Theology has fallen into a trap of competition, when it should be about awakening.
I suspect this happened fairly early on, when theology turned more towards heresy hunting. It emphasize more and more why others were wrong. Yes, along the way it continued to expand and illuminate our understanding, but as it sought to defend it also became restrictive and restricting, allowing less creativity and reverie in the mix. It became separated from the living faith of so many who wanted to see and experience the bounty of God.
It’s not easy to sustain momentum in the face of beauty. We’re not good at analyzing the good. As so much art reveals, we’re not very good at imagining the creativity of beauty. We dance in difficulty and are aroused by conflict. It’s human nature. Why war has a historically appealing quality, even as the nature of war is so obviously appalling. We are drawn to the fight, especially if the fight is justified. Fixing what is wrong, pushing back against bullies, setting things straight.
We gain a sense of our self in the struggle against others. Not always a violent struggle, it’s often a collegial one, though still a struggle and a competition. Better phrasing, better reviews, better sales. And if we’re not able to compete we find our meaning in those who do, treating theology as if it were a sports league. My theologian is better than yours. Look how many pennants my team has won.
We gauge worth by citations rather than transformation, the best theologian is the most adept at navigating the academic jungle, without regard to their life behind the curtain. Not only without regard for their ‘personal’ side, often even offended about such an inquiry and by those who expose more of themselves than seems fitting.
Yet, I am drawn to theology in the midst of a path of awakening. I remember this was why I entered into it. Not for the competition but for the reverie. I want to listen better, see more thoroughly, feel more deeply. These can easily become overwhelming if not careful, driving us into despair or distraction. Mere acquisition of input isn’t sufficient, it’s not a living stream, because we don’t know what to do with it all. If we’re not able to process in light of the Spirit’s work then we catalogue it according to the world’s patterns. It may keep coherence but then lack integrity with God or with real people.
I don’t want to be lost in incoherence. I don’t want to drift away from integrity. I seek stillness in the expanse, welcoming and inviting others in discovering the bounty of the goodness of creation, the goodness of God, not only proclaiming a love but letting this love be the refrain that shapes all my interests and pursuits.
I am weary of the trap to compare my god with yours, my system with yours. If this is the measure of theology, of Christian theology, it’s a never-ending war, a battle of wits and suppositions. It’s a fight within the systems, letting the ways of this world determine the rules and the worth.
Meanwhile, the very cross we speak about negated such constriction. It did not resist systematization, not at all, but it confronted the patterns of this world which said this is how things are done and how things should be.
The world says, with all its force, that Jesus lost. Crushed on the wheel of history in the quest for meaning.
Who can argue with that? He died a most painful death. He did not win in the way the world wins. The counter in theology is to say he did win. How? He did not stay dead. His argument wasn’t in clever repartee or through the sheer weight of compiled footnotes. He lived. That’s his argument. The best argument.
And it is also our best argument. Or at least it should be.
It doesn’t negate the clever or the learning or the systematizing. Indeed it invites it. The world is a very different place, not just in facts but in the very nature of reality.
What the cross does is relatives the rest, puts it into a context. Invites a radical letting go of competition and performance for the sake of identity.
It makes space, a sabbath rest, preparing for rapturous beauty and wondrous engagement with the world that now is.
Theology, above all, should speak of this wonder, this way, this hope, this life, embracing the beauty and possibilities. Caught in competition it is always distracted, pulled away from itself. A musician trying to perform a symphony but constantly interrupted by a guy selling magazines at the door.
In a world that does not know how to imagine beauty, without devolving into kitsch or chaos, theology offers a vision, a language, of life expansive.
I want to “commune with the spirit of the universe, to be intoxicated even with the fumes, call it, of that divine nectar, to bear my head through atmospheres and over heights unknown to my feet.” I want to find this renewed vision, orientating purpose, in my vocation. To dream, to hope, to delight, to sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.
For this, do I climb the unending stair, a weary walk if I lose sight of my calling to truly live. A joyful journey as I remember myself and what God is doing, has done, in my life.
This isn’t a competition, this task of theology, it’s a celebration, a great feast full of bounty and diverse delights.
So why squabble about the place settings?