It's Complicated

The KONY 2012 explosion that recently happened online ignited in me what has been a sustained theological musing on complexity, tension, and rhetoric regarding people’s engagement of important conversations. I don’t care to unpack my personal feelings regarding the KONY issue in this piece other than to let it be an entryway into some of the more theoretical thoughts I’m playing with about how conversation takes place among people around things that matter. I want to begin with this observation: the KONY 2012 phenomenon and the criticism that followed serve as witness to the need for complexity in dealing with matters related to cultivating wholeness in the world. Conversations that fail to hold the tension between competing views reduced to simple answers often lack the substantive material needed to construct an adequate attempt to address important issues, whatever those may be.

Complexity stabilizes and substantiates discourse. I have observed in even casual conversation an eerily devout motivation to pick one side or another on any particular hot button issue. I have talked with those who blatantly refuse to season their positions with other perspectives or alternative viewpoints. Yet, these polarizing moves to draw lines elevate the emotional rhetoric of conversation. The substance of conversation becomes the energy, passion, anger, and emotion behind the content and not the content itself. Granted, I’m not opposed to emotion, but it’s best when checked by complexity.

Mark’s gospel provides a clear counter example of how a movement or discourse promoting wholeness can flourish in complexity. This gospel account is one of the earliest written documents that give shape and direction to the movement of Jesus followers. Yet Mark presents Jesus embroiled in mystery (complexity). This gospel resists suggesting simple answers and conclusions that might define who Jesus is. Mark’s gospel shows Jesus asking people to keep things hush-hush. “Don’t tell anybody what you saw or who you think I am,” Jesus states time and again in Mark. For Mark and his readers there is a lot more to Jesus than simple declarations.

Mark writes at a time of incredible crisis. The temple has been destroyed. The future of Jewish faith is up in the air. So those who have followed Jesus would want to know how his story might inform this new reality. If Mark tries to give some concrete solutions he doesn’t do a very good job. Mark leaves questions about Jesus and lets them hang there, often unanswered. Through Mark’s narrative the disciples are constantly stumbling into new insights about Jesus while typically operating out of a set of wrong assumptions. They come to know him by surprise. And abruptly, at the end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus is gone. The disciples have fled. The women are afraid. Silence.

The burden to discover the importance of Jesus in addressing faith and going forward does not rest on a simple “hallelujah!” for Mark. The burden is passed to the readers of Mark to deal with the complex nature of Jesus in their own situation, to discover his empowering life in their own journey. The question left to answer is implicitly posed to the reader: “What will you make of this Jesus now?” As readers, you and I might discover we only thought we knew Jesus and what he was about. We learn fairly quickly, through Mark’s story, that the relationship we only assumed we might have understood is much more complicated.

Mark’s theological account of a mysterious Jesus reflects a narrative force that initially propelled a movement that has, at times good and bad, continued to this day. Along the way of history, people have allowed the complex person of Jesus to intersect their lives in transformative and productive ways. But it has been the appropriation of a reduced and simplistic understanding of Jesus that has resulted in a more fractured world. If we are to take a cue from Mark’s gospel, any significant or transformative encounter with Jesus—indeed, any movement, discourse, or conversation for wholeness—should be complicated.