Introductions to Theology

Me and a Womanist Sister are working on a webinar for the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education where we introduce the community to Black Liberation Theology. It’s part of a series of didactics that’ll be accessible to our pastoral educators and CPE students.

The series is called 8:46 and will have 8 webinars that are 46 minutes long–in sober and theo-ethical acknowledgement of Brother Floyd’s murder and how ministers, clinicians, and leaders might nurture our work in everything from the social construction of race to the psychological implications of racism and other sins.

I’m working with a practitioner from North Carolina and we’re offering an introduction to (Black and Womanist) theology. In the preparation, I found a sentence Dr. Stephanie Mitchem wrote where she said that theology begins not in studying in the classroom but in living a life.

So I’ve begun journeying over the beginnings of theology, the origins of my own, lately. It’s resting with me that the origins provide a long shadow over the rest.

If theology begins in a word, who wrote it or spoke it or claimed its authority? If theology started in a person, was that person relatable, relatable in every way or particular ways? If discourse about the Sacred started in practices, were those practices exclusive, open, and are they relevant? The questions continue when you think and live theologically, right?

Think about yours. From where have your best understandings of the Transcendent come? How were you introduced to your “theological” world? We could keep going. These are the kinds of questions that need answers.

Ways to Care

I am a father and I work as a chaplain, as a spiritual caregiver, and regularly I spend my days considering ways to care. Here are some ways and I’d love to keep building this list. I’m using words with more than one meaning, intending nuance.

  1. Enact a ritual and keep it – like a hug or a whispered greeting when you first see yourself or another person.
  2. Look at your own face carefully.
  3. Spend time with the person who you’ll expose others to.
  4. Chew your food slowly, filling yourself with the nourishment there.
  5. If you’re not in a place for feedback, say something like, “Let me move so I can try to hear you. Give me 10 minutes.”
  6. With their explicit permission and openness, touch someone today.
  7. Touch every body with kindness.
  8. Stretch.
  9. Before you speak, count to ten.
  10. Learn what cleansing breath is and employ many of them.
  11. In a conversation with a person, try asking “Is this what you’re saying…”
  12. Wrestle.
  13. Stretch beyond what you decided you’d do.
  14. Do something someone asked you to do without argument.
  15. Make an exception.
  16. Drink a cup of tea alone.
  17. Drink a cup of tea with someone.
  18. Let it play out.
  19. Smile.
  20. Walk.
  21. Smile while you walk.
  22. Help someone carry something.
  23. Listen to Nina Simone and Sam Cooke.
  24. Be gentle when you fail.
  25. Ask and listen to the response to, “What’s important right now?”
  26. When they yell, observe the pain there.
  27. Use “I” when talking about yourself.
  28. Cook and take a meal to someone else.
  29. Make it a goal to ask one good question daily.
  30. Sleep the number of hours you worked.
  31. Fart when you have to because “there’s more room out than there is in.”
  32. Invite someone to tell you their story today.
  33. Listen to the child’s joke.
  34. Ask for it.
  35. Watch someone you love do something they love.
  36. Play a little bit or in the words of one of my teachers, “You, play more.”
  37. Take an entire day off from the thing you experience as hard, if you can, and if you can’t, pray with words.
  38. Attend to your skin as it covers all of your beautiful self.
  39. Sit without saying anything next to a person who can’t say anything.
  40. Experiment with saying versions of “Peace to you.”
  41. Say goodbye in a unique way.
  42. Treat goodbyes as benedictions, times to say something about what just happened.

Spirit and Trauma (5 of 6)

In her chapter on the Middle Spirit, Rambo develops the “unique pneumatology” that rises from her sources in prior chapters. Introducing the overall discussion as “Spirit of Life” and “Spirit of the Deep,” she employs descriptions of the witness of spirit in unique ways.

Her conceptual frames are Spirit Is Breath, Spirit’s different movements in time, and the Spirit Is Love. Rambo works to underscore how the Spirit is life-giving, “aligned with life,” and searching “for forms of life when life cannot be recognized as such” (115).

To move the work forward, she interrogates the doctrine of creation and asserts, “God is depicted as a breath-giver” (117). Tracing this breath from biblical beginnings, Rambo points us to how the life of God is present in and between the passion and resurrection.

Interpreting from the middle, she writes, it is “a movement that exceeds death and yet precedes the event of life that resurrection narrates” (119). The present breath, the breath breathing in the middle, enables preaching, testimony, and witness. The Spirit that is breath empowers and makes heard and seen what is unspeakable and unsaid.

Think of trauma. In suffering, the Spirit “oscillates between formlessness and form, making visible what has been repressed” (123). This brings meaning to the Spirit’s work, to the potency of speech, and to unique theological contributions occurring in between events like death and resurrection. These are striking connections when you think of the ways in which trauma disables speech, removes basic abilities to communicate, and robs persons of capacities which are reintroduced by the Spirit in the middle. This will preach.

Relative to time, Rambo suggests a reading of the Spirit’s movement as more than forward. Resisting temporality, the Spirit’s activity is disruptive to straightforward readings of time and point in multiple directions. She believes that accepting this disruptive, non-linear view of the Spirit’s movement requires reading Christian history in a non-linear way. “Oscillatory witness is extremely helpful when looking through the lens of trauma” (127) and it is also courageous given the familiarity we have with linear readings of biblical and theological materials. No ways of reading take courage, risk, resolve.

Rambo draws upon Cornel West in particular when focusing this point and names the African American experience as a tutor for maintaining historical memory and moving when a destination is less apparent. This was a section I appreciated and would love to hear more about in terms of how Rambo sees this occurring since the writing.

In the section on love, Rambo gives definitional language to the well used word, a definition that emerges in the context of the middle. Love is seen on the sides of the middle, but what is the content of love in the middle? How are witnessing and remaining shaped as expressions of love? For Rambo, love blows as breath between the two experiences of death and life.

Love empowers us to “to witness the deep abyss of human experiences” (133), something I find compelling as a pastoral caregiver. At the same time, love is “marked by unknowing,” and “birthed through a failure of comprehension” (133). Imagine that. Developing and settling upon an ethic of love in the context of unknowing and failure rather than certainty and success.