Jesus never said “Be a ‘good Christian'”

The politics of knowledge is one of my deepest passions. What knowledge is considered “legitimate” and “subordinate”? Who gets to “create” that knowledge? How is “knowledge” generated? Who gets to determine the parameters for these qualifiers? Having this passion means that I spend a lot of time reading about research methods–the methods used to “generate data,” analyze the data generated, represent it in a way that qualifies as “knowledge” and, most importantly, the philosophies that inform them. This has been an obsession for me in my own work, which is why I feel a strong orientation toward philosophies of cultural performance.

By performance, I mean the enactment of daily activities like interactions, eating, playing, etc. These philosophies or theories of performance assert that culture is constant performance so it can’t be reduced or categorized. It can’t be isolated or explained solely in stagnant text (especially the traditional academic written form). They ascribe to the idea that cultural performances, in themselves, are texts. This is counter to mainstream academic practice and politics. The limitation of the traditional academic form is that it can’t represent culture accurately unless it respects cultural performance and, perhaps, transitions to more performance-based representations of data analysis. I’ve been thinking about this endlessly and what that means for every aspect of life.

Earlier, while listening to Nadia Bolz-Weber’s (NBW) recent sermon of modern Beatitudes, I noted her description of the blessings of Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount (aka The Beatitudes) as performative. The Beatitudes, she exclaims, are not prescriptive, they’re descriptive. She says that Jesus does not ask anyone be meeker or “mournier” in order to receive blessings.  The blessings are conferred simply through the pronouncement, or the very act, of the blessing. And that really got me thinking about what made Jesus radical … because Jesus’ teachings were not new teachings. All of his teachings are rooted deeply in Jewish thought and practice. But I think, maybe what made Jesus a different sort of rabbi is the performative aspect of his message. Yes, he told stories … but as NBW says frequently, most of them were descriptive, not prescriptive. He didn’t TELL people how to act. He SHOWED people how to act and he experienced the world by co-performing with those on the margins of society.

Jesus never asked anyone to be Christian and he certainly didn’t ask people to be GOOD Christians. He asked people to stop isolating themselves from one another and to stop drawing arbitrary lines to distinguish who is worthy and unworthy in society. In his performance, he constantly demonstrated that his concept of worthiness was counter to the dominant narrative of his time (and ours). He just said to follow him–that is, to perform in the way he performed. If Jesus’ message is construed as being totally performative, then divergence from Jesus could only be construed through performance that is counter to the way in which Jesus performed. It wouldn’t matter how one identified one’s spiritual or religious orientation or if one believed that Jesus was “The Savior”. There would be little room for self-righteousness. The idea that what it means to be “good” can only look one way would be questioned.

I wonder what the world would look like if the dominant narrative of “Christianity” was based in a form of Christo-centrism, rather than the jurisprudence of the Greco-Roman legal system. I just can’t believe that Jesus broke all of the laws he broke so that other laws (an entire SYSTEM of laws, in fact) could be erected in his name–laws that exclude and defile people. Jesus’ law is not textual; it’s performative. If this is true, then I think the consistency of Jesus’ law is reproduced most accurately by replicating the fluidity of his performance.

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