An Invitation To Be An Interruption

Recently I got to spend some time with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I was in Durham, NC at the Rutba House with students from Rochester College's Missional Leadership program, directed by my good friend and accomplice in crime Mark Love.

As many of you know, Jonathan is a leader in the New Monasticism movement.

One of the things that really struck me in our conversations with Jonathan was his encouragement to Christians to trade in a strategic imagination for a tactical imagination.

Since Constantine the church has primarily worked with a strategic imagination, an imagination built around taking control, getting the reins of power, and then building something to make the world a better place. The impulse here is utopian but it quickly runs aground when the institutions this impulse creates cannibalize the movement, dissipating the Spirit in mission statements, committee work and layers of bureaucracy.

Jonathan's argument is that Jesus didn't have a strategic imagination. Jesus didn't come with a social program or political platform. In fact, in the temptations Jesus rejects the strategic, programmatic, power-grabbing, empire-building and institutional approach. According to Jonathan Jesus's imagination was tactical rather than strategic.

The tactical approach assumes you don't have the power. It's a form of subversion and guerrilla-warfare.

The heart of the Christian tactical imagination, in the words of Jonathan, aims "to interrupt the world." A tactical imagination is characterized by "social engagement as an interruption of the status quo." The goal of this interruption is eschatological in nature: "the interruptions remind us that there is hope, that another world is possible." The interruption is "a sign that points us to the Kingdom."

I'd argue that Jesus's recommendations in the Sermon on the Mount--turn the other cheek, go the second mile--are examples of Jesus's tactical approach, methods of resistance and interruption coming from the margins that point to the coming of the Kingdom. Jonathan focused on the woman at Bethany who anoints Jesus prior to his death--a story told in all four gospels. The woman's actions were a tactical interruption of the status quo, a subversive inbreaking of the Kingdom. The woman interrupts and goes to a place where she shouldn't go and does a thing that she shouldn't do to name Jesus as Lord and King. That, for Jonathan, is the heart of tactical Christian social engagement: Going to places where you shouldn't go and doing something there you shouldn't do to name Jesus as Lord and King. This might involve civil disobedience, but Jonathan sees this very broadly. For example, I'd argue that my recent action in relation to my own church was an attempt at a tactical interruption.

After the woman anoints Jesus he says, "Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." According to Jesus the actions of this woman are to be forever linked to the proclamation of the gospel. According to Jonathan this suggests that the proclamation of the gospel will always function as a tactical interruption to the status quo. 

The gospel is "an invitation to be an interruption."

Update: Here is a post over at Mark's blog--"Hospitality as Power"--offering some of his reflections about our time in Durham with his students.

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15 thoughts on “An Invitation To Be An Interruption”

  1. I came its this post thinking it was going to be inspired by Johann Baptist Met and came away with the sense of Michel de Certeau, with the strategy/tactic distinction. Anybody else? Sorry to be so pretentious.

  2. Don't you know that you could get run out of most churches on a rail for this type of behavior? We are not allowed to interrupt. This kind of nonsense can get you crucified. :(

  3.  Dr. Beck

    I know this question may be a little off topic but it was triggered by
    something in this post. As of late I've been reading a lot of what the
    Bible has to say about our relationship to authority. Romans 13 discuses
    how we must all submit to the governing authorities and compares
    rebelling against authority with rebelling against God. I know that
    there are several instances in the Bible where "civil disobedience" is
    practiced and that Phil 3 says how our citizenship is not on earth but
    in heaven, but how does this civil obedience that you speak of look like
    in regards to the concept relayed in Romans? I know it may be some contextual thing
    but was just wondering what your opinion was on the matter.


  4. This was a great post. I am on the path to obtaining my Master of Theology, and this is an interesting perspective.

    I am trying to obtain my Master of Theology online at:

  5. Hi Jason, I've noted your comment and will try to get to it when I can. Given that I'm not a full time blogger and that I have a day job, my ability to be responsive to questions/comments is spotty. Just letting you know that I'll try to get to this.

  6. The word of God is exact. The woman of Rev 12 is now here. The woman is not a church, nor Mary, nor Israel, she is the prophet like unto Moses and Elijah Matt 17:3, Acts 3:21-23, Luke 1:17 delivering the true word John 1:1 from the wilderness to prepare a people for the Lord’s return. God our Father will not put any child of his into a hell fire no matter what their sins. It never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer7:31, Jer 19:5. Turn your heart to the children of God. A gift is now delivered to the whole world as a witness Matt 24:14. Prove all things.

  7.  If I may interrupt Richard's coming response, there is indeed a "contextual thing" with Rom. 13. In Rom. 12:14-21 Paul is teaching how to react to those who persecute Christians. He says not to repay evil (persecution) with evil (revenge), but to pursue what is noble in the sight of everyone (12:17); he adds that, if possible, live peaceably with everyone (12:18). In these verses, "everyone" is especially those persecuting the Christians; Paul is advising how to try and live peaceably with them.

