Toorak Uniting Church

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New life rising out of mis-recognition

Luke 24: 13 – 35
Rev. Vladimir Korotkov
8 May 2011

Easter humour

The oldest collection of jokes in the world, Philogelos: The Laughter Lover, Professor in classics at Cambridge University, Mary Beard
Professor Beard's favourite joke is a version of the Englishman, Irishman, and Scotsman variety, with a barber, a bald man, and an absent-minded professor taking a journey together. They have to camp overnight, so they decide to take turns watching the luggage. When it's the barber's turn, he gets bored, so amuses himself by shaving the head of the professor. When the professor is woken up for his shift, he feels his head, and says "How stupid is that barber? He's woken up the bald man instead of me."1

Introduction: the notion of misrecognition
This professor's misconception is a humorous form of misrecognition.

In our Gospel reading, new life can only emerge when misrecognition is processed. The crucified risen Christ approaches two of his followers on the Emmaus road and their eyes are kept from seeing him as he is. They situate and construct him as an outsider, a stranger who does not know!

In my interpretation, misrecognition keeps them entombed in their fixed interpretations! Such embeddedness, usually at an unconscious level, is a universal human experience. Most of the human sciences grapple with this notion, and this to empower society with a deeper awareness of this process so that we can be self-correcting, self-generating and live with plurality and multiplicity.

Alicja Iwanska, in her cultural anthropological study of a group of white middle class suburbanites living in NW USA in the late 1970s', found that they divided people of various cultures into three spaces or categories.

Strange people, the most distant space, such as American Indians, were related to as scenery. Reservations were visited as if they were at a zoo. Second space: workers, Mexican migrant workers, were categorised as machinery, valued for manual labour, and sent away when they were no longer useful. Only friends, family and those with similar cultural and socio-economic backgrounds were accepted as human beings. Iwanska observed that through this misrecogntion process, not all humans were seen as people. They viewed life and related to it through an unconscious cultural framework, a discourse constructing those different to us as other and strange – as feared strangers.2

Australia has its own versions of such cross-cultural misrecognition. This week The Age newspaper in its Focus section featured the story of Samuel Venansio, a refugee from war-torn Sudan. His love and appreciation of living in Australia is mixed with experiences of racism, people's inability to deal with "blackness", the issue of over policing of African Australians and employer racism. Samuel told the reporter,

Seeing a black-skin person seems to some employers [the same as] seeing an empty brain.3

In Ian McEwan's book, On Chesil Beach, Edward misrecognises his mother when he is introduced to a discourse about her being brain-damaged. She had been in an accident in which her skull was fractured, dislocating her personality, intelligence, and memory. Now, at the age of fourteen, his father had chosen to in-form Edward that his mother was brain-damaged. This disturbed him, but explained things he sensed.

"He had never thought of her as having a condition, and at the same time had always accepted that she was different. The contradiction was now resolved by this simple naming, by the power of words to make the unseen visible. Brain-damaged. The term dissolved intimacy, it coolly measured his mother by public standard ..."4

Friends, family and members of a community or a nation can be distanced from each other by various forms of discourse that are produced for us and inhabited by us: age, generation, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, religion, class, ability!

So, discourse it created and operates at a hidden, unconscious level to fashion and create identities, truths, knowledge, power, insiders and outsiders. From within our discursive habitation, we can misrecognise those who are different.

Lacanian Psychoanalysis suggests that discourses and accompanying misrecogition are produced as we face threat to our sense of self, security, self-worth and our way of life.5

Unconscious inner anxiety and fear, both construct discourse about the other, and can unleash outward passive or openly aggressive or defensive responses. For example, in ancient times, some people would throw stone at lepers when they saw them: inner fear propelling aggression.

Resurrection spirituality: awakening and unravelling misrecognition
The story of the road to Emmaus is filled with symbols and themes, constructed by Luke to address the challenges his congregations were facing in the 80s, particularly cross-cultural and diversity of faith issues. Luke's Jesus invites the two disciples, as well as the congregations reading this story, to engage in a transforming movement, a resurrection spirituality. One that courageously awakens, recognises misrecognition and is willing to take this journey of learning, to identify inhabited and inhibiting discourses and express power, knowledge and truth humbly, generously and generatively.

Let us briefly note emerging themes.

Two followers of Jesus, one believed to be a woman, walk together, locked in the prison-house of grief, lost hope and misrecognition. They are processing events together, community. Yet, constructing a discourse of events and forms of misrecognition. Loss and grief narrow vision and increase anxiety, and close the heart and mind to transforming possibilities.

Within this dark hour, the crucified risen Christ appears beside them. Unbidden, without judgement, this is grace and goodness which accompanies humanity, all humanity. This is not history. This is spirituality, alerting us to the presence of divine life, for us! And as these two followers don't recognise it, we so often don't realise the presence of God in our darkest moments. Here, we learn we can be Christ to others, accompanying them in their darkest moments, bringing them grace and hope in their experience of the absence of God, and which deconstructs our prison-house of discourse!

