Try Harder

I looked at Martin Heidegger a few times over the years and never got much out of him. Most of what I found there seemed like gibberish. Then I found the podcast of Hubert Dreyfus on Heidegger I thought I’d give it a shot. The recording quality of this podcast, like many others I’ve listened to from iTunes U is not so great. The volume varies greatly. Sometimes in order to hear Dreyfus I have to turn it up so loud all the other noises in the recording are painful. But it’s worth it.

Now, post-Dreyfus, I sometimes think I understand at least some of Heidegger. I oscillate between thinking what he says in perfectly obvious or completely completely opaque.

One of the books I’m reading now is All Things Shining, a recent book Dreyfus wrote with Sean Dorrance Kelly. It’s presented as a sort-of secular/atheist/polytheist response to the problem of nihilism in our culture. I don’t have any sympathy with that perspective, but having liked Dreyfus on Heidegger I thought I’d give it a shot.

They consider the problem of nihilism in the first two chapters. The second focuses primarily on how that nihilism was expressed in the life of David Foster Wallace, with additional reflection from Elizabeth Gilbert. Both battle the burden of genius.

If it is the writer’s individual genius that is fully responsible for the character of the work, then the pressure to re-perform is immense and constant. Not only is one’s entire worth and identity at stake in the outcome, but no individual success can ever assure it either: it is always possible that the next book will show the earlier success to have been a fluke. (p. 54)

Gilbert and Wallace are authors, thus the focus on writers. What about others? I think of the cult of pastoral leadership when I read this. Try putting sermon/program/ministry in the place of “book” in the paragraph above. We have to keep it up all the time. There is no let up. The future of the church (whether the local congregation or the denomination as a whole) or thousands of souls are at stake.

Nihilism is the view that there is nothing bigger than the individual willing agent. In a couple of interesting books Michael Allen Gillespie traces the history of this nihilism (The Theological Origins of Modernity and Nihilism before Nietzsche). We have big wills. But our wills aren’t as effectual as we think they have to be. We can’t will strongly and purely enough to make the breakthroughs Nietzsche and Wallace were looking for.

Willing ourselves to be better pastors, better leaders, since that’s what counts most these days, works sometimes. But then we find ourselves in a place where willing alone doesn’t work. Or, moving another direction, a direction I take to be closely related, the routines into which we’ve shunted charisma no longer work.

What’s the alternative? Do we give up on trying to save the church, saving the hundreds of souls depending on us? Do we retreat to the cabin and stare at our navels in a mind-numbed stupor?

The first part of the solution is worship. This is not a solution in the Weberian sense; worship is not the technique we pick up in order to purify our willing or inform our action to make it truly effective. Worship is the place where we see God and get God’s view of reality.

The second part of the solution is labor. Not more work in the office or in the programs of the church. Rather, we need labor – physical labor, to awaken our bodies. Having become Minds and Wills in the modern age, our bodies and our sense of them as OUR bodies as atrophied. Labor will help us recover our sense of embodiment.

Finally  (finally in the sense of the final thing I’m going to say in this post, not “finally” in the last word anyone would want to add), we suffer. We fill up in our bodies that which is still lacking with regard to the afflictions of Christ for the sake of his Body, the church (Col. 1:24).  This suffering is not a masochistic infliction of pain on ourselves. Rather, it is a following of Jesus to the cross for the joy set before us, as we despise its shame. This kind of suffering leads to a joy beyond comprehension (before we try it).

This entry was posted in Culture, Ecclesiology, Max Weber, Nihilism. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Try Harder

  1. John says:

    Hi, I am from Australia. I have been here before.
    Please find a set of references which relate to this topic.

    An essay on the origins and cultural consequences of the perceptual strait-jacket in which we now all trapped – with NO exceptions.

    Radical Narrative and the limitations of traditional and modern texts and/or narratives.

    The Secrets of The Kingdom

    Reality & the Middle – profound metaphysic via:

    Two references on how we moderns are incapable of understanding and practicing Esoteric Religion

    The Purification of Doubt – chapter 1 at this reference

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