Saturday, December 18, 2004

Theology for humans

When it gets right down to it, what matters most is people. We use all kinds of tools to prod them and fix them and catalyze them into action. We guilt them, manipulate them, love them, make fun of them and coddle them. We give them big ideas to work on, goals to achieve, rules to follow, important things to do, entertainment to passify or enrich them...

And we study people. We've examined them the way modernists do, inside and out, probing all the openings, all the way into the unconscious. Think about that! We mess with the part of a person that she can't even control.

Tonight as we drove home from the play "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol," I wondered what it would be to study theology not in order to get more clarity about God, but to find a way to aid humans in being exactly what they are - oh so very human. What if doctrine and theology weren't centered on how to make better people, more saintly people, but instead, took human beings into account. What if theology forgave people for being so human, so messed up and inconsistent and limited in knowledge and ability?

I started imagining exploring what it would look like for the work of theology to focus on humans from below (not just God from below). Can we permit people to change midstream, to course correct their thinking, practices, ideas, amibitions and yes, even their beliefs? What if we stopped using Bible characters as apologetics for saints (and all the excuses we have to make for those characters in order to help them achieve sainthood status) and instead just listed all the ways they were humans... who didn't get thrown under the bus in the end after all?

I'm interested in a theological practice that allows people to make use of their doubts. I would love to be in a church where the pastor asked the congregation on a Sunday morning: "How many of you stopped believing in God this week?" and that question wasn't merely rhetorical. Or what if he/she said, "Today is for the lamenters. If you are raging against the injustice in our world, we're going to engage in a group lament. Ready, start screaming."

Wouldn't that be wild?

And what would happen (would the ground really open and swallow us whole?) if we changed our minds every week. What if one week we believed God was divinely intervening and another were certain the whole idea was made up to keep us in check when our parents weren't watching?

Where is the creativity in religious expression (I don't mean new dances or liturgical tricks)? I mean, really new openness to humans as human beings?

A friend had this to say to me today and it moved me:

I see here 'a theology of paradox' in your pointers for reconstruction. A theology that sings and laments, a theology that is full of mystery and must be explained to some degree, a theology that is a shadow of reality that is often unseen. In other words, 'an apophatic, kataphatic, doxological, analogical, theology of lament.' The only thing I would add is a theology that is stripped and naked hung up for the whole world to see. In other words, a theology of cruxis as Luther says...

In addition to cruxis (whatever that is that I don't yet know), I'd add a theology of bare naked honesty (you know, the kind of honesty that embarrasses, makes you avert your eyes, that stops you short). If we don't start from the ground of being called honesty, there is no God in the house.

1 comment:

gratefulbear said...

I really like what you say about "a theological practice that allows people to make use of their doubts." It seems to me that a truly solid theology would be secure enough to allow (or even encourage) folks to fully explore their doubts. Maybe this is one area in which post-modern Christians can meet a need that has long gone unmet by the traditional church.