jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

the ontological displacement of the church

Have you ever experienced the temporary suspension of being? If you’re a shy person, have you ever found yourself in a situation where a complex set of dynamics converged in a group setting and for one night you were the charming, life of the party? If you’re a hyper and outgoing person, have you ever found yourself at a random event where you were uncharacteristically reserved, contemplative, and quietly willing to go with the flow of the group? Have you ever had an epiphany that caused you to completely reinterpret a significant portion of your childhood? Have you ever found yourself breaking all of the established rules of your personality and temperament, and accomplishing things that are typically out of reach for you? If you can say yes to any of these, or many other similar things, you have experienced what I am calling ontological displacement.

Ontological displacement is the phenomena that allows you to temporarily overcome the ‘physics’ of your personhood, the laws (much like gravity in the physical world) that have been shaped and formed through a plethora of experiences, seasons, people, and thoughts in your life. These laws might be a tendency to suddenly ‘go off’ when someone pushes a certain ‘button,’ or a way of responding to certain personalities, or certain settings, etc. Occasionally these laws, as fixed as they seem, get suspended, and for a moment you hear yourself saying, ‘everything is different this time.’ Just imagine yourself as a snow globe. And while, for the most part, the flakes of snow always settle back down, every now and then they settle down in a new places, in new piles and things are not the way they used to be. That’s when transformation takes place. Both transformation for the good, and for the bad.

Ontological displacement is not just a random occurrence that breaks in on us. It’s also a spiritual discipline of sorts. As Christians we are called to constantly move away from ourselves. We are called to give more than we take. We are called to serve more than we are served. We are to seek the lesser more than the greater. In this same way the church is to move away from itself. It must constantly give up itself. It must lose its agenda. It must prefer others over its program. It must go out.

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Heb. 13:10-16

The church must move once again outside its camp. It must overcome the ontological laws that are causing it to sit lethargically and feed itself on spiritual candy in a comfortable building while pain, betrayal, suffering, starvation, disease, and poverty wreak havoc on the world outside. It must practice the spiritual discipline of ontological displacement. And in order to do that we must die to ourselves, and find life in loving and serving those outside our camp.

7 comments on “the ontological displacement of the church

  1. dennis j adams
    May 1, 2008

    Great word in a sentence. Did we or did we not already move outside the camp? I thought that had something to do with getting saved. I hope that we are not alluding to the fact that we must belong to this denomination to have a relationship with Jesus. As far as I am concerned there are a bunch of us outside the camp already. If the denomination does not come out, oh well! He came to save individuals not denominations.

    I appreciate your persistence to catch the thoughts of all that reflect on your blog. You are a good fisher GS4. I really like your words and ability to place the heart in a vulnerable situation which causes reaction.

    By the way, I had plenty of those experiences before Christ… if you know what I mean? Were you at some of those parties?


  2. Don
    May 1, 2008

    It took me a minute to sort out the phrase “ontological displacement” in part because the word “displacement” can be used equivocally (as opposed to univocally, a good Thomistic word.)

    Displacement in engineering can refer to one of two things. The first is the volume of a thing, especially if it moves something else out of the way. Best application of this is in naval engineering, when you measure the displacement of a boat, i.e., how much water it moves out of the way when it’s put in the water. In this case the weight of the water displaced is equal to the weight of the vessel.

    The second is the distance an object moves, and I think this is more applicable to what you’re talking about. An ontological displacement is a “movement of being,” and I’ve had several of these in my life. Some of them can be seen in the lighthouses on the left side of my site.

    Your use of Heb. 13 is very nice. I’ve been associated with the Chaplains Commission for a long time; Heb. 13:12 is Dr. Crick’s favourite scripture, and he uses it all of the time. Mine comes two verses later.

    Since women in ministry is a special interest of yours (and Dr. Crick’s for that matter,) you might find this excerpt from my fiction (where I use these verses) of interest.

  3. m.d. mcmullin
    May 1, 2008

    Good Stuff.

    I love those moments of suspended expectations when we become outside of who we were. This has an existentialist feel to it, especially if we seek these moments and embrace them – both the joy and the pain.

    For Pentecostals these moments are often linked with the Spirit. I have seen many “move under the anointing” in a way that is very different from their normal disposition. (I mean this in a positive way)

    The “outside the camp” reminds me of an incredible sermon by Brueggemann in which he insists that Christ is found outside the city among the refuse and waste.

    As we walk out to see Him, we must pass by our own garbage and worthless attempts at sacrifice, that were thrown out so we wouldn’t have to see them inside the city.

    As we are reminded of our failed attempts we are transformed into His image.

    Our pride doesn’t allow us to see our failure and utter dependency on God.

  4. Jonathan Stone
    May 2, 2008

    Thanks for the mad props! I hope I’m outside the camp, and that I manage to stay there. But not in the same way as my BC days! 😉

    You’re exactly right about the two displacements. However, I had the volume in mind too. Certain circumstances have a way of temporarily suspending or displacing our set laws of personhood, much in the same way water is displaced by a boat, or a boy doing a cannonball into his neighbors swimming pool. Ontologically speaking, sometimes everything settles back down and returns to its previous state. But sometimes things are forever moved in terms of ‘distance.’

    I’d love to read that Brueggemann sermon. I’ve never thought of moving outside of the camp requiring us to pass by and look upon our own waste! That’s profound.

  5. Hunter
    May 2, 2008

    Amen. All good inspiring comments that draw us toward inward inspection. As the word says “humble yourself.” It actually says “humble yourself” more than it says we will be humbled. This is a calling we are facing as the church, and we must respond.

  6. Pete Zefo
    May 2, 2008


    Great post as always. I’ve returned to the blogosphere and have added you to my short blogroll. If you’d like, here is my address for the reciprocal link:

  7. Johnny Taylor
    May 3, 2008

    I’m not sure if I’m grasping all that you are saying but it makes me think of a growing, humble person that is continually knowing where they have been, where they are, and where they are going.
    A person able to be fully connected to people inside and outside the gates, while having a unwavering, fixed heart on eternity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on April 30, 2008 by in faith, missional, vision.
%d bloggers like this: