The Edifice Complex

We talked about the Transfiguration on Sunday. In the event of the Transfiguration, Peter, acting rashly – as Peter always does – wanted to erect three tabernacles to enshrine Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Peter wanted to lock it down, make this the pilgrimage spot, forget about the command to follow to Jerusalem and the cross. Peter wanted to construct an edifice. What is our edifice complex?

One person suggested that our edifice is labels that divide. We have a tendency to latch onto identity and claim identity to separate ourselves from others. But labels can also be an opportunity to claim an identity over against the identity that is assigned to us. Claiming an identity can be claiming power. But maybe they are also like the boat in the Buddhist parable that we use to cross the river and then leave it behind instead of letting it become a burden.

There is a lot of talk about identity these days. Some are concerned that it drives our politics into the chasm we currently face. So it’s tempting to imagine a time when identity markers don’t matter. The much fabled colorblind society. When Jesus is asked about marital status in the resurrection, he says there won’t be any because we will be like that angels. So that’s one identity marker – one we frequently use to judge others – that is absent from the eschaton.

But I wonder what it says about us that our only solution to the problems difference presents is to erase difference entirely. Maybe there’s another way. Actually, there is.

In Cody Sanders’ Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow, he describes two approaches to difference. He describes our usual mode of engaging difference as “suspicious scrutiny.” He goes on to say, “The strategy of suspicious scrutiny produces a set of questions that assume a particular arrangement of power” and “the questions are about maintaining certain boundaries.” These questions end in frustration because those who are asking them don’t really want answers; they only want to reinforce the wall of difference. Ultimately, people stop asking the questions altogether.

Alternatively, Sanders says, we can approach difference with “compassionate curiosity.” This kind of questioning opens up our imaginations and prepares us to learn from those on the margins.

This is not unlike Martin Buber’s understanding of grace. When we genuinely relate to another (an other) we make ourselves vulnerable. We risk that we might be changed by the other. Transformed. Transfigured. We encounter God in every authentic encounter with the other and our faces shine with a new light.

And it strikes me that this loosens the grip of identity. We need not ignore difference or latch onto it as the only thing we need to know of another. If we approach one another with grace, we open ourselves to the richness of the Divine that both includes and transcends difference. Difference, seen properly, is a sign of God and a cause for celebration.

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