Peter Blum on Im/possibility and the Church’s Syntactical Relationship with the Poor

The Gift of Difference hit the ground running with Peter C. Blum’s chapter, “Two Cheers for an Ontology of Violence: Reflections on Im/possibility.” The chapter reflects on the strange possibility that Derrida’s ontology of violence and the impossibility of nonviolence may actually offer more resources for peace than Milbank’s ontology of peace which (as almost all contributors to this work identify) actually justifies and ultimately requires violence.  Derrida reduces the impossibility of nonviolence to an assertion that existence in the form of expression will always be an expression of reducing “the Other to the same” (11).  Blum quotes Derrida, “nonviolent language would be a language which would do without the verb to be, that is, with predication.  Predication is the first violence” (12).  Impossibility for Derrida though is not the end but it is where “things get interesting” (15).  Blum raises a case of the Nickle Mines shooting as a case of the madness and impossibility of forgiveness.  Blum is not concerned with whether or not the Amish response escapes violence but the manner in which it forces us to face the impossibility of nonviolence, its madness.

I don’t think I will offer substantive responses to each chapter (though many deserve further reflection).  What this chapter raised was a sort of tangential offshoot in relation to the Kingdom-Church-World Theses over at Halden’s blog.  What I found confusing there was Thesis #11.  The language was muddled especially the church’s syntactical relationship to ‘the poor’.  In this short thesis there are three prepositions used to relate the church to the poor.

Thesis 11: Such kenotic, cruciform solidarity in obedience to the way of the cross leaves no room for the church to be anything other than the “church of the poor.” The church’s kenotic solidarity with the world thus occurs as solidarity with the poor. As Jon Sobrino reminds us, “The mystery of the poor is prior to the ecclesial mission, and that mission is logically prior to an established church” (Sobrino, No Salvation Outside the Poor, 21). Or as Moltmann puts it, “It is not the Church that ‘has’ a mission, but the reverse; Christ’s mission creates itself a Church. The mission should not be understood from the perspective of the Church, but the other way round.”(Moltmann, Church in the Power of the Spirit, 10). With the Catholic bishops at Medellin, the church must reaffirm and exercise the “preferential option for the poor.” This “preferential option” is not simply one of many tasks of the church—it lies at the center and heart of its mission. In fact, it is its mission, because this is Christ’s mission.

To me this clearly indicates the ongoing struggle of the western/affluent church to integrate something it still does not quite understand.  Are we the poor?  Are we with the poor?  Are we for the poor?  Given Blum’s reflection on impossibility I would like to suggest that the church is called to announce and embody the impossibility of wealth.  This was the revelation to the church of Laodicea.  You say, “I am rich.”  But you do not realize that you are poor (Rev 3:17).  There is no such thing as human wealth.  This is our great illusion.  This is found throughout the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament.  The wealth streams to the Temple of God.  It is only there that is has any worth.  We must not be for or with the poor or even attempt to become the poor.  We must rather unveil our poverty in thought, word, deed.  The impossibility of wealth then can be taken up in the gift of God (Come buy food without cost . . . ).  This most certainly does not leave material poverty off the agenda as the unveiling of poverty releases us from the mechanics that the illusion of wealth demand from us.  For me this also helps release the church from a bind that previous theologies tend to place on practice namely what we hope for the poor.  Do we want the poor to be wealthy?  Why would we assume that they would turn out to be anything other than what the wealthy already are?  We must not eradicate poverty as such but eradicate the illusion of wealth that creates security systems that alienate one from another.  It is this alienation more than material poverty itself that must be overcome.  This erases the need to join syntactically with the poor and creates only the conditions for God’s gift.

Alas, many think that the eternal is a construction of the imagination, money the reality – in the understanding of the eternal and of truth it is precisely money which is a construction of the imagination! – Soren Kierkegaard in Works of Love.


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