A Becoming Transformation through Apocalypse

This is a guest post by Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, PhD . Robyn is Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethics at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and Public Theologian in Residence at Faith Matters Network, Nashville, TN.  Their work has a primary interest in the ontology of becoming and the ethics of interrelatedness stemming from the intersections of continental philosophy, Gloria Anzaldúa, anti-normative queer theories and New Materialisms.  Robyn’s work exists in the in between spaces of  ontology, epistemology, and ethics.  Their interests, while wildly philosophical, are also at the intersection of addressing pressing social concerns of race, class, gender, and sexuality.  Using imagination in queer ways, Robyn’s scholarly work starts at the point of departure of ‘what is reality?’ to address existing disparities and pays careful attention to element of desire, imagination, possibility, potentiality, difference, and becoming to help an affirmative and non-teleological reality emerge.

One of the enduring orthodoxies for Christian Theology is that of the doctrine of the Trinity. I have been trained to be sympathetic to the Social Trinity and theologies that critique the androcentricity and patriarchal ideology of the Economic Trinity. At the end of the day, I think they both fail, and I value this failure with a particular gratitude in that the very norms that have structured Christian Theology have the potential for failure, which enlivens a new apocalyptic hope for me.

While centuries of debates and reformulations have ensued, the queer anti-normative turn seen in Tonstad’s text has the most promise. Yet, I am not certain that all differences are simply differences; I think there is a complexity to Tonstad’s work that has yet to be mined. I think important to Tonstad’s work is the constructive turn of ‘apocalyptic transformation’ over against ‘eschatological fulfillment.’ In an effort to disrupt and outright eschew the utopianism of queer theology that is rooted in LGBT studies, identity politics, and a culture of assimilation, Tonstad argues for a queer temporality that is rooted in the presence of multiplicity and the never-receding horizon of differences.

I come to this work as a Trans Queer Latinx who is devoted to a particular reading of Gilles Deleuze with regard to difference. The philosophical concept of difference, according to Deleuze, is that which is without a norm that materializes through the never-repeating repetition of difference. We cannot talk about the corporeality of difference, insofar as difference is not necessarily embodied, though the world for Deleuze is a body that is becoming, and all things are a worlding. This complicates the thinking about the God-world relation, though might provide some helpful context when thinking about this particularity relative to the doctrine of the Trinity. With regard to difference relative to Triune God and in conversation with Tonstad’s book, the hetero-patriarchal dyad illustrates the eternal submission of the heterosexual dyadic in the Father-Son pair, also eclipses the apparent misogyny of the bottom figure that is the Holy Spirit. While Tonstad’s suspicious and outright critique of kenosis is necessary for a liberative and queer move seen in the temporality of apocalypse, I wonder about the presence of kenosis as the agentic force of the margins and the place of that particularity as difference that begins as the margins of the margins. I do not argue for an emptying seen in the traditional kenotic discourse but in an affirmative kenosis that privileges the agency of the ‘bottom.’ How might begging from the bottom, or the margins of the margins (in Althaus-Reid’s language), subvert the differences that exist in the hetero-patriarchal dyadic relationship of Father-Son? How might affirmative kenotic agency initiate a new contour in thinking about difference reshape our Trinitarian thinking? Does this get us any closer to an apocalyptic transformation, or is it a different iteration of eschatological fulfillment from the bottom up? Is that particular linearity even helpful? I think not! I think that thinking about this thru the lens of affirmative kenosis might generate a new agentic possibility for the margins of the margins that might be in line with a cataphatic approach to thinking apophatically with the margins of the margins.

The binary of top and bottom or presence/absence or margin and center complicates our thinking about difference, but difference is that with no norm, and each of these binaries enflesh an opposition of one over and against the other. Yet, because of power, imperialism, colonialism, and structures that perpetuate such binaries, we must think through the lenses of radical queer politics to reframe our thinking about the Trinity.

While the inscribed heteronormativity in normative theologies of the Trinity has perpetuated theologies and social practices, best illustrated by Tonstad’s recap of the marriage equality movement and the welcoming church movement, along with Believe Out Loud’s ad on inclusion, we must take both heteronormativity and Jasbir Puar’s rightly informed critique of homonationalism to task. Neither of these options allow for differences to take shape; they are both rooted in the politics of assimilation that is supported by the politics of representationalism. The Trinity, thus, conforms to these politics and therefore shapes our theological imagination of belonging. This normative theological imagination does not create an opening for difference to materialize and eclipse any notions of becoming. So, to think about God and difference, we must think thru a queer lens that does not enflesh a standard teleological approach nor advocate for assimilationalist politics. This is where I think Tonstad’s brilliant move against eschatological fulfillment, often seen in utopian frameworks, such as the ‘reign of God’ or the ‘kingdom of God,’ and toward apocalyptic transformation seems not only plausible, but quite possible in a world where the logic of dominance has shaped our theologies in unproductive ways and produced a neoliberal market imagination that is rooted in the logic of reproduction that is best seen in marriage equality and other market-driven logic-realities. We need to rethink transformation thru the framework of apocalypse to better be able to hold the complexities of difference (and becoming), though in non-teleological ways. In order to think about difference and becoming in non-teleological ways, we must dismantle the logic of dominance that is seen in the logic of faith.

Using the eucharist as an example, as Tonstad does, we can begin to re-imagine transformation at the place of difference and becoming, but we must unhinge from the politics of representationalism that is expressed through submission of the priest or pastor that shapes our eucharistic theologies. Unhinging from the logic of reproduction that is central to the eucharist, in reproducing the presence of the absence of Christ’s body, helps further untangle assimilationist politics that point toward an eschatological horizon of fulfillment, opposed to an apocalyptic transformation. In order to do this, we need Deleuze’s politics of becoming in addition to a theology of difference.

When we unhinge from the politics of representationalism (state-sponsored marriage is one of those politics), we can begin to re-imagine transformation on the basis of non-teleological belonging and non-reproductive communities (family, church, etc). Dismounting from the theologies and politics of representationalism helps further unhinge from an ecclesiology of reproduction that perpetuates logics of faith that are rooted in the (hetero-homo)norm.

The apocalyptic transformation materializes when material bodies engage with the anti-social and compulsory intelligibility that, for example, the LGBT movement demands. When one is able to hold the memory of time with the complexity of the unintelligibly of the non-reproductive future, we might begin to reshape our social practices into an ethics not of intelligibility and hope for recognition but an anti-social ethics that refuses reproductive and representational politics. Herein lies the politics of radical difference where becoming is the centralizing force in holding the complexity of difference. Using the metaphor of the bridge, as Gloria Anzaldúa did, we can see that ‘bridging with difference’ is not the same as ‘bridging across difference.’ ‘Across’ assumes some sort of assimilation and recognition, wheres bridging ‘with’ difference demands attention to the unrecognizability of becoming and the materiality of politics that are rooted in difference. In order for an apocalyptic transformation to materialize, I argue Tonstad needs the politics of a non-teleological becoming that further materializes the ability to unhinge from the politics of representationalism and identiarian politics that reinforce assimilationist ideologies.

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