Broken Bodies, Broken Church

I’ve recently been reading some work by Paul Virilio, as his work deals with the field of information in some really interesting ways. Over the past couple of days I was able to read a conversation between Virilio and Sylvere Lotringer which has been published under the title The Accident of Art. In the text, Virilio touches on why his theory appears negative, which is something that I had been concerned about in his The Information Bomb. According to Virilio being negative is necessary because it allows us to actually seriously deal with the negative aspects of the world. Virilio actually posits that without the negative there is no positive – that an accident, or negative move must occur before change can take place. For this text in particular, the discussion centre’s around what the speakers see as the static nature of contemporary art. Virilio suggests that art lacks an anchor which can allow it to move towards new forms of knowledge. That art cannot move towards new knowledge and new art without some anchor which is grounded in negation.

Interestingly (though perhaps not, considering who is reading the text), this discussion made me think of the church. These thoughts really began with a longer quote from the text itself. When discussing brokenness, Virilio states:

“I can’t be myself part time, by half measures. I just can’t. It’s not easy to say is, but I love bodies, and bodies are always painful. They tell me the body is pleasure, and I say: you must be joking! Get old and you’ll see. Bodies are pain, and pain is love. You can’t separate them. I can’t hide the fact that I converted to Christianity, so something in me is attracted to the sinner. For me, a person only exists through his [sic] flaws. I have always been fascinated by assassins, prostitutes, etc. I feel like I’m one of them, because if you get rid of original sin, there’s nothing left. You have no more humanity. My Christianity is connected to that. It’s Jeremiah, not Isaiah” [1]

Humanity arrives in the brokenness, not perfection. One might expand this to say that, without imperfection, there is nothing to love. One does not love perfection, but rather imperfection. I might go so far as to say that we love someone because they are broken, not in spite of it. It is in the pain of living that love is experienced in its rawest, purest form. Love exists in between broken individuals.

This idea of love in the brokenness relates to a couple of conversations I had over the weekend regarding the church. These conversations asked how the church I am a part of – a mainline protestant congregation, with an aging population, and almost no one younger than me – can survive. My answer to that question might be that the church needs to go further in embracing the brokenness. My understanding of the church – both before these conversations, as well as impacted by them – is that it is a community of broken believers in love. Through the brokenness that occurs in our lives we love. To invert the passages from 1st Corinthians, it is not faith, but rather love that has the potential to move mountains. Together as a community of believers – who embrace each other in the love of our brokenness rather than in spite of it – we have the ability to change the world, and to change the church. This broken collection of people who comprise the church is beautiful. And yet, it is still dying.

I think that part of the reason the church is dying is because the perception is that the church does not embrace the negative. People do not see a church that embrace the brokenness, rather they see an institution which strives towards some alienating form of perfection, while at the same time shunning those who do not fit into that model. The example that comes to my mind most clearly is the outright denial of certain groups, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community, but by no means reducible to those communities [2]. Many, instead of embracing brokenness, have instead embraced a notion of perfection, and if you do not fit into that image of perfection (White, heteronormative, cisgendered, etc) you do not belong. Now, while it is the case that not all church have been explicit with this move away from brokenness and towards perfection, I would argue that all churches have are implicit in this move. Churches are implicitly responsible when they do not condemn the actions of those who embrace perfection.

But the story does not end here. Rather, if we follow Virilio, the negative here can be used as an anchor to move towards something new. The negative can allow us to move towards the positive. Like the humans who comprise the church, the church itself is broken. There is room for growth. There is room for the church to condemn its idle silence. There is room for the church to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, to own up to its explicit and implicit oppression. I believe that this is necessary for the church in order to move forward. By accepting that the church itself, and the people comprising it are broken, and that they are broken together. That, out of this brokenness can flow a love so strong and so beautiful that it can change not only the church, but the world. We’re human because of the brokenness, not in spite of it. Let us embrace that humanness and that brokenness in a loving embrace.

Finally, why the church? Why not let the church die? Why do I wish to embrace the church? I think that these are relevant questions. And, to be honest, I don’t think that the church is right for everyone. But, I do think that the church does have the history and the potential to move towards love in a profound way. It might not always be done right, but the wrongness can allow for new movement to take place towards something better. The negative allows the affirmation of something beautiful to occur. Perhaps it is just the conservative in me, but I think that the church does have a potential for beautiful and radical love, and, at least to me, that is worth holding onto.

[1] Lotringer, S., & Virilio, P. (2005). The accident of art. New York, N.Y : Cambridge, Mass: Semiotext(e) ; Distributed by MIT Press. p. 46.

[2 I in no way, shape or form mean to imply that these communities, or the individuals comprising them are broken because of their sexuality or gender, or lack thereof. Sexuality and gender have nothing to do with sin, and no one is sinful because of what they identify as. That said, everyone is broken, everyone sins, and everyone needs love. This is because we are all human.

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