Monday, May 3, 2010

In Christ(ianese)

Self-actualization is a long process. Maslow was well-aware of the difficulty in achieving an individuated selfhood. One must climb, as it were, "up" the eschelons of self-awareness until, by degrees, one is a fully realised, fully actuated person with all personal potentials being utilised. It is an existential reality everyone must grind through, and it is often fraught with vast pains, remorseless joys, and common experiences between those extremes.

More, our interactions with others add to, or detract from our self-actualization. However, our self-realization and self-actualization happens, on a fundamental level, alone. No-one else self-actualizes for another.

With that in mind, I cannot help but call into question the teachings I was attendant to at a Pentecostal church recently. The subject was, essentially, identifying who you are and becoming fully you. The catch was that in order to be who you fully are, you have to be that person "in Christ".

Well, far from being a religious critic, I must admit that this phrase put me off straightaway. I was ripped out of my nostalgia by a sudden sense of urgency; urgency that perhaps I had just listened to an interesting preamble about self-identifying and self-actualizing, but that such a disposition could only take place "in Christ".

What does the phrase "in Christ" even mean? Are we somehow enwombed in this man, Jesus, people call "the Christ"? And given that last question, how can we relate to the preposition in Christ, when what is being suggested is that we are included in his title of 'Christ', or 'Messiah'? Linguistically, the phrase simply doesn't make sense. What does it mean to be "in Christ"? No-one really knows, but we acknowledge it on a notional level, we give the connotation a favourable nod; we feel all soft inside, as if we've been rolled in a giant warm-fuzzy. But the phrase means literally nothing on a practical level. It is wanton Christianese.

Particular idioms like "in Christ" should be expected in Christian assemblies, however. In-groups have their own fashionable expressions, their own method of meaning that out-groups simply cannot partake in. And it's not as if the inability to partake of in-group lingo is forced on out-groups; I'm sure this particular Pentecostal church would like nothing more than to swell its ranks. The difficulty is that in-group lingo is fixed against the sensible notion of making what one says intelligible. Or, as Paul put it in 1 Cor. 14:10-11,

"Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me."

So while it is that in-group lingo is fashionable and expected, I can't help but wonder why any church would allow it if the net result is that outsiders feel alien? The church's mandate, as far as I've been educated, is to make Jesus the Christ understandable, convincing, persuasive, graspable, intimately familiar, not vague, imperceptible, elitist, and contradictory. And it is phrases like "in Christ" that do just that: remove understanding from outsiders and render communication bleak.

Another catch-phrase was thrown at me when I asked a couple questions of the leaders. The phrase "prayed-up". I was struck by the overt insincerity of this nugget. In essence, the phrase "prayed-up" implied that one can simply go to the prayer-bar, in much the same way one would go to a gas-bar, and fill their spiritual tank. Simply drop to your knees, pump the spiritual sagacity in, and then carry on your merry little evangelistic way. Rubbish and poppycock!

Look, if the context of a lesson is going to be about how a person can self-realize and self-actualize, then importing confusing mumbo-jumbo about how that can happen in somebody else as long as they are filling up on prayer (spiritual gas, that is) is contradictory and inane. There's no sense trying to convey large concepts like self-realization and self-actualization by speaking about them in connotative language that means literally nothing to outsiders, and is internally contradictory, even when examined from the perspective of an insider. Why add confusion if what you're trying to do is bring clarification? Lingo should never trump the content of the lesson. When it does, as it did in the case of my experience with this Pentecostal group, all that's left is to state firmly, "do not speak unless you can improve upon the silence." In other words, shut-up.


Landon O. said...

I think "In Christ" refers to unity in Christ's body (the Church) or submission to Christ himself, the head of the Church. That's my best guess.

But you're right. I don't understand much of what is said in corporate prayer and the jargon that is commonly used in Christian circles is so worn it eventually becomes tiresome to listen to, I wonder if God feels the same way. I think that's one of the reasons I always thought prayer was so boring growing up.

Skeptigirl said...

"do not speak unless you can improve upon the silence." Sounds Quaker. I think my pastor has said the same exact phrase when teaching us the meaning of open worship.

Kane Augustus said...

Landon: Glad to see there's something we agree on.

Skeptigirl: Hey! Thank you for reminding me. I forgot to source my quote. It comes from the movie Ever After. A wonderful movie, if you haven't seen it yet. Many quotable moments.

Craig said...

Acts 17:22-30 (New International Version)

22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

29"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

Craig said...

I think that what the preacher may have been trying to communicate is that we "live and move and have our being" in Christ.
The pastor was perhaps presenting Christ as the great door to infinity.
This could easily be presented in contrast to the finite things in which we attempt to find meaning. It's sometimes good for example, to find some sort of meaning in your work, but you make yourself quite vulnerable if your work is your ultimate source of meaning because all things are temporal.
If, however, a being is able to somehow anchor their sense of self to something infinite, then that being is, in a sense "in" the infinite.
Can, perhaps, our infinite individuality be seen in Christ, in a similar way to how some of our finite individuality can be seen in a mirror?

One flaw with the buzz phrase of "in Christ" is that, couldn't it be argued from scripture that everything is "in Christ"? I'm not talking about universalism, I'm talking about the first few verses of John and Paul's explanation of the poetry in Athens.

Skeptigirl said...

Actually Ever After is one of my favourite movies but it has been a while since I last watched it.