Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Doxological Selfhood and the Parable of the Wedding Feast

Here are some quotes from Michael Hanby in "Augustine Beyond Western Subjectivity" (Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology):
"The self ... is fundamentally iconic for the objects of its desire" (111-112).

"Augustine ... has turned the self inside out and defined interiority in terms of an exteriority which is imparted entirely as gift, but which the subject must nevertheless entirely perform" (114).

"The creature's 'nature' is not primarily an indeterminate self-positing given, subsisting behind its intentions, but rather is finally determined through its intentions by the company she keeps and the objects of her worship, expressed through the descriptions she gives of herself and the world... The self, who serially is through activity which is formally doxological, is an icon for the 'object' of its worship, by which that 'object' and the self are in turn made manifest" (115).

"The doxological self is thus able to participate in the life of the Trinity by virtue of a doxological character which it cannot escape, but can only pervert" (115).

"The subject begins to be negated or negates itself only as it mistakenly assumes itself substantially to suffice as its own end, whereas it is only as it participates in the ever-arriving gift of its doxological- which is to say teleological- existence" (116).

"Nihilism can arise only when doxology fails, and all that is not doxology is nihilism" (116).
To this point, we have focused mainly on the idea of gift and the refusal/rupture of the gift. The parable makes clear that judgment comes upon those who refuse to receive the gift and to enter into a gracious relationship of Triune exchange with the gift giver. In this post, I want to turn to the end of the parable. After the servants search the streets and bring everyone they can find to the feast, the king arrives and views the wedding party. The king spots and addresses one man without a wedding garment. "How did you get in here without a wedding garment?" The man is rendered "speechless." Thus, the king has him bound up, both hand and foot, and cast into the outer darkness. Judgment is rendered, and the man is removed. The elements of judgment are easily spotted in this parable, and often overstated. Remember that this is also a parable of the kingdom, and thus one of great joy. Let us now turn to the idea of doxology in general and doxological selfhood in particular.

When we view the Gospel reading within the context of Matthew's Gospel, we readily identify judgment as a key theme. When we read Matthew along with the other lectionary texts, another point of contact becomes clearly evident: remembering and rejoicing. In each of the passages, there is a strong connection between memory and joy. It is here that we begin to realize bot the beauty and the tragedy of Jesus' parable. To return to the idea of gift, God "gifted" us into being out of His love for His Son. We are sustained by gift alone. We are invited to feast in celebration of the King's Son, our Lord. Thus, the end of all flesh, indeed all of creation, is to rejoice in our Creator God. We are invited to come to the divine party and to tabernacle there with the God who hosts an eschatological feast. To return to the hospitality motif that lies beneath this parable, the king invites us to the feast for one purpose: to celebrate and rejoice the wedding of his son. They are not called upon to prepare the meal, prepare the palace, prepare the grounds or to do anything else. They are called to come and to rejoice.

To put on wedding garments implies more than just being dressed appropriately. The man is not judged for being too poor to dress for the party. Indeed, with the arrival of people invited straight from the streets, it is unlikely that any had time to return home to fetch their Sunday clothing. Instead, it seems more likely that the king in his effort to throw a good party provided wedding garments for everyone to wear. The man is judged because he crashes the king's party (to which everyone was invited anyway) and neglects to put on a wedding garment.

To allegorize a bit and to tie up this reflection, let me posit that the wedding garments represent remembrance and rejoicing. A bunch of people, who had not been invited to a party, suddenly find themselves in the middle of a raucous party. For this party, there were no standards. Everyone was invited to come. Even those who normally were excluded because of disease, disability, and sin were there. People who made money in improper ways were there. They come to the ball, and they are offered beautiful clothes, rich garments that match the richness of the feast. These who were outcasts and unwelcome the day before suddenly find themselves dressed like members of the royal family. How then are they to respond? By remembering where and what they were, and by remembering where they are now. How are they to respond? By praising and rejoicing in the goodness of their king who invited them to a party that they did not deserve to attend. To refuse to put on a wedding garment is to refuse to remember and to refuse to rejoice. This man is judged and judged harshly. However, for those who put on the garments, lepers and conmen, prostitutes and the blind, tax collectors and the demon-possessed. All are now dressed like royalty and are living like the king's own children. Indeed, Jesus tells us, this party is like the kingdom of God.

Theologically, then, Milbank's point that we are to be people of good confidence and not of good conscience becomes clear. Morality is a tragic shame, because it leads us to believe that our righteous acts make for us wedding garments, when in actuality it deceives us into looking at the sow's ear and pronouncing it silk. Doxology, though, reminds us of who we were, and how God acts to restore us simply by the gift of grace. We realize that we are unworthy of the party, but are invited in any way. All we are called to do is to celebrate the king with lives of humble devotion, throwing love and grace around in the same carefree manner that the king does. We are dressed in the king's clothes. We eat the king's food. We know the king's songs. We have seen the face of our king. He calls us to remember, to rejoice, and to follow him, as he searches the highways and byways for more people to come to the party. Will we live doxologically?

6 Comments:

Blogger St.Phransus said...

funny, as i was reading your post i was planning on commenting basically what you stated in the conclusion. i love the connection to the idea of doxological self and being "dressed" for the party.

thanks scott, great post that sheds theological ligt to the idea of re-membering.

shalom,
jonathon

October 07, 2005 10:55 PM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...

