Thank you, everyone, for your introductions. I feel awed and blessed by the diversity of experience you all bring, and the common thread of the clear importance your spiritual lives have for you.
I'm going to be posting the lessons in small chunks: in part to give you time to reflect on each section, and in part as a reflection of the constraints of my own life.
Each lesson will be followed by questions for reflection. You need not post these, but I encourage you to spend time with them. If you do post your reflections, please do so as a new entry to the group. If you have questions about the lesson itself, please post as Comment, and I will reply in a new post.
1. Doing Theology: Basic Concepts
What does it mean when we refer to “doing theology”?
If we go back to the Greek roots of the word, we find theos, which means ‘god,’ and logos, which is most frequently translated as “word.” So theology is “god-talk” or “talk about god.”
But logos has other nuances of meaning as well. Our experience and our perceptions of the world are strongly influenced by our language. When we speak about something, we create a conceptual framework. We give it order. So how we talk about ‘God’ influences what we think about God. When we do theology we “talk about” a vast subject – Ultimate Reality – and try to understand it, try to create or discern ordering concepts.
We are all theologians, thinking and talking about the Divine and coming to conclusions that become the basis for our faith.
Except when we work from the opposite direction and come to conclusions about the Divine based on our faith.
The task is to be conscious of the direction you are moving.
Post-modern scholarship – and theology – has discarded the concept of the detached, objective observer as authoritative. Now it is recognized that we all bring biases and “lenses” to our perceptions and reflections. We don’t strive to be “objective,” to try to divorce our personal beliefs and attitudes from our thinking (which is ultimately an impossible task), we try to be aware of our biases, the limitations and gifts of our experience, and be honest about how they influence us. For example, my lenses include the fact that I am a highly-educated white woman who has lived all my life as a middle-class American. I can try to be sensitive to elements of life – or a text – that have different implications for people from different backgrounds, but sometimes I just can’t see them, or can’t fully grasp them. I have blind spots. Everyone has blind spots. The challenge is to be alert to them, and open to the perceptions of those who aren’t blind in this area. We don’t have to agree with them, but we need to be open to hearing them. (Which is itself a biased statement!)
There are also lenses or biases of beliefs. I approach theology acknowledging the fact that I am a feminist, and that my spiritual roots are in liberal Protestant Christianity but that I have been strongly influenced by Neo-Paganism and Swedenborgian theology. When studying the Bible or other scripture, I tend to favor narrative criticism over other methods, but I hold that academic approach simultaneously with an openness to the inspiration of Spirit on the level of personal devotion. My studies in Comparative Religion have made me conversant with a range of beliefs, and I often key in on symbols, rites, or other elements that appear in a variety of religious traditions, so I can understand where their meanings are the same (or similar) and where they diverge, and what implications this has for my own understanding of how humanity interacts with Spirit.
It should already be clear from reading everyone’s introductions that this group is blessed with a wide variety of spiritual and life experiences. One of the advantages to doing theology in a group is that we can benefit from the questions and the insights of those whose lenses are different from our own.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What are your own lenses and biases? What are the gifts and limitations they bring to the task of doing theology?
2. What words do you use most frequently to describe the Divine, your spiritual beliefs, and your ethics? What do these words reveal about you?
3. If you have time, skim back through the introductions and identify one or two people whose backgrounds are very different from yours. Try to pay special attention to their contributions as we go forward. You may not agree with them, but try to be open to the illumination of their different perspectives.