Blog Template Theology of the Body: The Stink of Cheap Peace

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Stink of Cheap Peace

...Or, why MM has issues with the term "Irenicism."

Some of the friends who I've respected the most have appropriated a favorite new word in their theological work: in its various manifestations, the term is "Irenicism." It's a comforting, lukewarmish term for being dialogically peaceable; because I live with the burden of associating flavors and textures with words, this particular word reminds me of something like viscous fish soup. As far as I can tell, in its usage in distinctive language-games, it seems to be a term that is remarkably useful for making and maintaining stasis and self-identities intact in the Middle Way.

Frankly, as I've thought about the staunchly Catholic Tolkien this week, the term reminds me a bit of Tolkien's character Gollum, who exchanges real community and the light and warmth of sun and wind for the peaceful solace of his cave, where he can abide in endless "peace" with his seductive ring. Of course, we all know that Gollum's habituation is the worst parody of peace; it is decay. True peace comes to Middle Earth when the the lesser kings overthrow their self-deception and ride to war, and when the stewards of Gondor hand the one throne over to the one king. But throughout the restoration of Middle Earth, fragile Gollum prefers his own kind of irenic, and indeed, he talks a lot- in the sort of seeming "peace" wherein he mutters only to himself and tells riddles in the dark.

It is true that irenicism righly construed and practiced bears witness to the wisdom that is from above, which is both gentle, and compassionate, and full of love. That is, however not a theologically exhaustive depiction of peace, since Christ warned us that the peace that He gives is not necessarily the sort that is recognizable on the world's terms.

You see, I cut my theological teeth on Dietrich Bonhoffer. As most of you know, he was a pacifist of the first water. But Bonhoffer railed angrily against the Christians of his day who were tossing around something that he called "cheap grace." Some might associate this "cheap grace" with the vice of presumption, but I think it's more like what Karl Barth describes as the sin of spiritual boredom. Or, perhaps it is something like what is described in Revelation: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." On the other hand, some might equate this with a Gollum- like insistence that so long as one can grasp that which one would hold as his own, in irenic stasis, all's right with the world; "and they shall say in that time 'peace, peace,'- but there is no peace." (Ezekiel 13)

(The great pacificists of our day engage in some of the angriest rhetoric you'll ever hear; it's because they believe that authentic comunication is the only real antidote to damaging violence and manipulation. For instance, I love Stanley Hauerwas, and he is offensive; but I've never heard anyone refer to him as duplicitous. They say that John H. Yoder was one of the most disagreeable people you would ever meet.)

Bonhoffer taught that true grace and peace was only available for those who took up the cross of Christ. Grace and peace are costly. Accordingly, Bonhoffer went to a Nazi prison and was executed for his understanding of peace. When I read Bonhoffer's The Cost of Discipleship, I was not irenically soothed by his proposals; I was terrified. I told my professor one day: "this is terrifying. I hate this book." That was the day I got it.

This is the terror that brings us to the foot of the Cross, where Christ made real peace once and for all by having nails driven into His hands, and His ankle bones broken by stakes driven into planks of dry wood. On that day there was deep anguish, and probably, the gnashing of demons' teeth, while in the midst, there hung the torn body of the Savior, mediating grace, making peace- "in the body of His flesh through death He has reconciled us to Himself." In a world where there was no peace, it took the breaking and dying of the Begotten of the Creator to recreate the peacable kingdom of the Father. Our world is at war with the peace of God; and in such a world where true peace is anathema, our Lord died to re-create it.

When we say "blessed are the peacemakers," I think that Calvary should be our paradigm. Making real peace seems to require not a lot of words, but a dying. On this paradigm, perhaps the world's attempts at "irencisim" might be proven to be the whiny wordiness of people who are too afraid to die, and who think that they will just bargain for their time instead. In fact, we will all die. It's how we have prepared for it that matters: blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be found to be the sons of the God who went like a wordless lamb to the slaughter.

Lent is a time for dying, for ceasing our whiny wordiness and offering ourselves as a whole sacrifice to the Father, who, in His mercy, will accept it. This time last year, I was preparing for a death of my own: my conversion to the Catholic Church, and I was terrified. It's an understatement to say that I was a reluctant convert. I feared the loss of relationships with family and beloved friends. I could not at all comprehend how entrance into Catholicism could jive with my sense of calling to evangelize and to participate in making disciples in all nations, since the Catholic Church is so often despised among those nations. I was sure that I was bidding farewell to the distinctive beauty and cultural perks of Anglicanism forever. There were aspects of Catholic doctrine that I still did not fully understand, much less fully like, as is the case even today. And certainly, entering the Catholic Church did not promise perfection; but it did offer integrity. As the Anglican Use priest who received me often reminds me, to attempt catholic life outside of the Church is an ultimate impossibility.

I knew that for me (and, I believe for others) the love of Christ for His one Church required nothing less than my own self-offering for her obedient, visible, undivided unity, in full and unbroken communion with the apostles who had walked with our Savior. The least I could do was to show up with my own little life and invest it in this one Church, which was was manifestly living as Christ has called His people to live.

So, throughout the next few weeks, as my Lenten offering, I will be posting on my conversion story. I know that it may cause some discomfort, for me and for our readers... but I know that it won't be boring.