Author Archives: michaeldise
The Opening of Divinity in the Opening of Arms: A Cruciform Phenomenology of the Humanity and Divinity of Christ
“Open arms are a gesture of the body reaching for the other. They are a sign of discontent with my own self-enclosed identity and a code of desire for the other. I do not want to be myself only; I want the other to be part of who I am and I want to be part of the other.” –Miroslav Volf
For two thousand years Christians have debated over how to intelligibly conceptualize and reconcile two descriptive categories of Jesus in the canonical Gospel traditions on philosophical grounds. One category meets us in the immanent and ordinary dimension of existence: the humanity of Jesus, a life-trajectory that begins with birth in a feeding trough and terminates in a bloody death on a wooden cross, complete with all of the sorrow and joy of life in between. The other category meets us in mythical transcendence: the divinity of Christ that arrives to us in the power and impact of Jesus, whose life-trajectory discloses through enacted parable the character of God, exploding through Resurrection as the transformative consciousness of an expanding community named by Saint Paul the ‘Body of Christ.’
Several councils met throughout the first five centuries to accomplish a reconciliation between Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Two schools emerged–one in Antioch and one in Alexandria–one emphasizing humanity over divinity and the other emphasizing divinity over humanity. The Antiochene School taught the sublation and truncation of divinity under a totalization of human essence, positing that Jesus was a human person uniquely created and empowered by God to reveal God’s wisdom and intentions through the indwelling of God’s Spirit. Conversely, the Alexandrian School posited that the divine Creator took on fleshly form/appearance so as to accomplish our salvation through transforming human flesh, thus truncating and sublating Jesus’ humanity beneath and within a divine totality. The ongoing tension between Antioch and Alexandria terminated in compromise with the acceptance of an unresolvable paradox at the Council of Nicaea: Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.
But what if this paradox only manifests itself within an outdated metaphysical framework? In both the Platonic and Aristotelian paradigms of the early church age–the former grounding Alexandrian Christology and the latter grounding Antiochene Christology–incarnation was a major philosophical problem. The divine essence was seen as completely distinct from human essence and thus incapable of being mixed with it. But we now know, by way of quantum physics, that all ‘matter’ is composed of energetic relationships where the Higgs Field cools down. The old problem of incarnation is how two essences can occupy the same space. But from the contemporary scientific perspective, incarnation is ubiquitous if God is understood as “light” (a mythic archetype for divinity), which in physics amounts to pure energy: the very basis of matter. God then must be incarnate in all being as its very ground and future. The new question then is not how God’s incarnation in Jesus is possible, but how it is unique.
If we thereby presuppose that incarnation is a universal reality, the incarnation of Jesus would have to be different by degree, not kind. What then is this degree? My own position is that it is Jesus’ ecstatic unity with the divine through the wisdom of agape that makes him fully human, and it is his full humanity that makes him fully divine. In this way Jesus becomes triumphant over the multifarious forms of alienation in human life. Jesus is not other than human but more deeply human. [Side note: One may ask, does this mean that only a human person can be fully divine? My answer is no, because the realization of divinity is simply the realization of the full positive potential of any given genus in its respective habitat. What follows is simply my thoughts on the divine in human form.]
Unlike the Antiochene Jesus who becomes superhuman by making a special claim on the being of God that you and I cannot, and unlike the Alexandrian Jesus who is the God-in-flesh who makes a special claim on human being that we cannot, the real and actual and weak Jesus opens his arms toward both poles of being as a meeting space. With one arm reached toward divinity and one toward humanity, he simply makes himself a space of near-nonbeing—an open convergence between the divine and the human. He becomes not a demigod but a space between being itself–an opening of emptiness that is simultaneously a fullness.
The symbol of Jesus spreading out his arms is found on the cross itself. On a hill called Golgotha–the ‘place of the skull’–a cursed ‘outside’ where tribal identities no longer persist, Jesus becomes subject to nonbeing and otherness. In this place of self-emptying, he opens his arms toward the other, welcoming the other into a cruciform way of life where identities are crucified and transformed so that each person may embrace the other in authenticity and love.
