Friday, April 12, 2013

mundane yet dramatic spiritual warfare: running signs (and demons) off significant cliffs via random acts of kindness

Mistook signs for signified
And so since I’ve often tried
To run them off a cliff like Gadarene swine
-mewithoutYou, "Fox's Dream Of The Log Flume"

How many times have you seen doll-size (or life-size)individual Christian soldiers in full armor (per Ephesians 6, of course)  on the shelves or in the window of a Christian bookstore?

Well meaning............
                      ...but well off the mark.

Not as creepy as the John Haggai teddy  bear.....
                           ....but (ironically) dangerous, exegetically. 

For several reasons.

One has been dealt with in a previous post (misundertaking spiritual warfare: reading in context and in (anabaptist) communitas):

 The letter is to a church community, not an individual.  It's not the letter to the Ephesian.

 The "you"s are plural throughout.  Read passages you thought you had all figured out in that light, especially 2:8-10, 3:16....and the passage at hand.

How exactly  to imagine the armor on a group calls for...well, imagination.
(imagine that! church?  This calls for spirituality that is   actually Ignatian and SpongeBob-ian).

Guy Chevrau, in a helpful book, offers one possibility:

In fact, we do not stand alone.  The entire armor passage is addressed not to an individual believer but to the Church. The pronouns are all plural.  In Texas they would say correctly, "Y'all stand."  The whole metaphor is a corporate calling..  This especially casts the "shield of faith in a new light/.  The shield Paul names is not the small, round, garbage can lid.of a  shield  but literally the thyreos...a Roman soldier would hold this shield in his left hand and the right two thirds of the shield would cover his left side.  The left third of the shield covered his fellow soldier's exposed right.  When the troops were in position, they created a defensive position called the 'tortoise,'  When the legionaires held their shields overhead and the front rows interlocked their shields, they created a kind of shell-like armor.  link, p.  138

Even though Chevrau gathers his  historical info from a trusted historical source (Rome at War), we still don't know for sure if this is the picture Paul means to evoke.  Thus the same problem on the other side of the ditch: the image will definitely  preach! And the powerful image (sign) may well stick in our minds more than actually using our faith (the sign-ified)....and other elements of armor)

It's the inevitable risk of a visual metaphor/parable/sign...

a risk God takes all over Scripture, 
           Jesus takes every time he opens his mouth (Matthew 13:34-35)
                        and Paul takes head on in the Ephesians text.

We in the West have focused on, obsexxed on the individual...thus individual armor.

I would  venture many USAmerican  fundagelicals  go through the motions  of "Putting on the shield of faith"....without the faith..

Like the character in the mewithoutYou song, "mistook signs for signified."

It's faith like a shield, not a "shield like faith."

Sometimes, after the metaphor has done its work and subverted us ( see Eugene Peterson's delightful...and still metaphorical.... definition of metaphor: "a loud fart in the salon of spirituality"), we can then in the (metaphorical!) language of the song, drive all said signs/demons of a cliff, so that  only the signified signified remains.

Peterson's  Message Bible is amazing on this passage.  .  It's not as sassy and sexy as most translations, which encourage us ti get jazzed up and armored up for some war games... but it is a necessary correction.  Note it completely refuses to even mention the signs (pieces of armor).   The emphasis and onus  is thus off the armor, and all  attention on the real reality.

0-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

The most helpful commentator I know on Ephesians is Tim Gombis:

In Ephesians 6:10-18, then, Paul is not merely addressing individuals but the entire gathered church...

Okay, we's heard that already.  But keep reading!  Gombis maintains that
.....Paul does not derive the armor of God from his pondering of the armor of a Roman soldier, therefore, but from a consideration of the Scriptures....
....The church engages in warfare in ways that defy and overturn our expectation

The clincher:
Our warfare against the powers takes place on a mundane level....Strategic acts of love and self-sacrificial service to others are cosmically significant.  ---all quotes from his book

Drat!  To "do spiritual warfare,"  I might just have to (get to) do something as non-dramatic as..

drum roll, please..

Love my neighbor.

But in fact, as mundane as that is, Gombis holds that it IS the biblical sense.
And that is the whole point (His book is "The Drama of Ephesians," buy it yesterday).

And start some mundane, messianic,  dramatic...and  sign-ificantly subversive warfare to beat the devil.

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