Some of you know that one of my favorite thinkers is Simone Weil. Last night I read a short chapter on this twentieth century French philosopher and social activist by another of her admirers, the historian John Lukacs, in Remembering Past. Lukacs notes that what makes Weil’s thought so compelling is her reactionary resistance to the materialism of her context and her unwavering commitment to truth above even justice itself.
Then this morning cleaning out my bedside drawers I stumbled upon a quote from Weil in one of my journals. Weil, in my favorite work of hers, Waiting for God, writes: “It is necessary to uproot oneself. Cut down the tree and make a cross and carry it forever after.”
Weil’s biographer takes this statement as evidence of Weil’s capacity to love people as they really are- not as the product of an illusion. In Weil’s time, much like in our own, it was tempting to view people and the world in terms of “categories” (the oppressed “proletariat” in a struggle for liberation being one example)- to place them in ideological “homes.” The challenge in loving, though, is to disrupt one’s own “at-homeness” in any institution or ideology so that we can encounter others as they really are (not as we would have them be). And, maybe this is a bit of what the apostle Paul is expressing in 1 Corinthians 9, when he says he “has become everything to everyone in order to save at least some of them.”
Not long ago I heard Morgan Chilalu, the pastor of a small African church in the middle of the A.I.D.S. pandemic, say this: “A church that lives within its own four walls is no church at all.”
God’s mission requires at the most fundamental level a willingness on our parts to uproot ourselves. By this I don’t mean that we all have to sell our homes and move to the Far East to become missionaries. But I do suspect that it does mean that any time we find ourselves becoming too comfortable in the church, we need to ask ourselves why- because what Weil is talking about, is, I think, at the core of Jesus’ message to take up our cross and follow Him. Real church as Jesus envisions it, I suppose necessitates our exile.