Through the self-forgetful embrace of the other, self-alienation is dissolved into holistic self-completion. It is here that one may become fully human. And it is only as one becomes fully human that she may become fully divine, for the divine is disclosed for us in the space of nonbeing where being leaves itself to join with the other toward the creation of fuller Being. It is the sacred and ecological space of emerging wholeness wherein alienation is traded for loving embrace, and it is finally the sacred, differentiated unity of beings in love as a collective manifestation of the divine Life.
Christ hangs at the intersection of two lines: one is vertical divinity, and the other is horizontal humanity. As such, the cross is the place of intersection, staked into the very ground of nonbeing and nonidentity. The cross crosses out tribal identity insofar as it honors the human as human, allowing us to flourish as more fully human and thus become more fully divine.
I want to put forth the argument here that the Christian cross, understood radically, constitutes a strange and unusual offense. This offense is not merely an offense to a particular culture or subculture of humanity. The offense is offensive to culture as such, reflected in the image of a naked body on a naked cross on Golgotha (or ‘place of the skull’), a place symbolically naked of all cultural identities, marking the radical apriority of the nakedness of being anterior to the entire socio-cultural technology of human existence. That naked cross and naked crucifixion as an abyss of human meaning and fullness of darkness paradoxically signifies the nonbeing that haunts the being of God—a nonbeing that is the difference always-already within the life of God, and a Life whose structure is the trinitarian ground of being. Thus the trinitarian God appears in the cross as the primordial One (1) whose Life is always-already a Multiplicity (2) in Excess (3) of itself (to use Badiou’s terminology). Hence the structuring of God as a One whose eternal self-emptying is a multiplicity always in excess of itself constitutes a more deeply abstract and ontological elucidation of the trinitarian technology of divine spirit. I will return to this trinitarian structuring shortly, but first I want to elaborate this offense of the cross where it appears 2,000 years ago as well as where it appears now.
II. The Gospel of Christ-Crucified
Saint Paul sought to preach ‘nothing but Christ crucified’—strange terminology for what he called his ‘gospel’ or ‘good news.’ What is so good about God’s divine and messianic representative being crucified? Yet for Paul, the crucifixion of Christ is absolutely imperative for any positive meaning to resurrection (but not in the sense of dialectical necessity, for conversely, it images the very anti-dialectical foundation of what is called ‘grace’). For Paul, as noted above, the cross was the place where every former identity perishes—the entire self and ego. A new identity is born ‘in Christ,’ where one is now self-identified as a member of the ‘body of Christ,’ which is the incarnate body of God that appears as an abyss to every contingent meaning. One (as both oneself and Primordial One) is self-realized in the incarnate body of God when the divisive illusions of culture are thrown off, which is how Paul images Christ as the naked divine hanging from a cross—a cross which the Gospel traditions place on Golgotha, bordering the valley of Hinnom (translated by modern Bibles as ‘hell’) where—in Jewish consciousness—human identity is placed under a Curse and forgotten. For Paul, Christ enters this darkness of forgotten-ness, abandonment, oppression, and erasure in order to open up a new subjectivity indistinguishable from the naked spirit of God itself manifest in humanity. Thus Paul’s offense is the naked immediacy of God in its unconditional access to all beings (and, in Paul’s radical terminology, nonbeings!), an immediacy constituted by the radical self-abandonment and self-emptying (kenosis) of God in the absolute self-outpouring of divine spirit into the world.
