Take a moment and describe yourself. Make a list, take inventory of all the things that make you you.
You’ll find that the formula that adds up to you is made up of an awful lot of adjectives. So many, that, without those adjectives, who would you be?
Adjectives. You are a sum of adjectives, amidst a nation of adjectives.
Basic sentence composition includes subjects, verbs and clauses. The subject of the sentence does something, and the clauses can modify either the subject or the action. Part of a measure of the writer’s skill is in the judiciousness by which she will employ those clauses, too many adjectives and adverbs can clog the flow of a paragraph, too few may result in something resembling a child’s first book. In the same way, to be so busy, so obsessed with causes celebre, so entwined with a worldview or slavishly devoted to a cause will choke our lives out.
On the surface, it would make sense that we could be talking about that religious zealot, the obnoxious partisan, the fan of any number of wretched jam bands, or hipsters. Look beneath, though, and you’ll see that we’re all overly burdened by our clauses. It’s not enough to be, we have to be as loud, as shameless and as busy as possible. Subjects as subjects.
In reading the scriptures and examining the life of Jesus, there are a lot of adjectives and honorifics bestowed on him. Even Christ is a title, a clause. Jesus’ life, though, is paradoxically one of both power and selflessness, of sacrifice and abundance precisely because Jesus’ sole clause was his union with God. It is in rejecting the mantle of the prophet, the throne of the king and the social role of the priest that Jesus fulfills them all. He puts the smack down on the rich young ruler–there is a post sitting digitally dusty on that passage I’ll get to someday–because of that young man’s clauses.
Regardless of one’s faith commitment or lack thereof to Christianity, there is a wisdom in being as minimally claused (if you will) as possible, even to be subjects without clauses. Martin Buber references this in his opus I and Thou. Dietrich Bonhoeffer built his entire ethical model on the strength of union and the societal malaise of disunion. There are strands of this kind of thinking throughout Asian religious practices. And, if all that isn’t enough, the very name of God, yhwh, ‘I AM’: the God who is, being without modifier, Subject without clause.
There are any number of circumstances where clauses take over the subject, the addict for one, a person whose activities have crossed over from participation to enslavement; the fundamentalist zealot for another, he who is involved in every activity of every church function, always there when the doors are open, never able to relate to anyone in a way that doesn’t involve an unhealthy obsession with religious social life; the aspiring business person who sacrifices everything to attain corporate power and considerable balance sheets; the politician who says anything to get a vote, and does anything to stay in office. All of them are, at their core, soulless. The person within is dead and rotting.
Here lies the politician. (Rimshot, please!)
It takes a bit of moxie to exist as a subject rather than a matrix of clauses these days. In the interest of full disclosure, ten years ago, I thought I could be cool by growing my hair out to my shoulders, grow a goatee, get my ears pierced and some black-rimmed glasses. I’m not sure what I was going for back then, but I recognize how much of a fool I was to try to be something that I’m not. Isn’t that the predicament, though? Aren’t we all just beefy dorks looking to be accepted and will sacrifice just about any sense of self to replace the hard work of being with the false contentment of conformity? If getting a tattoo is a declaration of individuality–and, to be sure, I’m not judging anyone who has one–what good does it do when everyone gets them? It’s like getting out of your seat during the seventh inning stretch: sure, you might just need to pass that second beer, but everyone else is standing, too.
What does it say of our church communities when their sense of worship is homogenized into a catalog of poorly-constructed songs and the presence of the Spirit is evidenced by the fact that leader went up a step on that last go-round of the refrain?
How is it liberal–or, in fairness, conservative–to fall in lock-step with what everyone else in the party is thinking?
And isn’t it something that in this era of celebrating people’s clauses that we are utterly unable to communicate with even a modicum of goodwill?
It’s time to stop relying on our clauses and start focusing on the self. Christ’s work was not to redeem our clauses, it was to redeem us. We ought not seek out people who share our clauses, we ought to seek people. We are not to be bound by the things that describe us, but to let go of our inherent need to be described.
And I surmise that, once we begin stripping away that for which we lived, we might actually start living. If the believer can let go of his sense of being a Christian, he might just become more Christlike.
Our sentences need not be flowery and verbose. If we are sufficient, we are free.