Thursday, July 3, 2008

Words, Meanings and French Onions

Jacques Derrida, a French Philosopher, is probably best known for his foundational thoughts regarding "Deconstruction". Deconstruction may be best defined, for my purposes anyway, as "denoting a process by which the texts and languages of Western philosophy appear to shift and complicate in meaning when read in light of the assumptions and absences they reveal within themselves". Derrida's thoughts about phenomenological reduction are particularly interesting to me and is really what I am thinking about today.

My wife hates it when I use words not everyone has studied so for the sake of clarity, allow me to provide an operational definition for Phenomenological Reduction: "systematically peeling away their symbolic meanings like layers of an onion until only the thing-in-itself remains. Thusly, one's subjective perception of the bracketed phenomenon is the truest form of experience one can have in perceiving it."

So with all of that said, one of Derrida's most popular quotes is, "Nothing exists outside the text". That is to say, contextualization determines experience...largely based on previous experience. For a crude and rather elementary example, is the picture of someone fishing in a stream peaceful? Exciting? Interesting? Maddening? It all depends on the way in which you interpret that scene. If you are an avid fisherman you will likely have a positive emotion or response after viewing the picture. If your husband spends all of his time fishing rather than with you and your children, the response is likely to remind you of pain or disappointment and therefore will likely be negative. So despite the intent of the photographer, the author or the speaker; the way in which communication is "taken" or received is based solely on the contextualization (or text) of the receiver.

So why does this matter? I'm glad you asked. It seems that recently I have had contextualization conversations...specifically regarding faith, religion and theology. If you will allow me to do so, I want to briefly remove the layers of several "onions" for thought provocation more than anything else.

1. As many of you know, Greg Newton and I are working together to plant a church in the Trade Towers Community on the Southside of Birmingham. This particular Onion is interesting for a number of reasons...some of which I have covered in previous posts. The interesting aspect of particular interest today though is the "receiver". You see, the large majority of the residents of this community have not a single fiber in their bodies that smack of postmodernism. The shift has traditionally been for "more modern" communicators to learn how to redirect and reform thoughts, approaches and conversations to fit a more post-modern receiver. Greg and I are now involved in something that requires our "more postmodern", or at least hypermodern, patterns to manifest in ways that seem to be very much in line with modernity. Moreover, we have had a difficult time explaining or labeling what we are doing because of the generalized and rather negative interpretations others would have if we use words like church, worship service or anything particularly religious. While Greg and I are very intent on planting a "church", the meaning of the word church as we use it and as the people of trade towers would understand it that greatly differ. I wonder how a word like usual and presumably good as it is, can't be used without fear of what will be intuited?

2. In our most recent Men's Group meeting we discussed a topic that also recently was discussed at the Monthly Emergent Cohort meeting...conversion. It seems that this Onion, or word as the case may be, is used in a contemporary sense to identify some soteriological event or phenomena. Traditionally the idea was much more of a process...something that is never complete but is worked toward or progressed to nonetheless. So why is such a prominent idea of christianity so varied? Perhaps it is due to an unintentional skewing between ontological realities of a relationship with Christ and the expectations of epistemological proof found thoroughly embedded in our modern culture? What is the true or best meaning of "conversion" and how might we go about discussing what it should be rather than what it has come to mean to some?

3. The idea of "the mystery of Christ" also was discussed in our most recent Men's Group. I find it remarkable that this Onion...mystery...can be either incredibly comforting to some and absolutely terrifying to others. That is to say, when I ponder the vastness of God, the depth of His love, the wisdom and motives of his teleonomical actions and interventions, etc...I find great comfort in knowing that I can't begin to know it all...therefore I can take great comfort in knowing some gigantically capable and omnibenevolent Deity "has my back". In the same way, knowing that I can't know exactly what it is that God will do with me or perhaps will allow to happen in my world is not at all comforting...just ask Job. So how is the Mystery placed in some text of our lives to a degree that it becomes a useful tool in our maturation of faith? Can we learn or at least be encouraged to embrace the very thing that scares us?

OK, enough for now. I do look forward to your thoughts and opinions. I will do my best to peel away any onions you send to a degree to read accurately what it is you intend to say. I hope you extend the same grace in my direction.

Have a great 4th of July!!! (BTW, how do you intuit this national holiday in lieu of your faith? :) )


Brook said...

Seriously? What did you just say?

Blake said...

I said whatever you experienced me saying :)