III. A Stumbling Block and Broken Word
This offense offended both Jews and Greeks, which in Paul’s cultural consciousness are symbols for the religious and the philosophers. The religious are offended because they look for signs and wonders—magic and power—traumatically encountering in the cruciform image of God an impotent and defeated God unable to intervene to rescue us from existential vicissitude. The philosophers are offended because they seek wisdom, and a wisdom that can center all existence in an unbroken (and thus un-crucified) Absolute whose Oneness remains intact and whose static Logos maintains harmony and balance in the world. But Paul’s God is the crucified One whose divine elements are scattered and emptied throughout existence, a divine multiplicity always-already in excess of itself, always-already exceeding every identity and rule with novelty and evolution. New things are perpetually conceived and born from the divine Womb, which is why Paul loves baptism. For Paul, this image of new birth is what the cross is actually about, where Resurrection—as a surprising, unconditional, and graceful appearing—is the novel creation that arises from the floodwaters of catastrophic history and spaces of nonbeing, opening new worlds through the naked divine itself that trickles through open cracks and continually forms new essences.
IV. The Trinitarian Ground of Being
Here I return to the trinitarian ground of being as the orthodox symbol that harbors a secret heterodoxy against the omnipotent One who reigns atop the hierarchy of Orthodoxy. The radically trinitarian God—understood as the Primordial Being who is simultaneously Multiple and One—is structurally the same as Paul’s crucified God. That is, Paul’s crucified God is the crucified One whose kenosis splits it into 2, then 3, ad infinitum. In the trinitarian hermeneutic, Father [or Mother] is Primordial Being. The second element, Son [or Daughter], signifies the doubling of the divine One through incarnation (spirit<–(-/+)–>flesh/matter). The third element, Holy Spirit, is the Multiple that dynamically exceeds all static identities by always exceeding what was via ongoing evolutive novelty.
V. The Naked Offense
Unfortunately, today’s most deeply conservative philosophical theologians—entrenched in a Calvinism that continues to dominate a large portion of American religion—still define the offense of the cross according to the cross’s mediation of the disapproval and condemnation of sin by a ‘Big Other,’ which in psychoanalytic terminology means the authoritarian phantom of cultural ideology that remains in the aftermath of childhood parenting (and more specifically, distorted family systems). Such theologians claim that the cross is the place where a controlling Father (dwelling in a separate abode of existence) murders His innocent Son so as to both testify and satisfy his Wrath against us, boldly proclaiming that the logical and ethical paradoxes inherent in this image constitute the true scandal and offense of the cross. Is it possible that the offense is on them—a nonjudgmental offense that simply unveils their inability or unwillingness to accept the cross in its absolute nakedness, darkness, and trauma? Or more specifically, is their authoritarian monotheism offended by an unpolished cross where the transcendent One of judgment and imperial legitimation unexpectedly transfigures into a broken Absolute, and a broken One whose divine elements are incarnately spilled and disseminated in the birthing of new Life? Such an evolutive portrait of reality, structured by a trinitarian and kenotic ground, cannot legitimate a static view of existence or life. Rather the dynamic paradigm of trinitarian and evolutive divinity suggests that any good posture toward Life is one of openness and self-transformation. The good news—as seen in the cross and its evolutive outpouring of Life—is that the naked event of new birth remains a possibility within our grasp yesterday, today, and tomorrow, constitutive of an Unconditioned Real that cannot be cornered, owned, or defeated, always luring things forward into creative self-transcendence without end. Consequently, the naked offense neither caters to the image of Christ as merely an apocalyptic prophet nor a traditional mystic/sage. Rather this Christ proclaims an immediate and eternal apocalypse that perpetually contaminates all Presence, destabilizing and exceeding every order that it births through its own chaordic ground of eternal flux and creativity.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Why foundationalist logic fails at life, the true source of moral intuition does not lie in an ideological foundation that roots ethical rules in rational articulation. Rather, true morality springs directly from the heart of being itself. It is an impulse toward loving wholeness that demands the flourishing of all sentient beings in harmony. One feels this impulse. The calculation itself is secondary and contingent.
