Posted on 7.11.2012
Stringfellow begins Chapter 3 of A Private and Public Faith--The Simplicity of the Christian Life--with his Incarnational refrain, that there is no division between the sanctuary and the world, the church and the marketplace, or the moral and the political. God is radically present and available in the world--every part of the world, every part of your life and mine. Knowing this is the basis of the "simplicity" of the Christian life:
The simplicity--not ease--but the simplicity of the Christian life is founded upon the fact of the presence of the Word of God already in the common life of the world. The practice of the Christian life consists of the discernment of (the seeing and hearing), and the reliance upon (the reckless and uncalculating dependence), and the celebration (the ready and spontaneous enjoyment) of the presence of the Word of God in the common life of the world.
Stringfellow begins with the task of discernment--seeing and hearing the Word of God in the world. The key skill is in knowing that God is to be found not just in the clean and beautiful but in the messy, broken, and ugly.
The Word of God is present and evident not only in the world which seems to you or me or to somebody else good or true or clean or beautiful, but, to those who are not blind, the Word of God is also present and evident in the world which seems to you or me or another evil or false or filthy or ugly. So it is that in all events, in every circumstance, and, at last, even in the face of death, God is here and may be known.
Knowing this the Christian can, and should, remain in all these dark places. That's what makes the Christian life "simple." Just stay in the mess you are currently in. God's already there in the mess. So you don't have to leave the mess to find God in a church. You don't have to become "religious." You simply have to discern the Word in the midst of the mess.
The simplicity of the Christian life is this, that Christians are free to live within the common life of the world, to live in the assurance and excitement of knowing that they live in the presence of God's Word, no matter where, no matter what.
So how are we to locate and discern the Word of God in the world? According to Stringfellow the activity of God is found in the victory of life in the midst of death's works, the power of the Resurrection. The central sign of this victory is the freedom of the Christian to love in the face of death's power.
The power to discern God's presence in common life is imparted when one becomes a Christian, an event in which the power of the Word of God in one's own personal history is manifest over and over against the power of death. Then and thereafter the Christian lives in any and all events in reliance upon the presence of the Word of God. Then and thereafter the Christian lives to confront others, whatever their afflictions, with the news of God's care for the world. Then and thereafter the threat of our own eventual historic death holds no fear for us, for there is nothing which we will on that day experience which we have not already foretasted in the event of becoming a Christian, in the event of our surrender to the power of death and of our being being saved from that power by the presence of God. Then and thereafter we are free from the most elementary and universal bondage of humanity: the struggle to maintain and preserve, whatever the cost, our own existence against that of all others. Then and thereafter are we free to give our present life away, since our life is secure in the life of God.
Having made this discernment, from a practical standpoint how is the Christian to celebrate the Word of God in the world? Stringfellow returns to his discussion in Chapter 2 regarding the priestly task of care, service and intercession for the sake of the world.
The image of Christian action in the world is that of the people of God living in dispersion in the world and in any corner of the world, finding trustworthy God's promise that He cares for all people and for every person. Moreover, Christians are free in their dispersion to intercede for the cause of any individual--even one who is said by others to be unworthy--and thereby to represent in the world the intercession of Christ for all people--even though none be worthy. The image of Christian witness in the world is that of a people who have so completely divested themselves of their own individual self-interest that they may intercede--stand in the place of, represent, advocate--the cause of another, any other at all.
And for Christians and their churches who refuse to do this, Stringfellow has a sharp prophetic rebuke:
Where the churches do not care for the world, they do not care for Christ