Formation into Discernment
In responding to Foucault, James K. A. Smith notes that while some discipline does indeed make us “docile” and “compliant” to systems of power, this need not always be the case. “The difference between the disciplines that form us into disciples of Christ and the disciplines of contemporary culture that produce consumers is precisely the goal they are aiming at. Discipline and formation are good insofar as they are directed toward the end, or telos, that is proper to human beings.” Smith continues by giving the Westminster Catechism’s vision of this proper end: to glorify God and enjoy him forever. This is well enough, except that what we mean by “glorify” and “enjoy” God are open to considerable interpretation. Allow me to suggest a few directions that move discipline in directions compatible with what we have considered thus far: we glorify God, in Paul’s words, by becoming the kind of people who are not “conformed to this world, but… transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2.) This Paul calls a living sacrifice, acceptable to God. And we enjoy God, at least in part, by wrestling with God. It is extremely significant that the name for God’s people — Israel — derives directly from a wrestling match with the Divine Other for blessing. “He wrestles with God” becomes Jacob’s name, a mark of Divine affection for the people who flounder and struggle and wrestle and question and never stop grappling with who God is and what God wants.
In this series, I have tried to bring together these so-far incompatible voices — spiritual formation and queer theory — in a wrestling match before the Divine, in a dialogue, in an attempt to reconceive what it means to be spiritually formed. The presence of the LGBT community in the church should not mean “business as usual, but with gay people.” Rather, the inclusion of the LGBTQIA community indicates that spiritual formation must be about the formation of a people capable of discernment of what is good and true. This includes sitting as apprentices at the feet of masters who know how to listen, remain open, question and wrestle with God. This also includes masters sitting at the feet of their disciples, perhaps even washing them, eyes open to see what unexpected, queer truth they might discover.
James K. A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 102.