Western philosophers of the past have attempted to nail down morality by virtue of a given natural order–a transcendental moral law issued by heavenly mandate. Such a law would dictate the boundaries of transgression and permission, what is acceptable to the divine and what is not. But we live in a modern world that thrives after the death of God. We roam in a realm of mystery that recognizes the irrelevance of theistic intervention in light of technology, medicine, and contingent circumstance. It no longer makes sense to imagine the name of God in terms of an external force that issues punishment or reward according to whether sentient beings obey or reject a historically revealed transcendental moral order. In no longer makes sense to imagine the name of God as the name of a transcendent Judge and Law-giver.
The philosopher Saint Paul developed as a Jewish rabbi with a firm and rigorous interpretation of Torah. Upon his encounter of the followers of another rabbi named Jesus, he lashed back in anger and dictated persecution and murder. He was disturbed by this new movement that was predicated upon an interpretation of Torah as love-centered rather than oriented around a priestly cult of specific regulations. Later he had a mystical encounter on his way to persecute more of Jesus’ followers, directing him into a new level of consciousness. Eventually Paul woke up to a realization that true morality lied not in the “letter,” or dictated words of paper, but in “spirit,” meaning the very heart of life itself–the animating spirit of the Torah that also transcends Torah.
The break from natural law as an externally mediated moral order to ethics according to the impulse of being toward love and flourishing life constitutes the historical movement from Judaism to Christian consciousness. This does not mean that Christian consciousness was non-Jewish or anti-Jewish, but simply that it broke open the confines of religion and its legislated moral boundaries. Once the Spirit broke free, it could not be contained or controlled in the rapid expansion of Christ-consciousness, which is grace-consciousness.
The philosopher Jacques Derrida, a French Algerian Jew who knew what it meant to be marginalized and oppressed, entered the European scene to make a Pauline move: the Spirit of Justice and Love harbored by his Torah was to be set free from the constraints of Western philosophy too. Derrida argued that while the law was constructed to ensure and create justice, it had inevitably become the biggest obstacle to justice. One can see something similar in Marx’s critique of private property. While the divisions of property under law and in contract are meant to ensure that one’s property is protected, the originary act of creating property is the first act of theft. In fact, one could argue it is legalized theft. The most obvious example is when America’s European “forefathers” arrived upon these shores and stole the land from the natives already living here. The natives thought they were simply sharing and borrowing it because they did not believe in the concept of “owning land,” which they considered ludicrous.
If the law cannot ensure justice (although we need it), neither can moral calculation ensure morality. Rather morality is a fluid and uncontainable dynamic that keeps its eye on the situation–a very different reality than the blind judge of the Western legal order. It is like King Solomon when two women came before him in a dispute over a baby they both claimed was their own. Rather then applying some blind method of determination, Solomon suggested that the baby be sawn in half so that each mother would be appeased. He knew that the woman who would cry out against it, willingly allowing the other woman to take her baby, would be the true mother.
Derrida was right when he claimed that justice is incalculable. Once one begins to calculate, a violence is done to the moral impulse that is a part of the fluidity of being. Rather a better rule of thumb, if one needs one, can be found in this simple but profound statement from John Shelby Spong: “whatever diminishes life is evil, and whatever enhances life is good.”
Cogito Ergo Sum–“I think therefore I am”. Such were the words of Descartes in reference to what he perceived as a self-evidential foundation for knowledge. His cogito became the basis for a transcendental ego, or in simpler terms, a self beyond the vicissitudes of being, superior over the order of being. This contrasted sharply with what Heidegger would later call Dasein, a German term he used to describe a being in the world that was constituted by the world, inseparable from context, history, language, time, space, and death. Descartes’ foundationalist logic, which placed the ego over all as arbiter of all Being, led to the justification of the industrial manipulation of our planetary ecosystem. And by elevating the ego by differing it from other animals on the basis of soul vs. no soul, Descartes ruled that other animals have no souls and thus we can do as we please with them. Hence, animal torture in the West by the food industry has roots in Cartesian logic. This is just a small example of the negative operative power of foundationalist logic in life.
