The Nine Lives of DET, pt. 3
In my previous post we saw that the true spirit of theo-bloggery thrives only in community. At some level, despite ideological differences and vocational rivalries, we live and move within a web or tapestry of threads as emotional, visceral and intense as the dedicated cadre of fans that cluster in musty gyms to enjoy roller derby. I want to (finally) conclude this series by reflecting on the power of community, solidarity, collaboration and pedagogically trendy stuff like that.
Opening up this website to outside contributors has resulted in some scintillating contributions. For example, take this history-of-religions piece from guest contributor Colin Cornell. His subject matter, sexual imagery in religions of the ancient Near East, stands pretty far outside any of my research areas, but I found this reflection on the place of corporeality in theology particularly striking:
[I]n a lot of literature I read, the contrast is strong between a “Hellenistic” and “incorporeal” god and the “corporeal,” “Hebrew” god. Besides the historical sloppiness of this binary, I also often wonder just how dematerialized and deanthropomorphized a God we (modern Christians) confess. Our theologians may have stopped referring straightforwardly to God’s “hands” or “right arm” or “backside” – but oftentimes notions about God’s “speech” or God’s “action” play a pivotal role in our theology, even of the most reconstructed and philosophical kind. And surely these and others like them are concepts that, ultimately, carry bodily traces. What is an immaterial word, or a wholly non-physical intervention?
Surely one of the greatest coups of my life is to move from almost complete obscurity in the theology world to slightly less obscurity as a DET contributor -- and eventually as (ahem) "Senior Contributing Writer" even. When I came on board, I was given (or perhaps took) great liberties in what and how I would write. The only ironclad stipulation was that I, under no circumstances, would blog about Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It's just as well: Everyone knows that field of study belongs to Žižek.
(If you think I'm joking, take a peek at The Fragile Absolute).
I proceeded to use this freedom by writing a series of posts on a theologian I'd never really seriously studied before. True, I had lectured undergrads on Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel movement. But those of you who've ever taught gen ed classes will attest that teaching a topic is not the same thing as having studied it. Writers use blogs in different ways. One of my favorite ways to blog -- apart from waxing whimsical -- is to explore new ideas, books and thinkers.
This past year has witnessed several fine posts from DET contributor Henry Coates. He writes openly, directly and often quite vulnerably of his experiences in pastoral ministry. Of his posts, "Will I See Jesus When I Die?" is perhaps my favorite. During a field placement at a hospital, a dying woman asks Henry for reassurance that her death will not mean oblivion in a meaningless void, and this compels him to confess his faith even amid his own doubts and questions. Yes, from the depths of his heart that she would indeed be with Jesus on the other side of death. Henry writes:
I’ve had many conversations concerning eternity with the healthy. But it was only in talking with a woman who stares into the coming abyss that I was able to put into words what I actually believe.What would you have said had you been in that situation?
In conclusion, I've been reflecting a lot lately on the state of theo-bloggery today. Speaking freely, if I may, I'd say we live in a rapidly evolving theological landscape. In many respects, our current crop of theo-bloggers are increasingly postBarthian and -- in a very promising development -- we see an increasing number of women in theology. Truly, what has emerged is a great kaleidoscope of biblical and theological insight. Nonetheless, we must remember that possibilities and the uncertainties of these times is not unique. In the post-World War II era, Christian thinkers pondered what would ensue after existentialism, light or greater obscurity. Has the theological project itself threatened to become a burning boat on the verge of capsizing? Or should we seek to reinvigorate our discourse by sharpening the well-worn hatchets of polemic, as if each of us were, say, Huldrych Zwingli reborn?
Despite our differences, we must remember we live only through the cross to the light, and not vice versa. Whether you consider yourself an evangelical Calvinist or the practitioner of a tenuous, eclectic orthodoxy -- even if you're just nearly orthodox -- what we all have in common is that each of is practicing one form or another of experimental theology. Considered by itself, theo-bloggery might seem to be a fissiparous activity. Today we are receiving religion dispatches representing this or that agenda, a great flux of thought that might seem to lack a center. Will any of this yield any new insights, all this theo(co)mmentary?
Yet all our theological musings are relativized and established by the source of the fire and the Rose of Sharon, Jesus Christ. Following this light, this euangelion, may mean having to row against the stream of a late-modern, capitalist consumer society. You may not be a fan of process theology, say, or a Moltmanniac, but I guarantee that if you peruse the theo-blogosphere long enough, you'll find something that resonates with you, or piques your interest, or annoys you enough that you pen a new post of your own. If some of what we right seems out of bounds -- theology in a far country -- remember that our Savior has preceded us into that unknown territory through a sheer act of disruptive grace. Living into this covenant of grace, we seek to embody the titrate life, like the scientist attempting to achieve a balance between substances that might normally clash. We toil on, task by task, seeking to forge a resident theology for occupants of "this fragile earth, our island home." At the end of the day, what can we do but shout out "Kyrie Elieson"?
As incongruous as it may seem, theologians sometimes can be arrogant. I fear the presence of Twitter has done little to squelch such hubris. A little honest humility is like the scent of "Ocean Breeze" candles at an outlet mall. Too much transparency, on the other hand, and things get a little awkward -- as in the case of a couple who disclose to Dr. Phil on national television one detail too many about their marital intimacy.
If a too much honesty starts to make you uncomfortable as a writer, you can do what I do: Try to mask uncomfortable truths in the bait-and-switch of humor. Perhaps St. Augustine wouldn't approve of this strategy, but he's never offered to write anything for us. He does all his blogging for Faith and Theology.
|Partly because Augustine of Hippo wrote so much, scholars today hotly debate|
whether his thought should be classified as "Augustinian."