Way to Water – reading theopoetics with Callid Keefe-Perry

For years (many more than you might think) this “thing” called theopoetics has been happening, occuring, bubbling-up in various places, writings, and presentations. Those who have called their work by the title of theopoetics come from diverse backgrounds including Biblical criticism, death of God theology, postmodern thought, and process theology. Such a wealth of fields and interests encourages broad interest but at the the same time can result in students, practicioners, laypeople, and theopoets themselves lacking a connection to the wider body. Callid Keefe-Perry’s book, Way to Water, remedies this by mapping a path through the sundry strands of theopoetics past and present, all the while working to demonstrate just what theopoetics is or aims to be.

61lzkNAUsXLCallid skillfully summarizes the positions of early theopoetic thinkers Stanley Hopper, Amos Wilder, and Rubem Alves before moving in subsequent chapters to more contemporary versions of theopoetic thought. He works his way through the contributions of Melanie Duguid-May and Scott Holland, process theologians Roland Faber and Catherine Keller, radical theologians Peter Rollins and John Caputo, and the work of Richard Kearney and Karmen MacKendrick. As the title suggests, Callid provides a path on the journey toward theopoetics (or a theopoetic) by gathering together some theopoetic events, examining their moments of resonance and pointing out their places of dissonance. He is careful not to coorindate theopoetic “schools” into fixed positions in relation to each other, which would be antithetical to the theopoetic project in general, but rather he treats the various thinkers/writers as bodies that might collid, slip over each other or dance together in the on-going effort to name and describe that which we call God.

Additionally, and importantly, the last two chapters of Way to Water indicate practical applications of theopoetics for churches and pastors. I would expect nothing less from a practical theologian, and again Callid proves wonderfully adept at parsing out how an embodied theopoetics might (and does) take shape through preaching, pastoral care, and liturgy.

Since Callid is well aware that there can be no conclusion to the infinite movement of divine rhythms, for me the end of the book unfolded into new beginnings in two significant ways. First, Callid suggests three definitions for the term theopoetics, each textured by what Callid has gleaned from the theologians he addresses in the book. These definitions struck me as deeply personal and intimately situated in various ways, which I believe only further demonstrates an important point Callid makes in the book: the symbolic, prerational, and sensuous modes of theological discourse are not to be ignored. Second, and very much related to the definitions he offers, Callid’s epilogue consists of a series of aphorisms intended not just to describe theopoetic work, but to actually be theopoetic writing. Here he shows us through stories and poems that, while not entirely elusive, the divine is not within our grasp, cannot be pinned down. Rather the aphorisms open the reader to the continual progression, the unfolding process of naming God, of articulating our relationship to the divine.

Way to Water provides a helpful text for those teaching or studying theopoetics for the first time, and it is accessible to non-academic readers as well. I highly recommend this book to all my pastor-type friends, as I know it will spark conversation among you and in your churches. I also recommend it my friends who might consider teaching a course on theopoetics and taking up the task of training the next generation of theopoetic thinkers.


A new kind of spirituality for the Occupy generation

Despite the fact that some have labeled millennials the “entitled generation,” the truth is that millennials are, by and large, a generation of givers.  They want to pursue non-profit work where their skills and occupations give something back to the world, and they value finding a vocation over landing a six-figure salary.  Occupy Spirituality offers a creative and transformative way of being in the world that speaks to this generation and seeks to nurture its desire to work toward healing and well-being.

BC_OccupySpirituality_bioOccupy Spirituality is a dialogue between Adam Bucko, co-founder of Reciprocity Foundation, and Matthew Fox, long time spiritual theologian and activist.  Together the two trace out a new kind of spirituality that speaks to a younger generation of activists who are ready to help change the world.  They realize that they are writing to a post-religious culture, meaning that the religious hierarchies and structures so foundational for much of modernity are now either dying or are irrelevant to many in younger generations.  This realization, however, doesn’t squelch the practices included in their spirituality, but rather frees them to explore new traditions and practices as well as to uncover older traditions from other religions and cultures.

Bucko and Fox name seven points regarding the spirituality they develop and practice.  This new spirituality is:

  1. deeply ecumenical, inter-spiritual and post-traditional
  2. contemplative and experience based–it starts from experience but uses concepts to bring one to a deeper understanding of experience
  3. inclusive of other types of contemplative practices (ie. yoga, massage, deep human relationships)
  4. “about action that comes from one’s deepest calling”
  5. inclusive of joy, sensuality, celebration and “heartful aliveness”
  6. more democratic
  7. intended to be lived in communities

In the book Fox and Bucko describe their own personal transformations that include realizations that spirituality is not about escaping the world but about engaging more deeply with the world.  Thus the new kind of spirituality they articulate focuses on making connections with others and with the world in which we live with the idea that these connections make us more inclined to break the power strutters that cause suffering to people and things we value.  It talks about deeper engagement through encounters with the natural world, through intentional development of deep friendships and mentorships, through ritual and meditation, and through living in community with like-minded people who also want to deepen their engagement with others and the world.