One would expect then that if a foundationalist ideology can direct one to perform harmful actions in the world, becoming foundational to one’s way of life, it likewise follows that it can direct one to perform good actions when the ideology points toward such. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The hard truth of the matter when it comes to ethics is that one’s ideological foundation only serves as the logic for one’s way of being in the world when and where one desires it to. In other words, I can employ the logic of my beliefs as foundational to my actions when it is convenient for me, but I can just as easily dismiss my beliefs or distort them when they become inconvenient. As Peter Rollins has pointed out, what we truly believe in our core is found in our daily actions: these are our operative beliefs. But our ideological beliefs–what we think we believe so as to help us sleep at night–can easily be quarantined in the cognitive realm so that our operative beliefs remain untouched. Those operative beliefs need no foundation other than desire itself.
[A quick thought: neuroscientists have discovered that sociopaths do not produce a normative response in the amygdala to emotional and moral stimuli. In other words, their brains are wired so that they are unable to respond emotionally to moral disturbances. Their consciences are inoperative. Beliefs at the intellectual level would make no difference.]
The burdensome gravity of this truth weighs down upon us very heavily these days. Those of us who live in the West–particularly the United States–are citizens of a nation politically conflicted between white Christian dominionists and a great plurality of other demographics. These Christian dominionists, while claiming to carry on the legacy of Jesus, to worship him, and to follow his teachings, have actually turned increasingly toward the spirit of anti-Christ. In other words, their operative beliefs in relation to current world crises are unequivocally anti-Christian.
Example: Jesus was an undocumented immigrant who condemned the elitists of his society who collaborated with the empire and participated in the oppression of the poor. Jesus taught his followers that the way to relate properly to God, to build God’s world and to participate in it, was to act radically and subversively against the tribalistic borders that separated the rich from the poor, the Jew from Samaritan and Gentile, etc. He argued that it is only by undermining these borders between people that the Kingdom of God will come. He regularly ate with the outcasts of his time and place, feeding the hungry and crossing boundaries to extend the friendship of God to the other. And yet, today’s Christian dominionists are fighting tooth and nail to keep child refugees from crossing the American border, not caring if we send them back to the violence and poverty they are running from. Some have even formed militias to shoot anyone who crosses over. I’m afraid that if Jesus came back he would be one of those children trying to cross the border. He might even get shot by one of his “Christ-followers,” crucified all over again.
Example: Christian dominionists in America have thrown in their uncritical moral and economic support with Israel, even as the Israelite government tears hundreds of innocent children to shreds with flechette bombs. As the death toll rises among innocent civilians in Gaza and the Israelite military pursues an act of genocide–action backed up by Zionist ideology–Christian dominionist supporters quickly forget that Jesus opposed Zionism. The people around him pushed him to enact a violent and bloody revolution. His own close follower and friend, Judas, tried to force his hand to take up the sword against the empire by betraying him into their hands. But Jesus remained firm in his commitment to nonviolence, even as he was tortured and nailed to a cross. And yet many Christian dominionists unapologetically support the use of torture on foreign enemies. Most ironic of all: while Jesus was simply teaching the oppressed not to take up the sword against the empire but to practice love, Christian dominionists are imitating the empire that crucified him and oppressed his friends, bringing the sword down on weaker enemies–even as the innocent are caught in the crossfire.
As these examples show, many Americans who claim to follow Jesus don’t actually care about what he really taught. They will even go so far as to twist his teachings into a dogmatic ideology that condemns those who would truly seek to follow Jesus! People do not act on the ideological foundation they claim. They simply adopt and shape ideological foundations to match the desires of their hearts whether for good or evil.