Scott,

First of all, thank you for opening up this space to connect RO with preaching and engaging the Scriptures. I'm in the middle of my 4th official RO series book right now, and while I think they are pretty astounding for the most part, there's little to no actual engagement with the Scriptures. It's like there's a kind of academic assumption that we just "know" them all or something. It's always, always good to look and re-look at the Scriptures. In the Radical Orthodoxy class I took earlier this year, some of my fellow students were wondering of RO actually has a doctrine of scripture. I wasn't the only one who felt like there was stuff being said with too many assumptions being made.

To address this post (and I have been reading all of yours so far), I wanted to touch on the first quotation from page 115 that you cited about there being a kind of "self-positing given, subsisting behind its intentions...." I finally got a chance to read this chapter while I was gone this weekend, and this stuck out at me as well. Concomitantly, what stuck out at me was the next section (not quoted in your post) which reads:

"Again, despite the many 'trinities' that can be discerned in the mind's activity, it can only be an image of God, only manifest God in creation, insofar as it doxologically participates in God's charity through the historic ecclesia."

The reason I think these should be read together with emphasis on the 'trinities' that we create and with the Trinity in the next sentence (which you did quote) is because of the kind of voluntarist notion of a kind of "will" behind the Trinity of God that directs what we know as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is something that Pastor John taught us in his RO class, that the voluntarist influence on Christianity is one that puts much emphasis on the "power" of God and especially on "God's will," as in "God's will for our lives."

What this often looks like is people (following the quotation above) trying to discern a kind of human-posited will behind the intentions of God that are encapsulated by the giving of the Son from the Father by the Holy Spirit. You might hear, "it was God's will" that:

-- "you God into a good college"
-- "you nabbed that parking spot"
-- "all those people died in the [insert natural disaster here]"
-- "your relative(s) died."

People make up all sorts of things that they see as "God's 'will,'" but the problem is that God's 'will' is not distinct from God's own nature. God is pure love that is the Father giving the Son by the Holy Spirit, which beckons us to love God and neighbor. There is nothing behind this that "causes" nabbed parking spots, priviledge, or death. All of these things that we know are God's "traits" are not distinct from God as merely attributes (as in gnosticism), but they are what God is, as God is creator, sustainer, gift-giver, and love. These are all the same thing within God.

Which leads us to:

"The doxological self is thus able to participate in the life of the Trinity by virtue of a doxological character which it cannot escape, but can only pervert" (115).

What I described above is that which we "cannot escape, but can only pervert." What Pastor John taught us in class, which is very related to this chapter by Hanby, is that all is worship-- the question is whether or not it is directed toward God (doxological) or not (paganism; nihilism).

The reason I feel this is relevant is because I know so many of us (including myself) don't even have an accurate understanding of what the party (the kingdom) even looks like. We spend so much time in our own ideas of what it is like that only benefit ourselves as we posit and assert ourselves over others that we forget that we are to first love God and neighbor. Our desires should be rightly ordered, yes, but not only that, we need to have the right understanding of God's kingdom so that we know what it is that our desires should be ordered towards.

Peace,

Eric

ps. I hope this wasn't too convoluted... I just got back from a weekend vacation and it's 2:40a.m.

October 11, 2005 2:42 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Eric,

I absolutely agree. I love the quote you reference.

After rereading that section that you reference re: the historic ecclesia, it reminds me the importance of conversion. Alexander Schmemann, in one of his essays, talks about the problem of Western Christianity is one of conversion. We lead a banker to the Lord and tell him that he will now be a happy banker who will go to heaven when he dies. We rarely question (or challenge) his understanding of God, the church, etc. It is by doing so that we pervert the possibility of a doxological character being formed.

Instead, we allow capitalism to shape our minds, forming us into docile subjects (re: Foucault). This plays out by our quest to be "fed", to find worship that "fills us", a church that has "a bunch of activities for our kids." Instead of conversion, we try to satisfy their misformed needs. In doing so, we make God and the church into a cosmic vending machine supplying religious goods and services. It reduces God to a God-who-meets-MY-needs and a church that is little more than a market.

Here is a question I am pondering after reading your post. I agree with you completely that we have little conception collectively about the nature of the doxological party. To gain some understanding I'm wrestling with two things that I believe are strongly interconnected.

1) To develop this understanding, we must be even more consistent and devoted to preaching, teaching, and embodying the Triune life of God.

2) Our understanding of the eschatological feast comes as we participate in it in the Eucharist and as we are formed into a Eucharistic people.

I love the issues all this raises. I think I worked harder and thought longer last week about my preaching than I have in years. It seems to me that this is what we should be about.

Grace and Peace,
Scott

October 11, 2005 4:46 AM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...

Scott,

Your point about embodying the Triune life of God by way of the Eucharist is important and essential. In a few weeks I hope to read David B. Hart's Beauty of the Infinite. I've read a few sections from it in Pastor John's class earlier this summer, and the Trinitarian emphasis he has is an important one. Because all of God's persons/faces in God are held together by the Holy Spirit which is love and peaceableness, this is not distinct from God as one God. If all difference is in God and is worked out peaceably, then what is the need for violence, for war, for competition, even?

Violence reduces all of us to nothingness, but with God and in God, we can be brought to a full life of bringing the something out of nothing as we find love in hatred and peace where there is none.

October 12, 2005 10:51 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Amen.

I have been wrestling with completing Hart's book for about a year now. I ahve always been drawn to Eastern Orthodoxy, and I am very interested with the direction I see Hart moving Radical Orthodoxy.

I love Hanby's book, also. I think his reading of Augustine is outstanding.

October 12, 2005 1:54 PM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...

Which book by Hanby?

October 12, 2005 3:25 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home