    So Rom. 13:1 continues that theme by telling Christian readers to "let everyone be subject to the ruling authorities." Instead of taking the law into their own hands and getting revenge, Christians should let everyone--especially those persecuting them--be subject to the punishment of the ruling authorities (and thus not subject to the revenge of persecuted Christians). If a Christian decides to resist the authorities and punish the persecutor himself, then his (evil) revenge could also be punished by the authorities, whose role is to punish evil and approve what is good (13:2-5).

    Thus the context of Rom. 13 is about a more specific area of authority, rather than a general principle for "how we must all submit to the governing authorities." In Paul's case, Roman authorities sometimes rescued him from the persecution of Jewish authorities; in Jesus' case, his worst persecutors were Jewish governing authorities (the scribes of the Pharisees) whose laws and traditions Jesus openly disagreed with and frequently disobeyed. Yet both Jesus and Paul called for love of enemies (rather than hate and revenge), including governing authorities who persecute them.

  8. The very moment that anyone pretends to use the Sacred in the realm of politics they inevitable create a self-replicating violence saturated meme.
    Furthermore any such use of the Sacred is always an extension of their own individual and collective sinful ego. 
    Sin is active, even strategic separation from the Living Divine Reality. If you begin with the presumption of separation or sin everything you do will inevitably be an extension of your own individual and collective sinfulness, or really Godlessness.

    After 1700 years of "official" sin-filled Christianity we now have a sin-saturated world.
    Sin, or the active denial of the Living Divine Reality is the worst cancer in the universe. It is the worst sickness. It is the most horrific disease. Its implications cover the entirety of everyone's life. The world is filled with its symptoms and reeks with its torments and potentials, coming from all dierections, most of which people cannot even see.

    Have you really read the "news"?

  9. Hi Jason,
    If we take Jesus as the model, he clearly engaged in interruptive action when he cleared the temple to shut down the economic transactions that were taking place. That was, shall we say, a very Occupy Wall Street thing to do.

    Mark 11.15-16On
    reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving
    out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of
    the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.

    How do we reconcile this with Romans 13? I really can't improve upon Lucas's great answer (thank you, Lucas, for jumping in.) That is, I think what Paul was speaking to was dealing with persecutions non-violently, the way Jesus handled the response to his own civil disobedience (i.e., Jesus's temple action secured his death sentence but when arrested Jesus honored and respected the authorities in telling Peter to put away his sword).

  10. This is FANTASTIC.  (Meaning, of course, that qb agrees with it.)

    If there is any attribute of America's business-soaked, corporate culture that has coopted the evangelical church more than the "strategic thinking" attribute, qb'd be hard pressed to name it.  It drives everything, from (a) the metamorphosis from "minister" or "pastor" to CEO to (b) the metamorphosis from "elder" to "Board of Directors" to (c) the substitution of "visionary growth" for "missional service."

    And then some.


  11. Very good observations and insights.
    Something about Jesus that often left me puzzled was his propensity to often appear so "ill-mannered" at times.  Why, at the synagogue in Nazareth, couldn't he have just waited until sundown to heal the guys hand instead of deliberately provoking the assembly? (For instance.)
    Robert Capon answered that question for me;

    Perhaps the phrase "precluding the conversion of species in an argument" will do for a name for this teaching technique that Jesus uses in healing on the Sabbath, and that I have used in presenting you with grace in the context of an adultery. Were Jesus to have waited till sundown to heal the man's hand, the Pharisees would have seen his good deed as congruent with everything else they already knew. II they had then tried lo put a messianic interpretation on it, they would have envisioned Jesus as the kind of Messiah they were ready for (a victorious and immortal one) and not as the kind he knew himself to he (a suffering and dying one). He was at pains, you see, to present them with a proposition that was totally unacceptable to them — namely, that the kind of Christ he would be must suffer, and die, and on the third day rise again. The species of his argument, il you will, was that he would be a different Messiah than they expected. He must not therefore offer their minds illustrations that would allow them to convert that species into its opposite. If he heals after sundown, the very goodness of that act — the very legitimacy they attach to it — will seep back and erode his main point: they will acclaim him only as the long-awaited man on horseback who is coming to punch the enemies of the Lord in the nose.
    Note too, please, that this precluding of the conversion of the species is not an incidental device in Jesus' hands; it is his chief method. He comes from Galilee, whence arises no Messiah. His disciples are a ragtag lot of outcasts, likewise from Galilee. He consorts with a Samaritan woman, he eats with publicans and sinners, he is a glutton and a winebibber, he dies accursed, hung on a tree — and so on and on. He constantly couches his an­nouncement of the kingdom in words and deeds that are at odds with his hearers' expectations for the kingdom, precisely in order that seeing, they might not see, and hearing, they might not understand. He instructs them with a constant awareness that the one thing they must not do is see, because they would see wrong, or understand, because they would only misunderstand. For he knows that the only thing that can save them — namely, himself, in the mystery of his death and resurrection — is the one thing they cannot accept, given their present view of salvation. Accord­ingly, he gives them not one scrap to confirm their present view or, more accurately, he always includes one solidly unacceptable scrap on which their minds will gag.   (Between Noon and Three, chapt. 19, Robert Capon)

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