The Little Way of Will Campbell

Regular readers know I'm a fan of both Will Campbell and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. And as a fan of both I wanted to make a connection between Will Campbell's vision of katallagete and "the little way" of St. Thérèse.

You'll recall that katallagete is the Greek word for the imperative "be reconciled" from 2 Cor. 5.20. As the title of the periodical edited by Campbell and James Holloway, katallagete is the summation of Brother Will's message.

And what sort of message is that? Simply this: be reconciled, with everyone. More precisely, recognize that you are, in Christ, already reconciled to every human being. The goal, then, is simply to be what you are, a reconciled person.

If that still seems a bit vague, let me unpack it in three steps.

First, we recognize that reconciliation is a new social reality that has been created by Christ.

Second, we recognize that this reality eradicates all other human categories, group memberships, boundaries, or designations that may be interposed between two human beings--be those boundaries moral (saint vs. sinner), legal (criminal vs. law abiding), national (nation vs. nation), political (Democrat vs. Republican), religious (religious vs. irreligious), sexual orientation (straight vs. gay), racial (black vs. white), gender (male vs. female), economic (rich vs. poor), and on and on.

Because of the reconciling work of Christ these boundaries--these "worldly points of view" (2 Cor. 5.16)--no longer exist.

Third, we enact this new social reality. We live as if these social boundaries do not exist. We no longer regard anyone from a "worldly point of view." We live reconciled to everyone. Simple as that.

The practical upshot of katallagete, then, is something akin to the little way of St. Thérèse. Specifically, you don't have to do much of anything to be a Christian by way of mission or ministry. You simply have to live as a reconciled human being. And the simplicity here can be a bit shocking. Summarizing the ethic of katallagete Campbell and Holloway once described it this way:

Do? Nothing. Be? What you are--reconciled, to God and man. Katallagete.

Do nothing. Be reconciled. Simple at that. Thomas Connelly, in his biography of Campbell, shares the following observation from Brother Will in a passage where Brother Will is describing the incomprehension he would face giving lectures about katallagete on college campuses:
"Somebody is always winding up [the lectures I give] by saying to me, 'Reverend Campbell...what are the practical implications of your message? What are you saying to us? It sounds as if you are preaching that we should do nothing.'" Campbell smiled. "When I hear that, that is when I know I am getting through to them. That's when I say 'Brothers, now you are finally getting the message. Do nothing. Just be something. That is the whole message of being a real Christian anyway. Just be what you say you are--a Christian."

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22 thoughts on “The Little Way of Will Campbell”

  1. I see Will Campbell's 'already' and raise him a 'not yet'. Ah, but it seems he has already raised himself a 'not yet'. Well played Brother Campbell.

  2. If you read Campbell, his emphasis on living into this reconciliation as a "now" and an "already" can be pretty startling and very, very radical.

  3. Thanks. I'll have to check him out :) The emphasis on the 'already' is definitely what struck me, and it would probably do me some good to intensify my sense of that end of the dichotomy.

  4. It seems worth noting that the distinction between being and doing here is not immediately clear, especially insofar as we can understand being apart from doing... Might be worth looking at how the tow can be understood together? There's a passage from Frankena's Ethics which sums it up quite well:

    'To be or to do? Should we construe morality as primarily following of certain principles or as primarily a cultivation of certain dispositions and traits? Must we choose?...
    I propose therefore that we regard the morality of principles and the morality of traits of character, or doing and being, not as rival kinds of morality between which we must choose, but as two complementary aspects of the same morality... To parody a famous dictum of Kant's: principles without traits are impotent, traits without principles are blind.'

  5. Love Will Campbell, especially his "Brother to a Dragonfly." Seems to me though that being reconciled requires a whole lot of "doing," especially forgiving and seeking forgiveness, which can be very difficult "work." I would say: We are all reconciled to God and each other the same way we are all children of God, but living out that reality, claiming it and embodying it and pursuing is more that simply resting in our "being." We are all in union with God, but living in communion with God requires awareness, openness, surrender, etc. and the same is true in our relationships with one another.

  6. "To parody a famous dictum of Kant's: principles without traits are impotent, traits without principles are blind."

    Or in Sinatra's famous phrase, "Do be do be do."

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

  7. We are human beings not human doings. We either eat from the tree of "do to be" or the tree of "be to do."

    This is the biggest obstacle to Grace and Mercy. I recently listened to a message by Mars Hill's Mark Driscoll telling his congregation that God hated some of them. This separates and divides more than any message I know.

