Monday, June 25, 2012
Formal Does Not Suck
Religion implies a binding of oneself to a set of beliefs and practices. Since the thugs beat up our language, all binding must be resisted; otherwise one cannot be spontaneous or authentically spiritual. One cannot, evidently, be both spiritual and religious in this new era. So mention the old word “religion” now and even religious people will shutter at your indecency.
Or why weddings, not so long ago, were done in a certain way.
The reasons a group performs – that is to say ‘sets into motion a particular form’ a ceremony, is to teach its children and newcomers the underlying structure that makes it what it is. If a society fails to perform these lessons from time to time, its essential form will soon be lost. It will become deformed.
This language is found throughout the New Testament, as in the phrase a “form of godliness.” In that case, Paul warns Christians that one can adhere to the “form of godliness” without partaking of its power. He is not insulting people for having acquired the “form of godliness.” He is merely warning them that there is much more to our faith than its form. He would be aghast that we have understood him to mean that our faith was formless. Nonetheless, the warning about the limits of formality is terribly important.
I mean, what wife would want her husband to keep repeating the vows he uttered during the wedding? If every time he wanted to make love to her he would begin with “I, Sam, do take thee Julia, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold ….”
That husband would have the form of marriage down pat but would seriously misunderstand what makes a marriage live.
But does that mean that bridegrooms should wear ball caps to their wedding? Should we just not plan weddings at all? Should we just let everyone offer whatever words come to mind at the moment? So we need ceremony for anything?
Now think about St. Paul’s reminder in Romans chapter twelve about the differences between conform and transform.
In Latin-based languages, the three letters “c-o-n” means “with.” To be conformed to something means to bring one form into unity with something else. In this case, we are to resist any automatic participation in the form that structures the world around us.
“Don’t form yourself according to the values of your culture,” Paul is saying. Instead, be transformed by intentionally renewing your mind.
The suffix trans means, “across.” Flying transatlantic means moving across the Atlantic Ocean to an entirely different continent.
How are we going to move our human form from where it is today into an entirely different place? How can we be transformed? Well, Paul claims, it involves resisting the pull of the world around us. We are not to be conformed to the world. We cannot become transformed if we allow ourselves to be conformed to this world.
Form is structure, a skeleton. As in the case of a human skeleton, we don’t usually want to see it. That is why too much formality makes us uncomfortable.
But without a skeleton, a body is a blob.
If some alien force were to suddenly suck all of our skeletons out of our bodies, we would be gelatinous gobs of undifferentiated matter. We would have no form.
Not having a form would be even worse than religion! It would be like, gosh, sucky like.
If those horrible aliens kept sucking out all skeletons, they would eventually remove the grammar from our language.
A post form-sucking world doesn’t sound like a very nice place to live.
On the other hand, we would be utterly authentic -- at long last!