspect I’ve probably misread him as I did with Brother Z. I warmly commend any “orthodox” Christian (as I defined it in my previous posting) who are giving serious thought on this subject to read The Politics of Discipleship, a book that reflect theologically the world that we live in and what we are called to do. However, be warned that Ward offers no guide but a challenge to embody Christ in our lives.