What I found most refreshing and exciting about this book was Fox and Bucko’s eagerness to stand up to and call into question the power structures and hierarchies that are making our world a more challenging place to live for younger generations.  They are quite willing to point out the evil of corporate greed and the absurdity of the increasing distance between the 99% and the 1%.  Yet they don’t respond with anger; they respond with constructive alternatives and creative ways to steer one’s energy toward bettering the world.  Matthew Fox, in fact, mentions a number of times in the dialogue that if we don’t like the world in which we live, we should go out and create a new one.  The spirituality they describe gives us the resources necessary for sustaining ourselves as we take on that challenge, as we go about the work of recreating the world.

While there is much in this book that is geared toward the millennial generation, persons young and old and in between can find practices, traditions, and discussions within its pages that will spur our hearts, minds, and bodies toward creative transformation.

Back to the start…writing and deconstructing

Accountability is good. Partnership and collaboration are better. I’ve learned that I need all three in order to keep myself to some sort of writing/blogging schedule. Fortunately for me, and hopefully for you as well, my best friend, cohort, colleague, and accomplice in all things deviously religious–Alex Roller–has agreed to help me with these three ingredients for happy writing and posting. He and I will be blogging together individually, meaning that we will each post on our own blogs and link to the other’s posts. While we have a number of blog series/posts in mind, we’ve decided to start with the none-too-intimidating subject of Jesus and Derrida (read more on this below). We hope you’ll follow our conversation and reflection on both blogs as we delve into a variety of topics. We PLAN to post two to three times per week (schedules willing), but we hope you’ll forgive us if we slip up here or there.

Simultaneously, but only partly connected to the blog series, we are beginning a “Theology at the Pub” group as a part of MissionGathering Christian Church that will meet each Wednesday evening (Oct 9 to Dec 18) at 7:30pm at Thorn Street Brewery in North Park. If you live in San Diego and enjoy both theological reflection and beer, or even just one of those two (drinking isn’t required), we encourage you to join us. This group will focus on process theology and theology after the Holocaust, looking particularly at how a theology of remembrance can be helpful as we continue sorting through the fact that fellow human beings can and do cause so much devastation and destruction of life. We do plan to continue the discussion of our group through our blogs and will potentially even post audio recordings of our conversations for those unable to attend every or any meeting.

Our first blog series, however, deals with a different theme–deconstruction. My interest in writing these posts was sparked by a sermon that Alex preached last spring on the story of Jesus and Nicodemus. Last spring I also participated in a conference that asked the question: can postmodern theology live in the church? I think the (always tentative) answer is that postmodern theology can and, in fact, does live in some churches. Of course postmodern thought/theology comes in many modes, deconstruction being but one of those modes, and churches come in many forms–many of which are not accepting of postmodern thought. As one who finds himself in a church community in which postmodern thought receives both sometimes critical and sometimes enthusiastic engagement, I am interested in pursuing this question further in order to see where postmodern thought in the mode of deconstruction takes us, and in order to see what it is that we choose to reconstruct after the critical maneauvor.

In this first blog series, Alex and I plan to follow the Derridean trace as we look at the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in Luke’s gospel. While Jack Caputo wrote an incredibly insightful and accessible book on Jesus and Deconstruction, which we don’t wish to repeat, I think that this story deserves and requires some reflection (a la Caputo) in order to think about the role of metaphor in religious language and in order to deconstruct those assumed meanings that many within churches take for granted. We hope you’ll continue to drop by this site and Alex’s and engage with us in this discussion.

Check out Alex’s most recent post, which gives a bit more detail on the writing process, why we’re doing this, etc.

Repoliticizing the church at Subverting the Norm

I’m excited to present with my awesome partner in all things radical Bo Eberle at Subverting the Norm this weekend.  Here’s a description of what I’ll be discussing.  You can also go here if you want to see what Bo will be presenting.

Repoliticizing the Church: Finding Postsecular Engagement in Adorno and Benjamin

At a recent speaking engagement, Brian McLaren said, “In many cases the church is not relevant in today’s world.  But can it be and should it be is another question.”  More forcefully, in their book on the new materialism, Jeffrey Robbins and Clayton Crocket describe the postsecular world as repoliticizing religion such that radicalized religion can no longer perform religious acts in solitary confinement, so to speak, but must engage its own culpability for and entanglement in the most pressing issues facing inhabitants of our world.  Other postmodern philosophers, such as Slavoj Zizek and Judith Butler, have in recent years turned to the work of two early critical theorists—Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin—as examples for how to (re)think religion’s repoliticization.  This presentation will return to Adorno’s critique of Enlightenment religion as secularized and de-radicalized before examining how both Adorno and Benjamin reinscribe religion with political import, allowing us in turn to rethink the church’s engagement with perhaps the two most pernicious problems facing the world today: the global economic crisis and the ecological crisis (which are inextricably linked).  I will argue that the church should make itself relevant in today’s world by responding to these issues and ensuring that such issues are no longer ignored in our preaching, liturgy, and church theology.  Adorno and Benjamin’s materialist conceptions of religion and notion of inverse theology (now in play in both the work of Zizek and Butler) provide a compelling means for moving the church from stasis to radical re-engagement.