Jesus himself mocked the Pharisees for searching the Scriptures for salvation and missing it when it was standing right in front of them in a body of flesh. The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas argued that the ethical call to do good is not found in the words of a book but in the eyes of another. When I choose to look, to see, to open my eyes to the needs and suffering of the bodies of flesh around the world, from the homeless person on my city street to the child torn to shreds in Gaza, there is an inner call that emerges–a voice of compassion. All of us know what is right, we just don’t want to do it.
We know that it is wrong to kill children or to send financial support to those who do.
We know it is wrong to build walls and block out children who are running from violence, crime, and chaos.
We do not need an appeal to foundationalist authority, whether in religion or political theory, to know this. To the contrary, such appeals to authority are often the barriers we adopt to justify not doing what is right.
May we listen to the light that is in us all and do what is right, lest we destroy one another.
The Gift, Christ(mas), and the Claus(e) of Prohibition: Re-membering the Divine Economy of Mary and her Infant King
Forewarning: I do not intend to use this post to propagate some sort of worthless “Jesus is the reason for the season” or “Let’s end the war on Christmas” folly. This is a hermeneutical discourse on the internal paradoxes of the language employed around this holiday and how they present an ethical aporia for, most of all, Christians.
Jesus was born in a feeding trough. What that means is that pigs ate from it. Jesus’s newborn, fragile body was birthed and first laid in a structure made for pig food…as the story goes.
Whether you interpret the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives as literal or symbolic, the symbolic point of reference here is the beginnings of Jesus in poverty. The historical man who came to be propped up as the very incarnation of God in flesh–he dwelt among the lowest and basest of created things. Furthermore, he lived his life touching lepers and hanging out with prostitutes, teaching unconditional love and giving.
That’s right. Jesus taught unconditional love. This means that the Gift, when unconditional, is given without expect of return or reward. There was no prohibition given by Jesus in terms of the Gift. No exception. This is the divine economy: to give on the basis of love for the other alone–worthy in his/her own being as such–without any exceptions or conditions. An impossible and difficult thing to do, but something to be strived for anyway.
Christmas has been proclaimed to be, by many Evangelical Christians, a season for honoring and remembering the humbly-born Christ. But they quickly forget that this humble Christ taught us to practice a divine economy. They claim that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but they do not celebrate the radical generosity he taught. Sure, they will give nice gifts to family and friends. But only on this occasion, and it is no Evangelical imperative that one should make a regular effort to give gifts of sustenance to the poor.
Evangelicals may claim that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but it would seem that they believe more strongly in a Santa-figure (as representative of the Divine). Santa’s economy can be summed up by the following lyric: He’s making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Santa’s economy is one of prohibition. Santa’s gift is not unconditional but depends upon whether one obeys the prohibitions given by the Big Other. But Christ’s God, unlike the Big Other, does not give this way. Rather, Christ’s God makes the same rain fall and the same sun shine on both the righteous and unrighteous (Mat. 5:45). Evangelicals tend to see God as the Big Other, rewarding and punishing according to proper faith or deeds.
But this is not what Christ taught. If Evangelicals want to truly proclaim that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the solution is not billboards or media annoyance. Rather, they ought to practice the radical hospitality of Jesus and the divine economy he taught. For to remember Christ is to re-member the divine economy that has been broken and obscured by Christendom.
(Then again, when did you ever get coals in your stocking when you were bad? We all know the big secret: Santa doesn’t actually follow his own rules…he gives unconditionally to all. He just says those things to get you to be nice to your brothers and sisters!)
“Visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things; it’s caught in the fabric of the world, and its cohesion is that of a thing. But, because it moves itself and sees, it holds things in a circle around itself.”
“We must therefore rediscover, after the natural world, the social world, not as an object or sum of objects, but as a permanent field or dimension of existence.”
Continental philosophers of religion from Marion to Caputo to Zizek have frequently recognized and praised Saint Paul for his subversive discourse on being and nonbeing in his first canonical letter to Corinth: “God has chosen the lowly things of this world and the despised things—the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.” For Paul this is the direct consequence of his faith being grounded upon nothing but “Christ crucified.”