  8. Its not an issue of doing, its the expectations of others to do that keeps us from being reconciled. We have to allow others to do nothing in order to be reconciled to us.

  9. Don't buy it, Mike. Practical reconciliation requires a lot of doing, Often requires some restitution. That's why forgiveness is not to be identified with reconciliation. Trust is involved in reconciliation and trust doesn't happen by just "being."

  10. The new social reality is true because of the forgiveness displayed and the reconciliation proclaimed through the Cross. The Resurrection, among other things, says "All y'all are free to live this."

    And... Something that I never encountered as a Protestant was the ontological meaning of the Incarnation. When talked about at all, it was only in relation to the social aspect, as in, God came into the lives of human beings on whatever social level, and we would do well to emulate that. Of course, this is good; God always moves toward us. But it is at its root very conceptual.

    But the Incarnation was not "plan B" - the union of God and Man was what God intended from the beginning. In the East, the understanding is that the actual union of the Divine with the Human in the Incarnation - the "enfleshment" of God - sent a ripple throughout human-ness like a pebble in a lake. It means that every unique human being - in every moment of our history, past, present and future - is united to every other unique human being simply by virtue of the fact of the GodMan, Jesus Christ. We don't have to think up reasons why we need to consider ourselves as "connected to one another." Since the Incarnation, we *actually are* part of one another, participants in the lives of each other, whether a person is a Christian or not. It's not any kind of a concept - it's Reality.

    I think this gives even more traction to Brother Will's theology.


  11. BTW, for more on the history of the the periodical Katallagete edited by Campbell:

  12. To what extent should we worry that this little way, taken on its own, will yield a bland emotional "feeling of unity" that doesn't actually achieve much? I guess I'm worried that the "Do nothing" bit could be taken a little too literally? I'm maybe reading it as akin to Daoist "action through inaction," which recover it from advocating laziness and isolationism.
    I suppose my question is: what good is "being reconciled" to the people who are suffering the economic consequences of my inaction?

  13. People know the difference between "being" with them and "doing" to them, or even for them; and they are moved by the former. It is not that there is no "doing" in "being", it is just that with evangelistic Christians the "doing" for others often has a "Hey, we made a deal" conclusion to it. Whereas in BEING, the DOING carries no demands or expectations of the other.

    I have seen many gifts, in many forms, thrown back into the face of the giver once the receiver became wise to "the plan". But when people know that the word and the touch they are receiving is not to pull them or sell them, that they are simply a word and a touch that loves to BE there, then the receiving no longer feels like humiliation, but like the response of a equal friend.

  14. I'm pleased, if you laughed.

    A thought on your comment. My wife is a therapist, and often takes calls at home to be available for her more troubled clients.Invariably she offers one of two things to those who call: direct help or a way to reframe the client's perspective. (I wonder how many psychology majors know about the "direct help" side. For the first five or so years out of grad school she worked in an "in home" capacity, and as often as not went with tattered clothes to clients homes so she could help clean or paint while she counselled. But to the reframing side...)

    As I read the Will Campbell paragraph it was clear to me that he was reframing the Christian life--away from the strenuous effort to become a better christian (doing) and toward the new identity as a fully loved and fully acceptable human being as framed through the eyes of Christ (the being side). I think you're right that both sides are essential. But it's the being side that frames us and others through the eyes of Christ. I hadn't seen that before. Pretty cool. That's part of what Pope Francis is saying in the interview that Richard linked to above.

  15. Thinking of this in Taoist terms was my first instinct, too. In a Christian context (even without reading any more Campbell), these snippets have been fruitful for me to reflect on, in terms of the sense of assurance that comes from confidence that this reconciliation is already accomplished, and (this is the not yet part), all that we need to do is step into, and walk in, that victory. The victory is already won, but our participation in it is not yet complete.

    In thinking about the already and the not yet, in my own reflections I find that I tend to let one of the two poles dominate and define the other. Mostly for me, I see the 'already' through the lens of the 'not yet.' IE: the not yet is the part that is really true, and the already is a sort of soft and tenuous thing that needs to be preserved. From that standpoint, obviously, the world is full of suffering and evil and unreconciled identities that lead us to hate and exclude others, and even the church reproduces these patterns, but in some poetic sense, Christ has already 'overcome this.' What is bracing about this bit of Campbell, for me, is that he reverses this. No, Christ has really already overcome this completely, and that is the obvious starting point. It is becoming what we already are, and accepting what is already real, that is the poetic, limited and ghostly thing. Pretty abstract, but I found it profoundly moving when I realized that my 'not yet' was being allowed to dominate and condition the 'already'. I don't think we have to choose between letting one or the other dominate, in general. Instead, by looking at the antipodes through both ends, we start to see the 'already and not yet' more fully, in the round. And we start to more fully understand that our maps really are not the territory. This is also how I tend to read the Tao te Ching.

