Photo Thanks to Aaron Burden
When I started the supervisory education program in CPE, I noticed that there were hardly any meaningful trails about the process on the internet. I decided to write through my process. So I have some “public process notes” on the blog in order to keep track of some of my experiences.
Related to that, I’ve been working on materials for a committee appearance in early April. While I won’t go into much about the appearance on this side of the meeting, I want to put up a few thoughts from the three papers I prepared for submission to the committee.
This is a part of my theology theory paper—a major paper for the supervisory process. I’ll get feedback and work on it until it sings and is ready for the subsequent processes. This portion is around the mini-section on contextual theology and the incarnation, a major second step in the paper after I talk about sources of theology which emerge out of the narrative tradition of my African-American experience. There are quotes from James Cone’s God of the Oppressed and Smith and Riedel-Pfaefflin’s Siblings By Choice: Race, Gender, and Violence.
My experience shaped how I arrived at scripture, how often I visited the Bible, and how basic encountering the passage has been to how I encountered the God behind it. In that sense, I’m a contextual theologian. In my pastoral theology there are roots of contextual theology. Having sources like experience from which to draw theological language eventually brings me to God, the content rather than the periphery. God is who we were singing about in my younger days.
Traditional Christian formulations of God are Trinitarian. They are more than that for sure because God cannot be captured by our formulations. As is true in the grand historical human experience, God has been disclosing God’s person in many ways. I’ve “met God” through conversations with an addict named Lawrence who talked to me about beauty while painting the church. I’ve met God through the silence of a person who was struck by a loved one’s sudden death. God’s come in those moments and come to me. Always sensitive to me, to us, to the audience, God meets us in our specific conditions.
The incarnation where “God becomes flesh” is the striking example of this. Thurman called the incarnation “the great disclosure.” Through the incarnation God is at work, revealing, disclosing, and opening to others who God is. James Cone reminds us that Jesus is not a theological proposition restricted to the conceptual. Jesus matters because he is matter, because he exists outside of our heads.
He is an event of liberation, a happening in the lives of oppressed people struggling for political freedom…Jesus is not simply a doctrine or even a particular event limited by time. He is the eternal event of liberation in the divine person who makes freedom a constituent of human existence. There is no existence apart from him because he is the ground of existence without whom nothing is.
I think of God as eternal, as essentially loving, as relatable. I think of the inextricable way that justice is the avenue whereby God’s loves. “In short, God is manifest to us through material means.” God expresses all that God is through particular means. We never is love without justice, mercy without reconciliation. One is the expression of the other, the explicit exhibiting the implicit. As Kelly Brown Douglas, a womanist theologian writing Christology, says, there is a compatibility between Christianity and acts of justice.
Spiritual care, then, as an incarnational act is an expression of God’s intention toward human beings, and that care is at the bottom of our work in CPE where we attend to our selves and our ministries. As an expression of love, our work is also an expression of justice. As necessary as people are to that theological articulation, the first actor is Divine. God acts, expressing love and justice—expressing God’s self—and people receive that action, respond to it.
People are created by God, and as created beings have a host of ways through which we interact with the world; we are emotional, intellectual, and physical beings. Each element of a person’s makeup is grounded in the Creator’s initiation and desire. Seen and unseen elements compose us. All of these avenues become vehicles through which God can reach, heal, teach, and transform us.
God touches the world through us, connecting with us—the incarnation, again, being an exemplary portion of this, a clinical encounter is another—and then connecting with the creation through us. God cares for creation in other ways which we cannot see. A chaplain’s role is to participate in God’s work in the world by, variously, cooperating with God to care for, protect, preserve, challenge, and observe the work of God through human interventions, through silence, and through the variety of ways we care. People are the means for and recipients of that care. Care is aware of the past.
In Siblings by Choice, the authors tell us the truth about the power of the past:
The past represents ways of knowing that emerge from struggle and can inform us today. The complex and ambiguous present is the result of the experiences, thinking, and struggles of our ancestors who were born and raised in civilizations and circumstances different from our own. Their struggles birthed the conditions under which our consciousness develops and our life narrative unfolds. From them we may gain wisdom for patterns of living that extend an otherwise limited perspective on the present.
Care isn’t beholden to the past. It honors the past, holds the past and present together, particularly as people struggle with the present crises of life such as death, sickness, loss, and change. But care is future-oriented, always looking for the right now connections between humanity and divinity.