Mimetic Spirit: Andre Rabe on Imitation, Desire, and a Whole New Faith

Rabe Desire Found Me

Andre Rabe and his wife Mary-Anne are acclaimed traveling teachers and musicians, having lived and served in some of the most obscure corners of the planet. In 2010, with their kids all grown up, Andre and Mary-Anne packed everything they had in two suitcases and took to the road. I recently talked to Andrew to discuss an encounter that changed his life and ministry, culminating in the publication of Desire Found Me

Andre, what inspired you to write Desire Found Me?

About five years ago, Mary-Anne and I entered a lifestyle that is difficult to explain and maybe impossible to grasp unless you do it yourself. We began living out of suitcases and moving every 3-5 days to minister in different communities. This meant that we were in conversation with sincere believers almost every waking hour. The motivation was simple: we encountered a love that made life worth living. What soon became clear was that concepts of God, ironically, often keep us from experiencing God. Questions abound within this conversational context. We all inherit many assumptions and the faith of many consists of disjointed – even contradictory – ideas.

The process of questioning my own assumptions intensified greatly during this period of continual conversation. I shelved some of my doctrines that no longer aligned to the God I encountered in the person of Jesus Christ … but after a while the shelves became rather crowded. I had already started writing a book inspired by the depth of God’s identification with us, (The video ‘Does God Have a Clue?’ summarizes that message beautifully) when a friend introduced me to the writings of René Girard.

Although difficult to grasp at first, because of the broadness of its implications, I saw in Girard’s Mimetic Theory an explanation that brought many disjointed ideas together. It immediately introduced greater depth to the understanding of God’s identification with us. Simultaneously it radically exposed some of the doctrines I had in storage on my mental shelves. The implications were huge for my own faith and as I tried to communicate these ideas it became obvious that the sessions we had with groups were too few to explore such a huge subject. Instead of supplying answers, we simply stirred more questions. A resource was needed that did more than deconstruct ideas; it had to rebuild as well. And so Desire Found Me began to form.

Would it be safe to describe you and your ministry as dwelling in the ‘charismatic’ stream of Christian faith? I know this world; I grew up in it. There are certain assumptions of biblical inerrancy and the meaning of Jesus’ death that Mimetic Theory challenges. How were you challenged as you began to delve into this scholarship?

Over the past few years, Mary-Anne and I have ministered in Anglican, Catholic, Pentecostal, Brethren and many other obscure denominations. Charismatic and ‘Word of Faith’ type communities have certainly been part of the groups we minister in but are by no means the exclusive focus of our ministry. It does, however, best describe my own heritage. It is definitely within these groups that the doctrines of biblical inerrancy and a very narrow interpretation of Jesus’ death is most obvious.

Many clichés about the scriptures were part of my upbringing. The ‘Word of God’ and ‘the Bible’ were synonymous. Inspiration meant that the bible was without error or contradiction in everything it states – such ideas sound very honoring toward the scriptures, but in fact these are the very ideas that make the scriptures inaccessible. The more one studies scripture the more obvious it becomes that the bible itself never makes such claims. Seriously: studying the scriptures does result in some shocking discoveries!

For instance, I did not know (nor want to know) that some of the authors of scripture were polytheistic in their worldview. It was a rather big surprise to find a scripture that speaks of Yahweh as one among many sons of El! Another surprise was the fact that a Pharaoh wrote Psalm 104. I also did not know that ancient Israelite religion practiced actual child sacrifice. The relationship between myth and scripture was really the most significant discovery, both in what they have in common and in the way scripture subverts the message of myth. Seeing how ideas developed throughout the scriptures greatly helps in appreciating the conclusions the authors came to.

The five developing stories that I explore in Desire Found Me are: the mystery of who God is, the changing story of sacrifice, the paradox of evil, the history of Satan, and the growing expectation for a coming Messiah.

If a potential reader is completely unfamiliar, what is “Mimetic Rivalry”? And “Mimesis”? And…is there a difference? 

Mimesis describes our reflective capacity -most significantly our ability to unconsciously imitate the desires of others. As such there is nothing good or evil about it in itself, but rather, it is what makes the greatest good or the greatest evil possible. In Genesis 1 we have a vision of a humanity that is nothing less than a reflection of God – God’s image and likeness. However, as this capacity is twisted, another possibility is also realized (Genesis 3). When a self-giving God is not the one we reflect, then adoration turns to accusation, trust to suspicion and violent rivalry most often results. Girard himself said that Mimetic theory is more a theory of the satan than a theory of God.(1) And so his mimetic theory has focussed more on the reality of our violent history than on the positive possibilities it opens.

Let me be clear: the positive aspects of mimesis are acknowledged by Girard and developed to a measure, but not as throughly as the violent aspects of it.

What an astounding declaration that the invisible (and therefore difficult to imitate) God is made visible in the person of Jesus (see John 1:18, Colossians 1: 15). Jesus demonstrates what a God of love looks like and therefore makes the imitation of God a real possibility. We have an actual model of who God is. Consequently, we can find a different reference for our actions, speech and desires than the social cycles we are part of. The ancient and very human wisdom of loving our friends and hating our enemies is overturned by a God who is kind to the righteous and the unrighteous, a God who makes his sun to rise and rain to fall on all with the same generosity. The most radical conclusion of Jesus’ message is to imitate our Father and love our enemies.

There are many positive aspects of mimesis in interpersonal relationships as well. Whether it is in a marriage union, our relationship with our children or dealing with work colleagues, understanding the mimetic process can positively enrich all relationships.

This is Part 1 of a two-part interview with Andre Rabe. Stay tuned for Part 2! Want more in the meantime? Check out AlwaysLoved.net.

(1)  (2012-01-01). For René Girard: Essays in Friendship and in Truth (Studies in Violence, Mimesis, & Culture) (Kindle Locations 3522-3523). Michigan State University Press. Kindle Edition. )

One Response to Mimetic Spirit: Andre Rabe on Imitation, Desire, and a Whole New Faith

  1. Lynn Pereira August 6, 2016 at 10:24 pm #

    Thanks for posting the interview with Andre!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.