  16. The Way that can be walked
    is not the true, eternal Way.
    The Name that can be named is not the true, eternal Name.

    Let’s say WU refers to the origin of heaven and earth.
    And let's say YU refers to the mother of all creatures.
    Or, to put it another way,
    Let's translate WU as negation.
    And let's translate YU as Creation.

    Let go of your desire to know everything,
    so you can understand mystery.
    Still, desire knowledge,
    so you can understand Creation.

    Opposites always have a common origin,
    but they diverge at a clearly named point.

    We say this unity of opposites is mysterious,
    because each new unity gives rise to new opposites.

    This is the gateway to the essence of everything.

    When everyone knows what is beautiful,
    this creates ugliness!

    When everyone has the knowledge of good,
    this creates evil!

    So YUWU gave life to opposites.

    The hard and the easy perfect each other.
    The long and the short give form to each other.
    The high and the low depend on each other.
    Different notes harmonize with each other,
    and the future and past are one.

    The Holy One works without effort,
    and preaches without words.
    Creation comes to Him,
    and He does not turn away.
    He gives them life,
    but does not possess them.
    He works,but does not claim credit.

    His work is finished,
    but it does not stop.

    Because He
    does not take credit,
    His accomplishments
    endure forever.

  17. OK. OK.
    Maybe, though, we need to remember that the people to whom we are already reconciled are possibly still living in the "not yet"? I'm from Canada, and right now there's a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that my city-of-residence is hosting, addressing the injustices we (my country, my ancestors, also my church) have committed against the Aboriginal peoples here. I haven't been especially involved in it, but my understanding is that there's a lot of concern about reconciliation, the not-yet-ness of it. And there's concern that the federal government might embrace reconciliation and say, "Hey, look, we're reconciled. We no longer need to talk about this any more. Let's just pretend like the consequences of those injustices aren't still negatively effecting Aboriginal peoples." In other words, there's concern that the federal government (and the citizens supporting the federal government) might not engage in the process of re-building trust, establishing justice, promoting long-term equality over ignoring everyone equally. In other words, there's concern that the government, as always, will prefer inaction to the work of reconciliation.

  18. That was really interesting. Thank you. As I read it, I think of Campbell as part of a widespread sort of political "Manichaeism" that drove both the New Left and the rhetoric of the Reagan revolution. When I read the later Campbell, I feel like I am looking at the prototype for the rhetoric that says, "Get rid of foodstamps. Government can't do anything that actually helps the poor. It is too superficial and technocratic. The church should fix this, not the government."

    Theologically, I think this is dualism applied to collective bodies (like governments), but not to individual bodies...with the collective bodies playing the role of irredeemable evil. I think that we should apply very similar moral and theological thinking to our collective and individual bodies. Sometimes they stink, but then again, we simply don't exist as humans without them...and the work of God in history is the redemption of bodies, not a transcendence or escape from them. I think the desire to escape/transcend our collective bodies is suspect, for essentially the same reasons that the desire to escape our individual bodies is suspect.

  19. The final paragraph before the conclusion is worth quoting in full. I find it very telling. It isn't quite that Campbell had a dream, that one day little black children would join little white children in helping terrorize black people. But his vision seems to have fallen into something distressingly close to that, perhaps more closely resembling the already-achieved 'reconciliation' of those who now insistently say that the past is the past, and they wish people would stop 'playing the race card'.

    "While no Katallagete author systematically delineated the journal's hope for a better, grace-filled southern society, it became obvious that this vision would not conform to contemporary political mores, especially not liberal ones. A photo spread in the Fall 1970 issue documented an atypical (and hence, in light of the journal's embrace of paradox, apropos) narrative for demarking the theological and political place of Katallagete: In Stone Mountain, Georgia, two black boys stumbled upon preparations for an upcoming Klan rally and started playing with the children of the Klan members. Eventually, after the Klan members snapped at their children for getting in the way, the white and black boys – respectively, the offspring and targets of the Klan – worked together to wrap burlap around the crosses slated for burning."

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