Thursday, April 28, 2011

Theological Grounding

Another question from the Staff.  (second to the last!)
 How can we ever satisfactorily respond to a call for more theological grounding
with all of our diversity?

I have spent the past semester on Sabbatical at our Meadville Lombard Seminary, and more than once I've listened to the theological talk around me and thought, with Dr. McCoy of Star Trek, who proclaimed in the midst of his tech-topped sickbay,  "I'm just a country doctor, Jim!"

I'm just a simple parish pastor.  I've got a hunch about "calls for more theological grounding".  I think what it really means is,  "I just want to be able to explain my faith to my friends and family and myself."

Doing that is not the task of theologians, it is the task of preachers.

The theology which is at the core of our freedom and our diversity (which is the big difference between ourselves and the other denominations around) is actually simple, fun to talk about, and has been around for a long, long time.  I first heard it from Bill Schultz, but it resonated because it had been the underpinnings of my Sophia Lyon Fahs sunday school lessons, one year of which was called, if I remember correctly,  "Miracles Abound!"  (which was basically a natural history curriculum whose goal was to elicit wonder.)

We enjoy our theological differences and benefit from discussing them openly because we believe that the world is intricate, complex, beautiful, multi-faceted ....too much of all these things for one simple set of words to express The Whole Truth.  Therefore, we enjoy multiple sets of words, practices, and structures and a dollop of irony as we talk about them as if our words could ever embrace them.  Our story is the story of the blind men and the elephant and we rejoice in what we can do together. Our practice is that of respect for the worth and dignity of all beings, starting with the conversation partners we find challenging.  

That's the "Torah standing on one foot" version.   I think it is enough if it is preached consistently and creatively, and of other programming lives it out.

There will be some who want to parse that more deeply and theological study is the way to do that.  Most of the rest of us just need different versions of the same basic theology.


Bill Baar said...

Thanks for the simple and elegant answer. I wish others would understand this about ourselves rather than use the seven principles as an authority club. The failures not in our belief, but in some folks preaching I'm afraid. They fear saying what you've so simply said here. That's a complexity beyond them.

slt said...

Well said...

Tim Bartik said...

I think this is an elegant summary.

All that I would add -- and perhaps you see this as a theological detail -- is that this approach to religion IS a real theology. It both assumes and finds through experience that this process of dialogue through diversity leads us closer to truth, if not to THE TRUTH. It both assumes and finds through experience, science,and dialogue that all people are worthy of respect, as is this earth.

In other words, embracing diversity, dialogue, and respect for all is not the same as "anything goes". Nor is it motherhood and apple pie, as such principles have been rarely embraced throughout human history, and are difficult for all of us to fully carry out in our lives.

Amy said...

Beautifully put. Thanks, Christine.

Unknown said...

Dear Christine,

You wrote, "Covenant rather than creed . . . determines church membership. . . it is a point that is important to younger generations."

I think we need to make the idea and practice and history of religiously covenanted community the focus of our theological grounding. T'wont diminish at all, but rather enrich "all our diversity."

The issue of theology, liberally understood, is: What is holy? That is, what is really really wonderful, crucial and common, truly necessary and disastrous in the long run to ignore?

A liberal theolgy of the covenant understands as holy that community whose members are faithful to a freely entered promise to try - really really try over their lifetimes - to walk together (and sit and stand and run and work and play and argue and plan and start over) in the spirit of love.

Why is the covenanted community holy? How 'bout because such a community is what we humans -given human nature - need? Theists may say because it's the way God made us; non-theists because it's the way we evolved. Native Americans may say that's what we always implicitly taught. Buddhists and plenty of others can say, "Makes sense to me."

Our American Puritan ancestors said if people walked together in the "Holy Spirit" they need not agree on articles of a creed. Hey, they weren't wrong just because they used capital letters! (They didn't consistently.) Try imagining the Puritans, and for that matter the ancient Israelites, without orthodox eyeglasses on. People who disagree on all kindsa things agree that it's great when the spirit of love is in a congregation, no matter what they're doing.

Much love, Alice Blair Wesley