In my previous post I argued that Christ, in his self-emptying as a human being (especially in his crucifixion in Golgotha), makes himself an open space between being where the divine and human can come together. This happens when he abandons his own identity and self-enclosure in order to unconditionally embrace the other—the human outside cultural and tribal systems—thus bringing forth a new holistic form of Being in differentiated unity. This new unity becomes the actualization of the divine in human life. In this way he becomes fully human and fully divine, inviting everyone else to do the same through participation in crucifixion—“take up your cross”.
So Paul, building off of this scandalous truth, wanted to argue that God in Christ had changed up the worldly game of being by undermining its order through the cross. All those outside of tribal and cultural boundaries had been stripped of identity (especially lepers). Culturally this meant that they were abandoned to the realm of nonbeing. But “in Christ,” such persons could gain a new, universal identity as the very dwelling place of the divine by virtue of simply being human. Paul embraces this new kind of identity, recognizing that because it is apart from all exclusive and tribal systems, these persons “in Christ” would be regarded as “the trash of the world” by those on the side of worldly being.
This serves as the ground for what Paul calls “the body of Christ,” something that the aforementioned philosophers have failed to grasp in unity with Paul’s undermining of the worldly order of being.
The Body of Christ is the new body that appears in resurrection after the old body of the crucified one dies. In this new body, no one’s body is meant to exist in isolation. When I enter, I donate my own being and no longer possess myself. When I use the term “donation,” I am not only hearkening back to Jean-Luc Marion’s language of the Gift—an unconditional giving with no return expected—but I am thinking of the very carnal reality of organ donation. If I donate my organ to a dying patient, I lose part of my life that they may gain their own life. In a similar way, when I donate my being to the Body of Christ—a holistic community of differentiated beings in mutual support—I give something unconditionally for the life of the other. Christ, on the cross, donates his entire being. But resurrection means that all benefit. All members of the Body donate their own being, and as a result, all gain life-support. It is a double-experience of crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus said that anyone who loses her life for the sake of Christ will find it, but anyone who holds onto it will lose it. Christ is the new holistic reality wherein the Body of Christ emerges. Everyone loses so that everyone gains.
Ecosystems are a good picture of this. In an ecosystem, every individual part exists in unity with the other parts through the mutual exchange of energy. This exchange of energy empowers each organism to thrive, and any organism outside of an ecosystem will die.
The Body of Christ, for Paul, is a divine-human ecosystem. The whole of the ecosystem is the “divine” dimension, and the individual parts are the “human” or “animal” dimension. The two dimensions are inseparable as are all the individual parts. Just as in an ecosystem the individual being of an organism is not lost in unity but supported by it, in the Body of Christ, each being—each body—is a “whole within a whole,” a unique and differentiated individual in unity with others, supported by them and supporting them. Paul says that we retain our individuality in the Body—analogized as hands, feet, tongue, eye—working together for each other’s good. He says that if one member suffers, all members suffer. This holistic unity involves the emergence of new Being from the coming together of individual beings as a fuller realization of the divine, for “God is love” as the Johannine proclamation affirms.
This unity is one of love, not forced conformity. It is a unity that upholds and supports differentiation. It is a unity achieved by the crucifixion of tribal identity for the realization of a universal identity as simultaneously creaturely and divine.
To be concise, the new identity that arises is individual membership in an emerging universality of creaturely unity toward the deepening of the “divine” dimension of life itself, every individual creature a “temple” or “body” of the divine.
This crucifixion involves the mutual donation of being for the very purpose of the flourishing of each being together toward new and fuller Being. Even as this new Being/Body is upheld and supported by individual beings/bodies, it strengthens and divinizes each individual body and being.
Thus, the Body of Christ is a new form of interbeing as natural and original as an ecosystem but as novel as each new page in the ongoing book of evolution.