Zizek, the Space In-Between, and Mission

51dNiLKX1GL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-49,22_AA300_SH20_OU15_Warning: A more academic/philosophical post lies ahead. May require some background interest in philosophy and political theory.

In his preface to Interrogating the Real, Zizek talks about one of his key modus operandi: the idea that the Real is only ever encountered in the parallax.

The parallax point of view happens when an object is viewed from two different places (almost at once) realizing the object itself moves when the point of view changes. In the parallax, there is the apparent displacement of an object, caused by a change in observational position. Zizek is interested in the “parallax gap” which happens when you are caught between the two points where no synthesis or mediation is possible.

I suggest there’s a space that occurs when a person is caught between two communities and suddenly finds herself displaced by both communities unable to fully identify with either. Detached from one’s deep immersion within a community of formation, and caught in between, we get sufficiently dislodged from our inherited ways of understanding so that we can in fact see something in two different ways that are incompatible. It is only in this moment that Zizek says a true encounter can take place and what he views as the Real becomes possible. It is at this point that a new framework emerges, not so much as the synthesis of both communities (in the standard overused account of Hegel), but as something ( a possibility) that is completely new  (we called this space ‘prodigal’ in Prodigal Christuianity).

Forgive me if this little riff on Zizek seems obtuse.  But I think this experience of the “in between” is really important for pastors/missionaries who find themselves in the new cultures of N America and elsewhere. I think if we can go allow ourselves to be in this “space in between” (as Al Roxburgh calls it) we can indeed be the instrument of God in Christ to see something new emerge that is full of the gospel.

As I put on twitter, just as Zizek sees that  “Philosophy emerges in the interstices between different communities” so also mission emerges in the disruption between different communities. Mission assumes we are sent, we are displaced, disrupted. Mission happens in a space where we are seeing things from another point of view while at the same time carrying with us our previous ways of understanding the same things. This is the space of mission.

Elsewhere I have called this the “angst of dislocation” and I more and more convinced it is an important space to inhabit for all pastors, international workers. It is impossible not to if we would engage the changing contexts being forced upon us even in North America. Unless we allow for the disruption, we cannot truly inhabit these new places. (Northern’s D Min Missional Cohort is studying ethnography for a whole week with this as part of the emphasis!!).

Zizek says that the apostle Paul, while being proud of his particular identity (a Jew or a Roman citizen) was nonetheless aware that, in the proper space of Christian absolute Truth, “there are no Jews or Greeks …” Over and over again this is the space God uses. Abraham leaves Ur for the promised land. Israel is displaced in Egypt. Israel is displaced and in Exile. Jesus,  the Son of Man, has no place to lay my head.

Unlike Zizek.. I do not believe we lose our identity. I believe it is disrupted and found again brand new and real and alive as we walk through this space of the in between.  I believe every pastor and or missionary/international worker should allow themselves to be tested in the angst of dislocation because the true missionary pioneer must be able to enter this space with faith, trust and total dependence upon the God of Jesus Christ again and again in order to be used by God in the life of mission.

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