The Rapture…not what you’re thinking

I like to ask my friends if they’ve heard of The Rapture because it typically throws them off a bit and makes them think I’m about to unload some long pent-up apocalyptic madness. That is not the case.

Actually, The Rapture, a band that’s been around since 1998, is a post-punk incarnation featuring ethereal keys and strong lead guitar lines. But more than that, they have some of the most spiritual lyrics I’ve heard recently (aside from perhaps some well-loved indie folk stuff). Their 2011 album, In the Grace of Your Love, includes a song by the same title and another entitled “How Deep Is Your Love?” Neither song is overtly religious, and yet they resound with deeply spiritual tones. “In the Grace of Your Love” features lyrics like “In the grace of your love / I know we can find a way / In the grace of your love / We can find a brighter day” that seem to speak from a place of brokenness, from damaged life itself, with the hope of finding something better. The person who provides this loving grace actually appears rather ambiguous, as seen in the lyrics “In the grace of your love / I am scared and I’m sick / In the grace of your love / Please don’t hurt me so quick”, yet the overall sense is that this grace is what enables one to get up in the morning, to face another day.

8eec2dfd91ea2cd835c2d1c68be4666afc394a9dLikewise, “How Deep Is Your Love?” speaks of hope in the midst of darkness with a similar sense of ambiguity about the world. The lines “All the feeling I have for you / Standing in your shoes / When I cry you heal my pain / Help me come unglued” come before the song ends with a repetition of the two lines “Let me hear that song / How deep is your love?”, which gives us the impression that the singer is actually asking (without knowing the answer) how deep the love really is.

These two songs strike me as deeply spiritual because they are completely honest about the way we sometimes see and experience the world–as utterly ambiguous. Where overtly Christian songs tend to wrap up with a neat little bow (with the notable exception of Gungor–listen recent Homebrewed podcast here), The Rapture’s secular, spiritual stylings are quite comfortable leaving things undone and simply stating our raw emotion. Even the album’s cover art is tinged with a combination of rapturous joy (pun intended) and uncertainty. The image is a black and white photo of a boy standing, arms outstretched (cross-like), on the front of a surfboard, riding a wave–an experience that can be (so I’m told) both joyfully thrilling and a bit frightening, because you might wipe out at any moment. I wonder if what The Rapture has captured here, better than most, is the way life really is…but with the added insight that you might find grace in the most unexpected places.

Return to 2nd wave feminism?

The latest issue of the Atlantic features a provocative article by Hanna Rosin on the rise of women in the business world and higher education.  In the article Rosin posits that the “modern, postindustrial economy” may be more congenial for women than for men.  She cites recent studies pointing to young women’s success in the college classroom (above that of men) and reports the anecdotes of a number of collegiate females who are becoming increasingly convinced that they will be the “providers” for the family, while their husbands stay at home (if they decide to marry at all).  Make no mistake–I consider myself a feminist.  Yet I find the overarching claims of Rosin’s article to be somewhat troubling.

Rosin displays an odd mix of second-wave feminism and postmodern tendencies.  In the paragraph where she questions whether the modern economy is better suited for women, she also appeals to a view of gender-roles as socially constructed:  “But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history?  What if that era has now come to an end?  More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?”  This last sentence betrays her ultimate position–there are certain traits that are ultimately gender specific, and traits possessed by women are more suitable to our current economic milieu.

While I am quite pleased that Rosin reports on women’s excelling in many areas of the economic, political, and educational arenas, I don’t think arguments that rely on gender essentialism will prove terribly helpful in addressing the reasons for such success.  In fact, aren’t these the very same essentialist categories that enabled sexism to exist and persist in the first place?

Rather than relying on these same old gender stereotypes to simply turn the tables, wouldn’t a better approach be to dismantle the stereotypes that maintained women’s role as second-class citizens for so many years?  Another blogger [onehandclapping] wisely commented on Rosin’s discussion of the decline of men in education and business:

“If we keep defining men according to what put them on top in ages past, there is going to come a point where men are going to fail (which according to the article is happening now). Men don’t have to fail for women to succeed, but they will if they keep being fed lies about what it means to be a man. There are two ways we can respond what this article reveals. We can value the character traits that work in a postindustrial age – which are neither masculine nor feminine – and encourage people to develop those skills (social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus according to Rosen). Or we can keep banging the drum that our cultural stereotypes are universal and in fact God-given and freak-out about the end of the world.”

She is right to say that the character traits that seem best-suited to the modern economy are neither masculine nor feminine.  They are merely character traits that can and should be developed by all.  This anti-essentialist approach leads to valuing both men and women without constructing gender-types according to age-old views that simply aren’t true.