Thursday, December 15, 2011

done!


I finished writing the last of my essays for the term this afternoon at 1:30 pm.  Somehow, it all got done.  Yes, there were quite a few 12+ hour days of writing and research in the last week, days when my eyes were so tired that they stung.  Perhaps I was forgetting to blink.  Whatever the case, I am "off" for a few weeks.  "Off" means that I read fiction instead of theology (except for 2 books I need to get a head start on for my next reading course), annoy Dean by hanging out with him ALL the time instead of hardly at all, go to some movies (I don't remember the last one we saw??), and stare out the window just because I can.

In case you are interested (but mostly because they are still really fresh in my mind), the two papers I just finished were called:  "The Task of Theology after Modernity: John D. Caputo on Reclaiming the Madness" and "A Perspective on Narrative Theology: Its Purpose, Particularity, and Centrality."  I know!  Very exciting!  Here are some quotes.  Unless cited, the words are my own.

The Madness Essay:

Regarding the madness of excess as found in the gospel of JesusWhat is mad about this type of excess is its sheer disregard for sustainability.  Excess as a diversion is something that we are all familiar with, but as a way of life we identify it with foolishness and irresponsibility, bound to end in disaster.  Worldly-wise people know the pitfalls associated with excessive behaviour.  The assumption of sustainability is that we are working with limited resources, but when it comes to the kingdom of God, concepts such as limited resources and probable outcomes must be put aside to accommodate occasions of lavish generosity and possible impossibilities.  If we look at excess as a way of interrupting the closed economics of a self-sufficient world, it becomes a descriptor of redemption and an invitation to hope and anticipation.

On deconstruction in theology:  One of the prime purposes of deconstruction, according to Caputo, is to prepare the way for constructive rebuilding.  This process, he proposes, begins with honesty: “If we could admit how bad things are, that would be the beginning of something good, of a kind of radical honesty with ourselves. … To confess the wounded, fractured condition of our lives – that is who we are!  And that would be the beginning of wisdom in deconstruction, of something good.” (John D. Caputo, After the Death of God, 128)  It is interesting to note that Caputo is very taken with this notion of “good.”  According to him, the declaration of the creator God in Genesis that “it is good” carries a promise, issues a verdict, and contains a contract (John D. Caputo, The Weakness of God, see specifically chapter 3, “The Beautiful Risk of Creation.”) Goodness is what this world is called to.  This goodness, this pursuit of wholeness, is what the madness of Christianity must never forget.  And perhaps the first step in responding to God’s call to be “good” is to humbly and honestly admit that things are not good.

The conclusion:  Lowe puts his finger on the issue when he identifies the madness as not only a distinguishing mark, but a wound.  A brand, if you will.  Something that cannot be removed.  A constant, perhaps even painful reminder that theology is not its own.  If Christianity, and by association, theology, is not marked by this madness that is characteristic of the kingdom, then I would suggest that we have to some extent lost our way.  As Lowe states, theology then “ceases to be a calling, becoming mere adornment.” (Walter Lowe, "Modern Theology," 618)

The Narrative Essay:

On whether narratives are universal or particular (is there one overarching story or many smaller stories?):  In the matter of universality versus particularity, I would position the universal story firmly in the mind of God.  By doing so, I am also placing it outside the realm of human understanding.  My reasoning is that from our standpoint as temporal and limited human beings, we are not capable of comprehending a universal story.  Nevertheless, I concede (as an act of faith) that one does exist.  I also acknowledge that we as human beings continue to search for coherence in our existence, which is in essence grasping for a metanarrative. However, I believe that longing for a metanarrative should not be confused with fabricating one.  We can only know in part.  The task of narrative theology, then, is to tell the particular stories that are part of the big story, and to do so with careful attention and compassion.

Regarding the complexity of Scripture:  "One virtue of Scripture in all its complexity is its ability to convey both confidence in the meaning of the history into which we find ourselves thrown, and a humility that does not cut short the search for knowledge or lead to passive resignation in the face of the challenges we face, but nourishes both exigencies to know and to act more fully and authentically, despite all that we cannot know as long as we see through a mirror dimly."  (Ashley, "Reading the Universe Story," 901)

On the openness of narrative: "Poetic metaphor and narrative rejoices in ambiguity and the opening up of multiple meaning; doctrine will always seek to reduce to concepts the images and stories upon which it draws including those within its own Scripture.  Literature emphasizes the playful freedom of imagination, while doctrine aims to create a consistent and coherent system of thought, putting into concepts the wholeness of reality that imagination is feeling after."  (Paul Fiddes, "Concept, Image and Story in Systematic Theology," 8-9)

The conclusion:  Part of the beauty of narrative is its ability to absorb all types of characters into a deeper meaning.  Though I firmly believe that the grand story can be fully appreciated and identified only by the divine author, the authenticity of distinct narratives can be verified through common human experience and critical methods of interpretation.  In this way, our particular, fragmented stories become part of a larger whole, carrying hope and wholeness even while they are broken and incomplete in many ways.  Narrative and metaphorical language are at the heart of how we interpret our human experience.  Stories are how we first learn to understand ourselves and our world as children.  However, story does not stand alone in the realm of meaning.  It engages in active and vibrant dialogue with other forms of knowledge and interpretation, always open and unfinished.  Narrative theology done well will not capture the story of God, but it should serve to draw us into God.

I love the largeness of thinking about God!  Maybe I should teach a course on imaginative theology!  Or just take a break for a few days.  Enjoy!

the photo:  taken on a trip back to Manitoba in 2006, played with the saturation of the blues today.

4 comments:

Shelley said...

wow that hurt my brain. lol. but it's great stuff. have a good brain rest Matte!

Matte Downey said...

In hindsight, the quotes are a bit on the painful side of things. Not as accessible as when one is reading the whole paper, for sure. I'll post something a little lighter next time. :-)

Brian Metzger said...

I must be crazy because that all sounds very interesting to me. I loved this, "I believe that longing for a metanarrative should not be confused with fabricating one." Brilliant!

Looking forward to your book!

Matte Downey said...

Thanks, Brian. I like your kind of 'crazy.'