De(con)structive rememberings (Or, rather, what might happen when the Bible gets read)

I read ‘What Would Jesus Deconstruct?: The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church‘ by John D. Caputo recently. His thoughts on the kingdom and the provisionality of anything that we do in light of it, as well as how the two are tied to Derrida’s concept of deconstruction fascinated me. Here are some quotes and thoughts about how those things coincide with ideas about a God who trusts us, remembering and reading the Bible in church.

One of things Derrida means by a text or a tradition is that it keeps “happening” without ever quite “arriving” at a final, fixed, and finished destination. We cannot simply “derive” direct instruction from it, but we must instead allow it a certain drift or free play, which allows that tradition to be creative and reinvent itself so that it can be, ever ancient yet ever new… I am presenting the New Testament as a “poetics” of the kingdom of God, a theo-poetics – as opposed to a “theologic,” an ethics, or a church dogmatics – as a complex of narratives, parables, and paradoxes of which Jesus is the centerpiece. From a work such as that we cannot simply and straightforwardly “derive” a course of action. We need instead to “arrive” at an instantiation, a concretization, a way to translate it into existence, all the while letting it happen to us, allowing ourselves to come under its spell and be transformed by the event it harbors. (p57)

The Scriptures remember an event – the kingdom of God, of which Jesus spoke; the traditions of the church are attempts to elaborate, ground, remember, and rearticulate this event, as we come under and are compelled by it.

As we remember shit happens. Stuff goes down. This event, this kingdom, that the text harbours, is always coming, ever arriving (it has never arrived), looking to grab our imaginations and change conditions – poetics by nature do this.

Walter Brueggemann, busting out some reflections via Annie Dillard, speaks somewhere of why, when we hear the Bible read on Sunday mornings, we should all be wearing crash helmets. Why? Because it’s dangerous, it’s de(con)structive(!), and waiting to draw us into the event. This takes us into the world of what is referred to as the “speech act.” In the act of speech subsequent actions are implied and may even be solicited.

So here – when we think of the public reading of the Bible – the act of reading, the remembrance of the event the text harbours, implies and may even solicit us to action; as we look to compel and be compelled by the poetics that are remembered in our speech.

In this sense remembrance is creative and evocative. It draws us toward something which seeks our faithfulness and engenders responsibility. This event, thinking theologically and following Caputo, is the kingdom of God.

Our remembrance of Jesus’ poetics and our response in light of this remembering, is how the event stirs and takes shapes, becomes grounded, and invites us to rearticulate and reimagine our faith and the traditions we have inherited.

To implement the kingdom of God, to translate this poetics into praxis… requires  [the church’s] affirmation and reaffirmation, imagination and reimagination, a willingness to reinvent itself in a ongoing self-renewal of itself. (p137)

This might even lead us to think along with Slavoj Žižek, as he has said, that “God trusts us” with working this poetics out – we’re responsible for articulating this kingdom deal. As Žižek writes elsewhere, it might be that

by dying on the cross, God made a risky gesture with no guaranteed final outcome…. The divine act stands for the openness of a New Beginning, and it is up to humanity to live up to it, to decide its meaning, to make something of it.

There are qualifications that should be articulated with such an idea that I’m not interested in making right now. Such an idea though helps us feel the responsibility of remembrance, to be aware of the event that can become manifest in and through us (in some sense) – particularly as we stay open to the Spirit that wills the world toward newness. In all of this deconstruction is there, as it underlines the contingency and provisionality of our traditions and articulations. We are drawn into the need to re-rehearse these poetics, to rediscover and reaffirm this event, as we remember the stories of the kingdom. In all of this, “God trusts us” to keep remembering.