Theology and witness is always partial. The two disciples share their theology, and it needs supplementation, emerging out of their misrecogntion, their situatedness. And this is human, and this is why we need humility and always offer our thoughts on faith in the form a dialogue. Also, what the crucified risen Christ presents them is not doctrine, but words that announce the present-ness of God in death, always bringing the prophetic word of justice and life where individual and collective power seeks to control and destroy relationships and life.

They construct him a stranger. As stranger he does not know what they know, they have privileged insiders knowledge.

Hospitality and generosity emerge as another strong theme, probably to address the issues of the early church. Though they evaluate Christ as a stranger, they still invite him to share a meal with them in their own home.

The church, to our shame, has always struggled to offer hospitality to those who are different to the dominant culture, to those who are not us!

In the first four centuries the church struggled with this issue of hospitality. With radical Christian clarity, Augustine challenged the alienation of the foreigner with the declaration of the universality of love for the other, any other: "there is nothing closer to a human being than another human being".

What transformed the otherness of the stranger, for Augustine, was love for every human being expressed in the image of Christly love, as we find in our story. The tragedy was, as Julia Kristeva notes in her book, Strangers to Ourselves, "the absolute aspect of this religious bond soon collided with human needs as well as with the demands of States and soon afterwards those of nations."6

At the core of such exclusivism, Kristeva suggests, is the fear or lack or recognition of the stranger in our inner selves and hidden in our community discourse. Without exposing our hidden patterns of thinking and cultural ideologies, we remain anxious and suspicious of strangers and what is different.

Resurrection spirituality: Growing beyond the unwelcome in the welcome
In the film, Welcome, welcome, was the word on the mat outside a tenant's apartment, in a multi-storied apartment block. Welcoming in its intention, the word on the mat greeted all who walked to the door or along the corridor. Welcome! A clear sign of this tenant's desire to offer hospitality. Avisible commitment!

Welcoming until this tenant goes outside one evening to walk his dog and he sees his neighbour, Simon, with a young stranger wearing foreign clothes. He becomes hyper-vigilant! "Who's that?" he aggressively questions.

It isn't long before Simon has the police visit his apartment, and he is forced to report daily to the police for his association with the stranger.

What we notice about this tenant with the welcome-mat, is behaviour that contradicts his intended commitment, his behavioural goal.

This tenant's contradictory behaviour is driven by his hidden competing commitment to live in his seemingly chosen discourse. Like the other people in the Channel port of Calais in France, he harbours hidden competing commitments (that contradict his "welcome-mat") to ensure his way of life and wellbeing are not disturbed or taken advantage of by asylum seekers, whom he prefers to label as illegal immigrants. Discourse is constructed from desire and fear, and divides the world up. The only outcome is misrecogntion!

And, probably, deep below this, is the unconscious, intense need to be in control, and to maintain a culture that has shaped his identity and satisfaction up to this point. Underlying all this is fear and anxiety, within him and collectively.

In the film Welcome, Simon is a terribly flawed and anxious person. Anger issues have ended his marriage with Marion. Before Simon met 17-year-old Bilal, the Iraqi refugee, Marion was unhappy with Simon's lack of interest in her protest against injustice, when undocumented immigrants are thrown out of a supermarket.

Through the film, however, Simon observes, relates to, and begins to gain a deeper understanding of the injustice that the undocumented refugees are experiencing. He builds a relationship with Bilal and his community, and grows in courage and generosity. Through this process he learns to welcome in a way he never understood before. As David Stratton concluded, "Welcome is a timely reminder that one should love one's neighbour, even if one's neighbour has a foreign accent and a different culture."

For such love to grow, we must experience the kinds of awareness and conversion experiences that deepen an understanding of ourselves and others, that learns to identify the discourse one inhabits and the misrecognitions that shape perceptions and habits, and enter the joy of complexity with its attended anxiety, living in brave, humble, honest relationship with the whole of life.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and teacher of the Enneagram, a personality identification and spirituality process, writes, "your ability to accept me frees me".
And again,

"... community in the deepest and truest sense, [is] where people are empty enough of themselves to make room for the other, where I hold a place in my heart for the one who is not like me."7

Finally, as Bruce Epperly writes,

The Gospel also proclaims that we will be transformed by movement – that we find the Risen Christ in moments of spiritual movement and growth, adventures in ideas, novel behaviors, and in pilgrimages ... We are transformed by our moving. God's Easter Spirit is found most significantly in process, rather than stability.8

1What made the Romans Laugh? Background Briefing, ABC Radio National,19 April, 2009.
2Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology for Missionaries.
3Samuel's Story, The Age, Focus, Friday, May 6, 2011, 17.
4Ian McEwan, 70-72.
5Mark Bracher, Lacan, Discourse, and Social Change: A psychoanalytic cultural criticism, 38.
6Kristeva, 85.
7Richard Rhor, The Enneagram, 2ff. (Enneagram: Ennea, nine; gram, points: a spirituality containing nine personality types.)
8Bruce Epperly,

© Rev. Vladimir Korotkov, 2011

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