Blessed are the Chokeholders…

A 20th Aug 2007 edition of Australia’s ABC Four Corners Program sought to provide an insight into the world of Evangelical Christians in the United States, covering what they believed, how the state of America fits into the Evangelical Weltenschaaung, and the methods used to bring the Gospel to the American public.

The host of usual suspects of creationists, televangelists and megachurches featured in the program. But for the Author the most iconic representation of Evangelical America came in the form of the Christian Wrestling Federation.

The above outfit makes regular visits to schools and other public venues and there, people can witness hulking men beat and choke the living daylights out of each other, as well as receive the life affirming message of Jesus and his love for all men. One does not have to think very hard to detect a sense of contradiction here.

Whilst it is true that according to Simeon’s prophetic words, Christ would grow to become a sign of contradiction for many, nowhere in the Gospels was there a record of Jesus acting in complete contradiction to his message. Indeed, as James KA Smith noted in Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, Jesus’ task was more to institute a way of living in accordance with the message rather than merely a message itself.

If that were true, then outfits like the Christian Wrestling Federation raises serious questions about the efficacy of spreading the Gospel. Whilst the problem of contradiction between way of life and message is readily apparent, another not so apprent problem consists of the utilisation of the surrounding culture to spread that Gospel. Indeed, it is true that Christians are called to spread the Gospel utilising the local culture so as to make the Gospel perceptable. However, as the Second Vatican Council Document Gaudium et Spes makes clear, Christ is also supposed to fulfil culture and bring it to its highest development. This makes clear that Christianity’s task is not only to utilise but also provide a critique of the local culture. If Christians are completely absorbed into the way of life of the surrounding culture to the point that there is virtually nothing to distinguish them as Christians except the label, the Christian message risks being smothered and snuffed out. To come back to our example, how one can take seriously Christ’s command to offer the other cheeks whilst witnessing its preachers are making sure, through the deployment of a well-placed armbar or chokehold against another, that their cheeks are never slapped again?

This is why far from a mere message, Christianity is at the same time a counter-culture. As such, the message must also be encapsulated in actions and a way of life in consonance. Whilst this has been mentioned in previous wonderposts, it should be mentioned here that Liturgy must play a crucial role in being a vehicle for the Gospel, for as Christ makes the Word flesh, so does Liturgy make the Gospel flesh, and make it one with our flesh as well.

On top of that, the insistence of a counter cultural Christianity makes it imperative that the Liturgy not fall victim to the homogenising effects of modern culture. In order to be that effective vehicle for the Gospel, Liturgy must be also an interruption to the surrounding culture, not just cognitively (to just focus on this element would in itself be a form of kowtowing to the Modern insistence on thought superceding everything else), but also aesthetically. And this aesthetic interruption must encompass music, architecture, and the actual lives of the Liturgies participants. It is no accident that in the Old Roman Rite, the Liturgy ends with the phrase “Ite Missa Est“, you are sent. The participants, having received communion and thus are in Communion with this Liturgical interruption, must not just through their mouths but also their actions continue with this liturgical interruption to the surrounding culture.

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