“Theology is dull and of little value” – PART 3
Finding God-Speak in the Ordinary
In the last “Theology Brewing Letter” I said that I would suggest some ideas about where we can find “God-Speak” in the ordinary. In this “Theology Brewing Letter,” I do so.
William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience in the qualities of theology that is not dull and boring: “Religious rapture, moral enthusiasm, ontological wonder, cosmic emotion.”
We can’t make theology less dull and boring for most people by calling attention to certain theologies or spiritual expressions as a means to do this. When we do, we are only preaching to the choir. To make theology less dull and boring we need to reach beyond the academic, beyond the traditional, to find our theologies where people live, be it art, photography, literature, music, work, gardening, science—just to name a few.
This week I have been reading Donald Heinz’ excellent book, After Trump: Achieving a New Social Gospel. Heinz is not writing from the perspective of discovering God-Speak in the ordinary; however, I do think that in the “Introduction,” he provides some ideas to consider.
After Trump appeals to us to achieve a new social gospel in three ways. I think the same three ways set the criteria for our exploration of God-Speak in the ordinary. The three ways are:
- Recalling God
- Reliving Christianity
- Returning to and recontesting the public square.
From our perspective of finding God-Speak in the ordinary we might ask ourselves:
In what ways does this help us to recall God?
In what ways does this help us relive Christianity?
In what ways does this address our faith in the public square?
Let’s just look at one example of God-Speak in the ordinary and see how it fits Donald Heinz’ criterial: DePeche Mode’s “Where’s the Revolution? (Martin Gore) speaks to all three. The words can help us recall that Jesus didn’t come to coddle culture, he came as a revolutionary. His message was one of change. His message was a repeat of the revolutionary proclamation of the prophets. The words can remind us that Jesus pronounced his radical message, not only in religious houses, but also in the public square, in front of the politicians and religious of his day. The words could become a catalyst to a revived – relived – Christianity, a faith that has recovered, as the Apostle John writes, our “first love.”
It only takes a simple question, “Where’s God in ‘Where’s the Revolution’?” The answers begin the brewing. Would not approaching theology in from this direction be less dull and boring? I think so. But there is a caveat, we who ask the question must not reject the answers as “unscriptural.” We can’t be dogmatic, nor can we immediately equate an answer to a specific traditional theology and leave it there. We must simply let the discussion be that which ferments the brew of one’s individual theology.
Nature, or even a garden plot, is another ordinary thing ripe with theological insights. The early Celts found their own hopes, despairs and turmoil mimicked in the nature world. In tending to their livestock and gardens, securing the wild things needed to survive they became beware of the struggle to survive in a fickle world. For the Christian Celts, the God of scriptures was found in all of this—the struggle and in nature herself. Their song and prayers are full of such insights.
Of particular interest to me is Quantum Theory and what it contributes to understanding of our role in the well-being of community and nature’s holiness. If we dig into the far corners of Quantum Theory, we find such ideas as the “Multiverse” and “Biocentrism”— All ripe for theological plumbing. The same is true for Sci-Fi and fantasy. There is lots of God-Speak, for example, in Ray Bradbury, “Star Wars,” “The Matrix,” “Harry Potter,” Charlotte’s Web, The Lord of the Rings trilogy,to name but a few. And let’s not forget the God-Speak that can be found in a good novel or mystery.
A minister acquaintance of mine mentioned that his teenage daughter had no interest in theology until a school teacher pointed out that such scientific facts as the sun evolving around the earth, or that the earth is round, once were theological heresies. It made her question many of our common-held theologies and helped her, he told me, arrive at her own speculative theology.
Theology has become a study disconnected from the ordinary, from where we live out the daily. In doing so, theology has negated its responsibility to push at the boundaries of what it means to be Christlike in a fragmented world. And as long as it remains such, theology will remain dull and boring.
A personal note: I’ve been working on a theology of Popeye for a while now. As I do so, I am letting each discovery lead to my next discovery as I brew a theology according to, and from. Popeye. For me this is certainly more exciting than reading some theological treatise. Now I admit, my current speculative theology somewhat biases the outcome, but it also challenges it. What I really want to do with Popeye is to ask those without a theological background who read Popeye, “Where’s God in Popeye?”
Image: Mural painted on wall around the Holly Street Power Plant, Austin Texas, March, 2011.